A treasure behind the wall

The Si Zhi Tang is one of Taipei's hidden gems that serves up delicious Taiwanese cuisine — Sunpix
Chen is the proud owner of Si Zhi Tang — Sunpix
Fresh fig and green salad with shrimp — Sunpix
Mushrooms mixed rice with pork and scallops — Sunpix
Braised spare ribs with water chestnuts — Sunpix

NUMBER 18 at Jinan Road in ­Section 3 of the Da-an district in Taipei appears to be a plain wall, with just an in-built letter box ­visible.

Behind this wall lies Si Zhi Tang, a low-key gem of a restaurant ­serving ­delicious Taiwanese ­cuisine.

Without any signage, its ­obscurity seems almost ­intentional, and only those in the know would be able to locate this vintage ­eatery.

Si Zhi Tang was originally an ­architect's private home.

Even with the address, it is quite hard to find, because the entrance is just sort of a small alley, which like the ­restaurant itself, is hidden from view from the road.

Upon entering, one finds a shabby chic environment which provides a cozy ambiance, with soft lighting and some natural light from the windows on the far side of the restaurant which opened out onto a narrow corridor.

The dishes served at Si Zhi Tang is best described as fusion food.

For owner Chen Chao Wen, it's about a new way of looking at traditional Taiwanese cuisine.

The only dishes one would have to be a bit cautious in ordering are those with the fermented beancurd popularly known as 'stinky tofu'.

But the locals do consider this dish a national ­treasure, and would recommend it to every tourist to Taiwan to try it, at least once.

Stinky tofu (bean-curd), which is cooked in both dry (stir-fried) or wet (in soup) styles – like budu in ­Kelantan and Terengganu – would certainly be an acquired taste for those who like it.

Though on the pricey side (between RM50 to RM120 per dish), the food served at Si Zhi Tang is simply delectable.

Chen, ­however, defends his prices, ­explaining that his restaurant uses organic foods and strictly no MSG (mono-sodium glutamate).

He stresses, for example, that besides using organically-grown ­vegetable, the chicken used in his restaurant are free range and not commercially-bred broilers.

My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed our recent dining experience, which comprised the following dishes:

»Fresh fig and green salad with shrimp,
»Coconut sauteed chicken with sesame oil,
»Water bamboo sauteed with cauliflower and bean curd tofu,
»Mushrooms mixed rice with pork and scallops,
»Braised spare ribs with water chestnuts,
»Stinky tofu with pickle and preserved eggs, and
»Seafood and taro Hakka rice noodle soup.

Next time you're in Taipei, check out Si Zhi Tang for a meal you will not easily forget.

caption face - (right) Chen is the proud owner of Si Zhi Tang (bottom, centre), a gem of a place hidden behind a wall (left) which serves up dishes like (clockwise, from below) fresh fig and green salad; mushrooms mixed rice; and braised spare ribs.