One of our best meals in Taiwan was actually at a soy sauce factory. A gorgeously roasted chicken which has been marinated with 豆腐乳 or fermented beancurd. Just look at that golden brown crispy sin, I mean skin.
Well, this is not just any soy sauce factory, but an artisanal outfit in Yilan using black soybeans. The name Lao Ma Ma 老妈妈 or Old Mum also evokes clever nostalgia.
This roast chicken marinated with fermented beancurd is part of a set meal that includes a healthy salad and piping hot soup brimming with assorted nutritious mushrooms. The whole set was designed to be good for the body.
You'll need to pre-order at least one hour in advance, as they will only roast upon order.
This is so the chicken arrives at your table with perfectly crispy skin and tender meat.
The restaurant is pretty big but still packs them in every day. If I remember correctly, they sell about 300 birds a day. We arrived a little on the late side, so luckily we could get seats.
We also got to talk to the boss who is quite the character.
Li Yu Qi started this business when he was about 42. Stressful city life had caused health and liver problems, so he had to take organic food to help himself recuperate. He found a lot of the food bland, so he resorted to soy sauce to enhance the flavour.
However, most soy sauce is factory made and there's no way to escape the chemical taste. He missed his mom's homemade soy sauce; it was salty but it had great natural flavour.
So he decided to move back to the country and start making soy sauce that had no toxic ingredients for the body. He was a total outsider and learnt the trade from scratch. So dedicated and persistent was he, that he not only perfected his formula but also innovated upon it - with a unusual inclusion of local pineapple to add a fruity dimension and lower the salty bean profile.
Mr Li uses black soybeans which cost four times more than regular soybeans but are higher in protein and nutrients. Here's some TV coverage in which he explains his process of handmaking soy sauce.
It takes about six months to properly age soy sauce; some can be aged longer like three years to fully concentrate the flavours.
You can buy the soy sauce, fermented beancurd and special dipping sauce in a small shop area near the front. I sampled some of the super aged ones and they were too potent and salty for me. The pineapple one didn't seem all that different to me. So I went with a bottle of the original (NT$180). It was after paying that I realised it was close to S$8 - gosh, I am going to use this sparingly!
There is some sad news though. Mr Li is planning to stop the business in 1-2 year's time, likely by end 2016. He refuses to sell his business to someone else or let his children handle it, lest others ruin the valuable brand he has built up over the years.
Anyway, this charismatic boss seems like a rolling stone, always moving on to new things and new ideas. "You know what's the worst thing? Being my wife, because you'll have to suffer all my crazy whims and pursuits!"
Well, if you're ever in Yilan, this place is certainly worth a visit. Phone ahead, as reservations are essential!
There is no official website and I have no idea how to get here, so here's the Google map for the location. Hopefully you can get a taxi here.
No. 68, Pocheng Rd, Yuanshan Township, Yilan County, Taiwan 26446
Tel: +886 3 922 6639
Restaurant operating hours
Mon-Fri: 11am to 3pm for lunch; 5pm to 7:30pm for dinner (last order 6:30pm)
Sat, Sun and PH: 11am to 3pm for lunch; 5pm to 8pm for dinner (last order 6:30pm)
Many thanks to CTC Travel and Taiwan Leisure Farm Development Association for this farmstay media trip