When I first visited 耀宗 Yao Zong’s “Urn Lily Spring” Restaurant near Shitiping in Hualian, the place resembled more of a derelict factory of some sort. With its plastic chairs and Yao Zong’s topless Amis muscular physique, we wouldn’t even have guessed that it was a restaurant, let alone a fantastic one. However, that meal left me mesmerized, and I was not able to stop thinking about it for the next two years.
So finally, when I stepped once again into Yao Zong’s restaurant last week, you could imagine the anticipation and excitement. This was the aboriginal world’s El Bulli, and Yao Zong their Ferran Adria. And with the publicity surrounding Yao Zong’s culinary mastery in the past two years, Urn Lily Spring had grown from that nondescript roadside shack into a seaside gallery of sorts resembling a high-ceilinged banquet hall and with a capacity of near hundred. Not that Yao Zong would entertain such large number of guests with his laid back Amis attitude, but the complete shift in atmosphere did take me by surprise.
Thus our courses arrived:
an aboriginal glutinous rice ball covered in deep-fried taro flakes, dipped in sea salt and paired with grilled aboriginal herb sausage, a seemingly simple dish, yet so full of basic, robust, and contrasting flavours and textures;
Two years can do wonders to a chef’s culinary journey. Yao Zong has developed a masterchef poise that was just short of the arrogance carried by many today’s so called celebrity chefs. He greeted us with the usual charm and warmth of an Amis and told us to drink up and enjoy the ocean breeze while he prepared the food. He has also earned a fleet of about five servers and a charismatic pet piglet called Da Bao, or Big Treasure. Each and every dish was good, but I found myself reminiscing Yao Zong’s good old shack on that hot summer’s day, Urn and Lily playing tag by our table while I ate, sweat on my brow and the sea breeze blowing salt-encrusted kisses on my cheeks.
So what is it about a meal that makes it unforgettable? Is it ultimately down to the food? Or do you need to build a story around it in your mind, a story crocheted from the people making the food, their background, the environment, the smell, the sounds, and your own projections and prejudices? My favourite Yao Zong moment, built from the perfect constellation of all these elements, had gone, but I would keep coming back. After all, reminiscing the past, especially in the company of such good food, can sometimes be a joy.
Urn Lily Spring is now at Pakelang Boat House B&B, No. 15 Dafengfeng, Changbin Township, Taitung
TEL: +886 921633406 or +886 89-881400