Monday, August 11, 2008

Lu-rou-fan, 魯肉飯,

My daughter called us saying that they went to the A & J restaurant in Rockville, MD for a meal. She ordered one of her favorite, Lu-rou-fan (魯肉飯). Sailee, her almost one year daughter, ate it with enthusiasm. A & J is called 半畝園(half-acre garden) in Chinese. 半畝園 is a very old restaurant in Taipei behind RenAi Hospital (仁愛醫院). It serves traditional Northern China dishes, mainly noodles and Shaobin (燒餅), definitely no 魯肉飯. It is an ordinary eatery. It bravely went to Beijing, the center of Chinese northern cooking, to open several restaurants. They have been very successful. There are 半畝園 in many cities in the US. They serve Northern Chinese and Taiwanese dishes, including 魯肉飯. I have no idea whether they all belong to the same chain stores.

魯肉飯 is such a traditional Taiwanese dish that you can almost find it in every roadside stand, night market and simple restaurants. It is basically ground pork slow-cook with fried shallot and soy sauce. Many eateries have made themselves famous because of this dish. It is an example that I quite often made when friends asked me about the difference in life between Taiwan and the US. I said, in the US, I am happy if I find a place to have 魯肉飯, such as A & J. In Taipei, I have to carefully consider where to have the best 魯肉飯. No self-respect Taiwanese will cook 魯肉飯 with ground pork. It has to be cooked with carefully thinly hand-sliced belly pork, preferably from Taiwan native black-hair pig. The essence of the dish is not the pork, it is the lard from the slow-cooked pork. The server scoops a spoonful of the meat with gravy and lays it on a bowl of hot rice. The customer then mixes the gravy throughly with the rice using chopsticks. The lard coats each individual rice grain, and makes them shiny and individually separated. It is basically the same principle as mixing olive oil with a bowl of perfectly cooked al dente pasta. A bowl of this rice can be finished in one minute, or two at most! Some stores also just sell "rice mixed with lard, 豬油拌飯", it is rice with lard and some gravy without meat.

I attached a picture of the skyline of Taipei at sunset. This series of photographs was taken on a small hill behind our condo at dinner time, while I was think about the various 魯肉飯 eateries under that skyline.

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