31st December 2014
Located just an hour and half to two hours away from Taipei by rail is the coastal city of Yilan. It was an impromptu decision to head to Yilan, people are puzzled why I went Yilan instead of the more famous Jiufen, Danshui for a day trip from Taipei.
However, this turned out to be one of the best parts in my Taiwan trip, the Toroko Express or trains heading to Yilan goes through cityscapes, rural farmlands, mountains and valleys, mirror-like rice fields and part of the railway traverse the beautiful coast along Taiwan’s east coast.
One of the famous snacks in Yilan is the seasonal Mochi Rice Cakes (麻糬米糕) by 宜蘭游家麻糬米糕, a street side stall which has been around since the 1900s. It which attracts long queues and its mochi rice cakes gets sold out easily by mid-day. These are only available during the cooler seasons of year as they spoil easily when the weather is too warm.
It was by chance that I got to try these chewy yet silky smooth mochi rice cakes after a group eof enthusiastic young Taiwanese whom I encountered recommended them to me. Watching these being made was like watching a sushi master preparing sushi at the counter. Upon order, the owner prepares each mocha rice cake one by one with great care. The mochi rice cakes come with different fillings and garnishing including sesame taro (芋香芝麻) or matcha (which ran out). Then there is the original flavour which is known as “古早味”, the simplest of the lot where you can really taste and feel the differing textures of the sticky glutinous rice and the chewy mochi. This is best enjoyed with some peanut powder provided.
Without prior knowledge, one might miss this hidden gem that blends into the many street side stalls around Yilan. Furthermore, it is common to see locals buying boxes of tens or twenty of these mochi rice cakes home. There was even a visitor from Taichung who came all the way for this. On top of that, these mochi rice cakes must be consumed within the same day or it will go bad.