Sunday, March 30, 2014

Taiwan Travelogue: Traditional Sour Dough Bread in Shilin

There is always a reason for a crowd, and more over so if there is a long queue.
It is a concept embedded in our minds for as long as we can remember, and it does not matter if you are a local or a traveler, the same rule applies. We are taught to be inquisitive (but not to an annoying extent to pry into personal business), but generally, we do have that desire to-know and that helped us to get to many places; or moving to that next level in life as we learn along the way when we asked the why, how, when, what, who and where in many stages of our lives.
It is just a way of life, and though curiosity does kills the cat, there are times when curiosity could help to lead to the discovery of something new; a lesson learnt.
This was how we came to discover an interesting shop facing the streets near Shilin Night Market.

As we were heading home after our adventure in Shilin Night Market, we passed by brightly lit shophouses located in the vicinity of the area and we spotted a long queue forming before a shop.
Curious, we took a closer look to check out the reason behind the hype.
(Everything is interesting when you're a tourist, and if there is a queue somewhere, there must be something good, or the opposite).

In the midst of my excitement, I may have overlooked to check the name of the shop, but I think I did capture a small sign on the left hand side (though partially blocked by the person standing there), that there is a mere mention of Old Zhang (translated from the Chinese characters there).
At closer look, this is a shop selling sourdough bread; Old Zhang Sourdough Bread, perhaps?

The menu displayed at the top corner of the shop

The interesting part about this shop is not just in the obvious retro form it seem to be in but also, the whole process of the making of the sourdough bread is performed before everyone in a very traditional way. It seems to me that this is a family-run business, as everyone sloughed and toiled, rushing to make batch after batch of sourdough bread to cater to the hungry demands of the customers waiting in line.

I loved scenes like these; and to see for myself the art of making traditional food.
The keyword here being traditional; as these are priceless these days, with the rapid process of modernization and development where we are getting lost in the needs of technology and constant improvement that we have probably lost touch with what was probably part of the early history/days bringing us today.
It can be a rather nostalgic journey but it is still a comforting thought that there are still many, though rare, who are still doing things the old way despite the existence of machinery and improvised technology which could speed up the processing time. I guess it is not the same, and that some things just need to be done the old way; especially when it comes to traditional food like these.
Yes, some things can be replaced but there is just something about that classic taste in the tender process of the making (especially when it comes to food) where that personal touch, passion, and emotions, not to mention the varying pressure from the hands from different individuals which simply cannot be programmed or taught to a machine. It is just as simple as that, and while the trade of manual labor may be slowly taking a back seat, there are still many who are looking out to relive that old tastes from yesterday, and that alone, is more than enough motivation for the experts to continue the trade for as long as they could.

Just like this shop; Old Zhang, where the folks can be seen hard at work, grueling at each of their own task; be it pounding the dough, setting the stove, rotating the trays for baking, all under the watchful and admiring eyes of the eager customers waiting in line.

A glimpse of the sourdough breads; freshly baked and running out fast with the amount of orders from the crowd.
Most of the customers actually order in numbers of tens and above, and if you wanted certain flavors despite it running out, you would need to wait for another 20-30 minutes for the next batch to be ready.

Red Bean was really popular; and they have already run out by the time it was our turn and we had already waited for almost half an hour, so we just grabbed whatever they have.

Their signature flavor; or rather the original, was the Sourdough Green Onion Bread.
There was another version, in the little cakes, but we got the bread version.

The Pepper Pork Sourdough Bread

Hopefully we still get to see old trades like these everywhere in the world; as these are really makes the whole exploration really memorable and meaningful.

Keep it up, Old Zhang (or Lao Zhang in Chinese), this is a priceless and precious trade and should be sustained for generations to come, and I am sure many agree with me~
Finding this shop adds to the enriching part of my trip, despite the fact that I waited in a long line along the corridors for these sourdoughs, still the concept of the shop provides that little window into their process and that itself, kept the customers in check to wait patiently for their rewards.

Suddenly, it seems that it's worth the wait :-)

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