Rosemary, sweet basil, lemon grass and other herbs and greens thrive in the small verdant garden outside Ryou Cafe (日楞). Inside, a group of young people discuss subjects related to organic farming. Across the room, an anti-nuclear flag hangs on the wall, above a shelf filled with books. Toward the back near the cake display, the list of discussion topics for the month is written on a large blackboard, ranging from food safety to land policies.
The house cat, however, doesn’t seem to have the slightest interest in the human activities inside the room. The fluffy creature looks out of the glass entry door, appearing a tad melancholy as if it feels sad for not being able to go out and play.
It is a usual weekday afternoon at the cafe on the periphery of the Shida (師大) neighborhood. A venue to promote sustainability and push social and environmental issues, Ryou Cafe has quickly become a popular hangout for urban farmers, environmentalists, college students and those looking for a green spot to relax since its opening one year ago.
Many of the ingredients found in the food come from local growers and producers, as the cafe’s young proprietors support smallholder farmers and sustainable agriculture. For the brunch menu, served from 8:30am to 2:30pm, free-range eggs from Hsinchu are used to make the pork egg burger (大麥豬嘻哈蛋堡, NT$180), with the meat coming from the animals feeding on barely. Locally grown komatsuna, or Japanese mustard spinach, are mixed with herbs freshly harvested from the garden to make the cafe’s rendition of pesto sauce for the bagel with tomato and pesto (青醬番茄貝果, NT$160).
For afternoon tea, Ryou offers plenty of choices of Taiwanese tea (NT$160 to NT$250), including green tea from Alishan (阿里山), black tea from Dapang (達邦), Yongkangshan tea (永康山茶) from Taitung, the mountain variety in Dawushan (大武山) and Pingtung’s specialty, Gangkou tea (港口茶). There is also a selection of brews (NT$160 and NT$180) made from coffee beans grown in Taichung’s Sinshe (新社), Shihjhao (石棹) in Chiayi and Pingtung’s Taiwu (泰武).
The desserts are all homemade from a pastry studio located at the foot of Yangmingshan (陽明山國家). The banana and black sesame-flavored chiffon cake (戚風蛋糕, NT$100) I tried was baked to a fluffy and moist perfection, and the layer of whipped cream on the outside was simply a masterstroke. Others on the sweet menu include the financier cake (費南雪, NT$100), chestnut cake (栗子蛋糕, NT$110) and brownie with vanilla ice cream (布朗尼香草冰淇淋, NT$120). There is also gelato (NT$100 for two scoops) coming in several flavors including green tea, orange and brown rice.
For something savory, Ryou has three varieties of quiche (鹹派, NT$140). The mushroom and nuts pie I ordered came with homemade yoghurt and slices of tomatoes sprinkled with white sugar. It went very well with my aged black tea (陳年老茶, NT$250) which, according to my waiter, has been aged for 20 years, and has a pleasantly smooth and mellow taste.
The atmosphere at the cafe is homey and restful with the interior largely decorated with wood. Part of the dining space is reserved for displaying fair-trade goods, alternative hygiene products for women and articles for daily use made from drift wood by Aboriginal artists in Hualian, which are all available for purchase.
Ryou Cafe regularly hosts discussions, film screenings and other activities to address environmental issues. Those interested can check out its Facebook page — search for Ryou Cafe — for updates.