While local Taiwanese cooking is said to be light, with natural flavors and freshness prioritized, Hakka cooking is often characterized as heavy, or greasy, with strong flavors, fried, spiced, fatty and salty foods.
The Old Golden Dragon in Nanchuang Township, Miaoli, off the main Sun yat-sen Freeway, near the Formosa Freeway intersection and close to Highway 124, is an exception to the general rule of Hakka cooking in that it serves up locally found foods that tend to be light on the palate and easy on the stomach.
As an example is the fresh trout caught in nearby streams and lakes, where the water flows unspoiled from the peaks of the Central Mountain Range. There are four ways of preparing the fish (including smoked, sauteed, sweet and sour, and steamed). We choose the latter and it arrives sprinkled with grated carrot and spring onions, with the addition of yellow beans. These added a piquancy to the dish and helped create the subtle, slightly sweet, fresh fish stock that was a byproduct of the cooking method.
The trout, which is fished out of a large tank and put straight into a pan, is plump and not too bony. It arrives center-stage as part of the set meal for two, and is a bargain for NT$490. There is a side dish of local vegetables and a plate of shredded pork mixed up with plum leaves that has a vinegary taste, almost like a borscht. Intestine soup with Chinese medicine or herbs is better than it might sound. A bowl of rice and a pot of tea rounds the meal off. It's simple, satisfying and effective.
Sliding doors and odd antiques from the 1950s and earlier, including 1920s Shanghai bathroom product prints, give the place a Japanese colonial period feel. The tables are heavy, made of dark wood and were originally used for sewing machines. The wrought iron foot pedals are still attached. On the clean, plain walls are old fish traps, curios and sections of Japanese hot tubs, which now form shelving for ceramics and local artifacts.
The background music is country and western (Taiwanese style) and albums of Hakka songs can be purchased at the counter. There is also a shelf of goods made entirely of folded paper, such as geese and palanquins. Perfect for the folks back home.
Found in the center of town, the eatery is close to a warren of shops in a lane that has been developed for local and, mainly, Japanese tourists. With mountains, lakes and other attractions, the Old Golden Dragon is a good place to stop off for lunch while on a tour of a picturesque slice of rural Taiwan.