CNY Travel | Discover Tainan’s top art enthusiast restaurants

Because of one sentence: “Designers, head back home!” Designer, Lee Han-ping relocated back to Xigang and created the unique Xigang Gucang Restaurant and Shanhua Ting She Restaurant.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
Because of one sentence: “Designers, head back home!” Designer, Lee Han-ping relocated back to Xigang and created the unique Xigang Gucang Restaurant and Shanhua Ting She Restaurant.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Tainan is a place in Taiwan known for its local delicacies. Over the past few years, more and more young people have combined food with art to create places that encompass culture and creativity and allow visitors to both admire art and taste local dishes.

Among other highlights, Tainan’s “Gucang Restaurant” and “Ting She Restaurant” have become this year’s most popular places to dine.

After Being Inspired by a Lecturer, the Designer Decided to Return Home

Lee Han-Ping, the owner of “Ting She Restaurant,” said that he was inspired after attending a lecture by Japanese elite graphic designer and art director of MUJI, Kenya Hara. Hara had said, “Designers, head back home! Go back to the countryside to help farmers and lead the city people back to rural areas.”

This led Lee to start thinking about how to use his talents to contribute and pay back his community and hometown, Tainan.

The portraits on Shanhua Sugar Corporation’s Ting She Restaurant’s walls are all people who have connections with Taiwanese literature or the Taiwan Sugar Corporation. By re-constructing the mold-infested walls, the designer demonstrated his talents and expertise.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
The portraits on Shanhua Sugar Corporation’s Ting She Restaurant’s walls are all people who have connections with Taiwanese literature or the Taiwan Sugar Corporation. By re-constructing the mold-infested walls, the designer demonstrated his talents and expertise.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)

Lee hails from Xigang District in the rural area of Tainan. He already received Tainan TOP 10 Creative Product Design Award and Taiwan Excellence Award, awarded by the Council of Agriculture, under his belt.

But while he flourished, Xigang was faced with the challenge of young adults packing up to work in the cities, leaving behind bedridden elders and dependent children.

Most people in Taiwan have heard of Beigang, Nangang, and Donggang, but rarely has anyone heard of Xigang. Therefore, the 40-year-old designer decided to head back and contribute back to his hometown.

Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung
Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung

Sesame-oil Chicken Hot Pot from the Gucang Restaurant in Xigang: making do-it-yourself fun and tasty

Fortunately, due to his profession in film and design, Lee had encountered the bidding of Xigang’s old abandoned barn (originally owned by the Farmer’s Association) four years ago.

He went back, bid on the old barn, and transformed the space into Gucang Restaurant. Sesame-oil chicken is sold exclusively at this restaurant.

What makes Gucang sesame-oil chicken so special is that they first place fresh chicken thigh meat, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic into a pot. After bringing a small stove onto the table, the restaurant has customers cook the dish themselves.

Usually, customers can get a taste of the fried chicken meat before soup is added to make the dish into the sesame-oil chicken hot pot.

The reason for frying the dish in advance is to extract the sesame-oil to make it smell and taste better. This in turn, also passes on Xigang’s traditional specialty: sesame-oil.

In just a few years, Gucang Restaurant has become known for its long line of customers and has earned the love and approval of foodies.

By placing the ingredients into a pot and asking customers to cook by themselves, the restaurant can make the experience both fun and educational.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
By placing the ingredients into a pot and asking customers to cook by themselves, the restaurant can make the experience both fun and educational.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
By placing the ingredients into a pot and asking customers to cook by themselves, the restaurant can make the experience both fun and educational.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
By placing the ingredients into a pot and asking customers to cook by themselves, the restaurant can make the experience both fun and educational.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
All 16 portraits on the walls of Shanhua Ting She Restaurant have their own stories.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
All 16 portraits on the walls of Shanhua Ting She Restaurant have their own stories.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)

Through Gucang Restaurant, local farmers and community partners worked together. Combined with the promotional efforts from Xigang’s Farmer Association, locals, and government, and the changing attitude of Taiwanese people toward cooking oil (a result of the food safety scandal in 2011), Xigang’s sesame farm area takes up more than 400 hectare, today.

This has brought back Xigang’s reputation for being the No. 1 sesame producer in Taiwan.

4rfb t’s menu and prices(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
4rfb t’s menu and prices(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)

Shanhua Sugar Corporation’s Ting She Restaurant: the return of original and traditional styles

Earlier this year, Lee also bid on Shanhua Sugar Corporation’s abandoned town hall, and transformed the near-ruined building, into the Ting She Restaurant.

After administering some much-needed construction work on the moldy concrete walls, Lee painted various portraits of officials and talents in relation to Taiwanese literature and the Taiwan Sugar Corporation on them.

The beauty of his artwork transformed the old building into a popular, hard-to-book restaurant, just six months after its opening date.

Earlier this year, Lee also bid on Shanhua Sugar Corporation’s abandoned town hall, and transformed the near-ruined building, into the Ting She Restaurant.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
Earlier this year, Lee also bid on Shanhua Sugar Corporation’s abandoned town hall, and transformed the near-ruined building, into the Ting She Restaurant.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)

In its initial stage of construction, many retired workers from the Taiwan Sugar Corporation came to surveil the site with hostility.

Upon witnessing the building returned to its former glory after construction, many were touched to the core and brought out old relics from the sugar corporation, such as telephones and vases. They merely said happily, “These things belong here.”

Retired workers from the Sugar Corporation brought out old telephones from their own homes to place as decorations in the restaurant.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)
Retired workers from the Sugar Corporation brought out old telephones from their own homes to place as decorations in the restaurant.(Courtesy of Chen Chih-tung)

If you should come to Tainan to try out local delicacies, don’t miss these art enthusiast restaurants, and experience for yourselves, the combination of past and present, and of art, food and design.