Taiwanese "Before & After" Restaurant
By staff reporter ZHOU LIN
"A million family heirlooms are no better than learning a homemade dish," declared Zhang Yongzhong, CEO of the Taiwanese "Before & After" restaurant. According to him, a sophistically-cooked dish passed down through generations inherits the flavor of family and is a symbol of love between parents and their children.
Zhang Yongzhong, an indigenous Taiwanese, told the reporter that "good things must be shared with good friends." In the spring of 2005, he chose Nanxincang in Dongcheng District of Beijing to open his first "Before & After" restaurant. The location is well-known as it was once the imperial granary to store imperial cereals and official ration rice during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911). A decade on, the restaurant is now part of a chain with altogether five branches in Beijing and a public open kitchen where citizens can learn Taiwanese cuisine and recipes from famous people. The Taiwanese-styled restaurant with a menu full of famous recipes has firmly captured the hearts of gourmets.
The key to cooking Chinese food is sincere and whole-hearted preparation. An earnest attitude is particularly needed to make the perfect delicacy. Well-prepared materials, outstanding technical skills, and patient stirring, chopping, and cooking all make the best chefs.
Spring Festival in Taiwan is an occasion for the whole family to sit around a bubbling hot pot in a house filled with the aroma of food, expressing their good wishes for the coming year and sending blessings to each other.
"Hotchpotch" (Treasure Bowl) is a big dish especially prepared for the eve of the lunar New Year. It combines 18 main materials including sea cucumber, shrimp, scallop, and yellow croaker, as well as 15 auxiliary ingredients. The cooking process has multiple steps and takes one and a half days. A special sauce is prepared in advance. Various main ingredients are marinated in the sauce for 24 hours and then all ingredients are put on a slow fire simmering for 12 hours. This time-consuming method makes every morsel soft and tender with rich flavors and an alluring taste, profusely praised by gourmets.
"Mother Yang's Braised Pork" originates from a touching story. Its creator was the mother of Yang Huaimin, the first male Taiwanese Opera actor. When Yang was young his whole family emigrated to the U.S., leaving him alone to perform in Taiwan. His mother missed her youngest son so much that she came back every half year to cook for him. As braised and minced pork was easy to preserve, Yang's mother would cook a large pot of it and divide it into 20 or 30 servings before leaving for America again. However, as Yang's mother got older she found she could no longer make the long journey home. She would call her son from the other side of the Pacific Ocean and ask whether he had any braised pork to eat. Yang always answered, "Don't worry, there is still some left." Later, Yang explained that he had frozen the last serving of meat but never ate it knowing that it might be the last braised pork dish ever made by his elderly mother. This dish, with a back-story of motherly love, was adopted by "Before & After" and its sentiment resonates with every Chinese who finds him- or herself far from home.
"We try to invoke the memories of moving stories like this with our food, and there are too many of them to share," said Zhang Yongzhong.
Another new restaurant has recently been established in the cultural and innovative base of Dougezhuang in Beijing's Chaoyang District comprising a distribution base and recipe R&D center. Visitors can learn how to prepare famous dishes at the center. "Family Cook" and "Taiwanese Food Fashion" are two new brands that allow top chefs to share their culinary skills with the general public. Zhang Yongzhong said, "The earliest Taiwanese cuisines were those sold by peddlers on the roadside." Delicacies for everyone is the distinguishing feature of Taiwan culture and also the business philosophy of "Before & After."
At the Taiwanese "Before & After" chain in Beijing, everyone can get to know Taiwan, sample the delicious food, and bask in nostalgia.
Braised Prawns with Beancurd