Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 15 News List

[RESTAURANT REVIEW] Sankokuighi (三國一)

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Cold collation of fin and jelly served Thai-style.

PHOTO: IAN BARTHOLOMEW, TAIPEI TIMES

Until about four years ago, Sankokuighi was a shop selling Japanese-style food and bubble tea, and was indistinguishable from thousands of similar establishments dotted across Taiwan. Now it caters to bus-loads of local tourists for whom the restaurant has become an indispensable part of the Hualien experience. This was achieved when owner Chuang Wen-teng (莊文登) developed a menu dedicated to the ocean sunfish, a deep water fish which is exceptionally rich in gelatin.

Although it can be found in tropical and temperate waters around the world, in Taiwan the ocean sunfish is most readily caught off the coast of Hualien due to geographic features of the seabed and the workings of the Kuroshio current.

"In the past, only a small part of the fish was used for food," Chuang said, "but working with local research institutions, we now make use of up to 95 percent of the fish." The ocean sunfish can reach a weight of over 1,000kg.

Also called the mambo fish (曼波魚), the ocean sunfish's highly gelatinous constitution poses considerable problems in preparing it as food, not least because it simply doesn't taste of very much at all. Considerable ingenuity has been brought to bear on resolving this problem, but ultimately the emphasis for the ardent foodie has to be more on texture than on taste. In any case, there are plenty of conventional dishes on the a la carte menu (the pig's foot, which has been mechanically massaged to reduce oil content, is highly recommended), but the establishment's signature mambo fish banquet (NT$5,000 for a table of eight to 10) should only be embarked upon in the spirit of adventure. It also needs to be mentioned, for the environmentally aware, that though not a protected species, the sunfish falls into a conservation gray area which means that rather than eating it, you could instead decide to adopt one (www.oceansunfish.org/).

Sankokuighi (三國一)

Address: 536-1 Hoping Rd, Hualien City (花蓮市和平路536-1號)

Telephone: (03) 831-1902

Open: 1am to 2pm (lunch); 5pm to 9pm (dinner)

Average meal: NT$500

Details: No English menu; credit cards accepted

On the Net: www.tw301.com.tw


What little flesh that can be found on the massive creature can be sampled in fried mambo with green vegetables (碧綠炒曼波). The very high water content of the meat means that even after it has been served, the meat rapidly transforms from relatively tender to something verging on crisp. The highlight of the mambo is a cold collation of fin and jelly, served with a Thai style garnish of chili and cilantro (八珍曼波翅). The contrast between the different textures, with the fin feeling similar to ox tendon and the jelly very close to green bean jelly, but less flavorful, is quite elegant and not without interest. Then there is a dish of the fish coupled with sea cucumber, another in which it is made into a sweet dish based on bird's nest soup, all to be washed down with a mixture of a hard fish jelly and pine needle juice mixed into a fruit drink. Fish ice cream is also available. - Ian Bartholomew

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