They say presentation matters, and Gohan’s (御飯食事处) bright and simple wooden facade stands out among the clutter in a narrow East District alley lined with eateries.
The interior is just as clean and pleasant as well, with minimalist decor using the same type of light-colored wood. Next to the cashier are displays of three types of rice — and as gohan literally means rice in Japanese, it is the star of the restaurant, which rotates its selection monthly.
As with the decor, the Japanese-style set meals are light, subtle yet hearty, with a variety of flavors and textures that serve to complement the rice instead of the other way around. Opened in April, Gohan is run by a three-generation family of seven from Siluo Township (西螺) in Yunlin County, which is famous for its rice and won first place in last year’s government-sponsored national rice contest. Judges commented that it was “chewy with hints of taro and just the right amount of stickiness.”
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
The menu explains their meticulous method of cooking rice, which they say is freshly harvested. They soak the rice in water for 10 minutes, which reduces the cooking time while preserving the texture. It’s cooked on a high flame for 20 minutes then on low for another 20 minutes. The method was decided through numerous family meetings, the menu states.
The set meals come in six separate portions: rice, meat, vegetables, soup, pickled vegetables and stewed vegetables. We order the salted sirloin with Japanese onion sauce (NT$450) with Siluo rice and the Gohan beef stew (NT$330) with purple glutinous rice. The elegant arrangements on the tray are aesthetically pleasing, and the fragrance of the rice is immediately apparent.
Everything is subtly flavored so as not to overpower the rice, which is by no means bland. Each dish brings a unique texture and taste that pairs well with the rice, at times even enhancing the rice flavors and creating new sensations. The best part is that nothing is greasy, leaving a very happy stomach after the meal.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
Let’s start from the side dishes. There was a carrot, sugar snap and konyak combo in a light tofu dressing with sesame seeds, which made for a refreshing starter with three distinct textures. The dressing was barely seasoned, but the taste of tofu came through after each bite. The miso soup was also on the lighter side with a slight seafood taste. The pickled cucumber and seaweed brought a new dimension with its sourness, and the two different textures also paired well together. Finally, the daikon radish with meat stew was on the sweeter side. The sweet soy sauce permeated the daikon chunks, but once you bit in, the daikon flavor is unlocked and quickly takes over. Though the portions are small, these dishes were multi-layered and obviously well thought out.
Most of the sirloin was wonderfully tender, although a few pieces were a bit uneven. The onion sauce had just about the right amount of sweetness and worked well with the meat. The flavor is too strong on its own, however, and here’s where the rice comes in. This food cannot be eaten without rice, which is the point of the restaurant. True to its description, the Siluo grain had a distinct taro undertone that melded perfectly with the juicy meat. It toned down the sauce, and the taro and onion aftertastes combined into a new, hard-to-describe sensation that lingered in the mouth.
It was a similar experience with the brisket, which came with just the right about of fat. The meat was also tender, softened by sitting in a slightly-sweet soy-based broth. The purple rice was grainier and chewier than the Siluo variety, and had more of the standard aroma one would expect from rice. This, too, was enhanced by the meat and soy aftertaste, and it was just as refreshing as the sirloin dish, albeit slightly heartier.
Just one little thing to nitpick. The brisket also came with glass noodles, which was probably unnecessary as the rice sufficed as the starch. Other than that, it was a superb dining experience that left me feeling full, satisfied and not at all heavy. Despite the intricacies, the food felt more like a home-cooked meal that could be enjoyed every day, and I would if not for the price range.
Address: 18, Ln 137, Yanji St, Taipei City (台北市延吉街137巷18號)
Telephone: (02) 2778-9539
Open: Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 am to 2pm, 5:30pm to 9pm
Average meal: NT$250 to NT$400
Details: Menu in English and Chinese, credit cards accepted
On the net: Search for GOHAN (御飯食事处) on Facebook
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