Hualien is sometimes described as Taiwan’s Eden. The clean air and slower pace of life are attractive to many, not least members of Taiwan’s foreigner community, who visit for the surfing, trekking, cycling, bird watching and myriad other outdoor activities. Some of them have come and stayed. In recent months, Hualien has seen a small burgeoning of foreign-run eateries, which have greatly diversified the county’s food profile.
Most prominently located is Salt Lick (火車頭), which opened eight months ago on Hualien’s busy Chongshan Road (中山路) with a specialty in American southern-style barbeque. A second recent opening is Dos Tacos, serving up Tex-Mex, also centrally located in Hualien’s downtown area. A little off the beaten track is Jass Kathi Roll, providing a taste of India.
Salt Lick has been built from the ground up by Jason Delickta, 38, from Michigan and Benjamin Mercer, 29, from Alaska, who had talked about starting a restaurant while both were studying in Taipei. They finally opened Salt Lick in late April. Both have a background in catering and wanted to introduce a different kind of American food to Taiwan.
“There are not many authentic American restaurants in Taiwan, and most Taiwanese don’t know what authentic American food is. They think it’s hamburgers, and maybe pizza. We want to expand their knowledge a little bit,” Delickta said, numbering off the restaurant’s signature dishes: Texas brisket, Kansas City ribs and the pulled pork from the Carolinas, all made using a smoker that was built in Hualien to Delickta’s own design.
“The idea of what a barbeque is for Taiwanese is much different from our idea, so in some way we wanted to introduce them to real American-style barbecue … Taiwanese really love to eat meat and this was a different style for them to try,” Mercer said.
In creating Salt Lick, Delickta and Mercer were committed to creating something particularly their own. The pair did much of the construction and renovation work on the restaurant, with help from friends.
“Many people who saw us working on the place thought we were doing this to save money. Our reason is that we wanted this place to be ours, from the ground up,” Mercer said.
The same applies to the food and Salt Lick is committed to making things from scratch, from the sauces, potato chips and particularly the time-consuming process of cooking the brisket, ribs and pork shoulder to mouthwatering tenderness.
Creating Salt Lick is part of a journey for both owners, said Mercer: “We both wanted a big new experience to have [in Taiwan].”
“It is taking living in another country to the next level,” Delickta said, adding that opening the restaurant had opened his eyes to many new aspects of Taiwanese society that he had never experienced before.
Salt Lick is located at 147 Chongshan Rd, Hualien City (花蓮市中山路147號). Tel: (03) 833-2592. Open 11:30am to 2:30pm; 5pm to 11pm.
Jason Crawford, 38, is another young entrepreneur who set his sights on Hualien for his first business venture, Dos Tacos, which opened in July. Crawford came to Hualien two years ago, after he fell in love with the city and knew that he had to move there.
“It’s like a tropical Vancouver Island, where I lived. You got the mountains, you got the clean air, you got the ocean, and surfing,” he said.