Wed, Jan 26, 2005 - Page 16 News List

In search of adventure and the best mushrooms Taiwan has to offer


You can pluck as many mushrooms as you like in Puli nowadays. Traditional mushroom-growing farms there are turning themselves into recreational theme parks, with the emphasis on do-it-yourself, from picking them by hand to cooking them in microwave ovens.

To double your fun, Rich Year Farm offers classes to group visitors on how to prepare "outer-space bags" -- small packs of earth and nutrients that you can take home and use to grow your own mushrooms.

Nearly every farm has its own specialty dishes featuring different kinds of mushrooms. One that wins over all visitors at Rich Year Farm is prepared with oyster mushrooms, which release a butter-like flavor when they are baked in an oven or lightly sauteed.

Mushroom sashimi is one of the most unusual, yet popular, dishes at the Lu-Yao Mushroom Garden (鹿窯香菇園), in Peishan village (北山坑), on the outskirts of Puli. Fresh and thick Chinese mushrooms are dipped into boiling water for less than a minute and then sliced into six servings. The sliced cap meat is eaten with green mustard and soy sauce. It melts in the mouth. And the soy sauce is homemade from top-quality black soy beans -- quite different from soy sauce made commercially.

The nearby Herb Villa (香草叢林農莊) is a marvelous-looking restaurant with a relaxing atmosphere. It has a magnificent view overlooking Nankang Stream (南港溪), a valley and a herb garden on the hill. Restaurant owner Lin Kuo-tai (林國泰), who is in his 20s, majored in home gardening and built the garden restaurant all by himself. He is proud of his mushroom dishes and his hors d'oeuvre -- baked Chinese mushrooms with a rosemary-and-cheese topping -- is exceptional.

Before you race down to Nantou to sample for yourselves the best mushrooms Taiwan has to offer, do make an appointment. Most farms provide a lunch service only.

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