This is actually a restaurant, an extremely popular lu-wei (滷味) restaurant near my office in the Songshan District of Taipei. Inside that door there are eight to ten tables, and they'll all be full any lunch hour of the week. For any of you that haven't had lu-wei (滷味), its tofu and other simple dishes marinated in soy sauce and spices. I met up with my friend today, Markus, for a lunch of dumplings, leeks, spiced seaweed, spicy shredded tofu over tea eggs and spicy dried noodles. Lunch cost NT$280 (US$8).
Markus and I have been meeting up for lunches going way back. We met in nineties at Anya Gym, a basement gym near Shita University. We used to shoot the breeze as we ran the treadmills and that's how we became friends. Since then, we've been taking turns choosing restaurants around Taipei and treating each other. We usually hook up every one to two months. This time, it was Markus' turn to choose / pay, and he did a mighty fine job. He found 村子口, or the Entrance to the Village Restaurant.
The Entrance to the Village Restaurant is second KMT restaurant Markus has taken me to in the Songshan area. When I say KMT, I mean places set up by 1949 refugees from China. 1.5 million Chinese people escaped to Taiwan after Chiang Kai-shek, in all of his incompetence and corruption, lost China to Mao Zedong. If you go inside, you'll immediately know what I'm talking about. There's KMT memorabilia on the walls and slogans as well. I've heard they sometimes play old "patriotic" songs, though notice the scare quotes. Those songs must have been a bitter pill for the local people to swallow, especially after how cruelly they were colonized by the 1949 refugees from China.
One thing I didn't care for at the Entrance to the Village Restaurant was the waitress' attitude when she greeted us. Instead of asking us what we would like to eat, she simply pointed at a menu and grunted. Now you might think this is just her way, but she didn't seem to have a problem speaking in full and polite sentences with the other customers. The reason I'm bringing this up is I am afraid that we were being singled out because of our skin color. You see, both Markus and myself are white. I think she must have judged that we couldn't speak Chinese, which is not the case. This is how long it took for us to get through to her. We had the following conversation, and it was in Chinese:
Me: Could we have some menus please?
Waitress: (holding menu and pointing) Grunt!
Me: Could we have a pen please?
Me: You don't want to talk, right?
Me: My friend can speak Chinese. I can speak Chinese. You don't need to be so nervous. We don't feel good.
Waitress: Well, er... um... What would you like to eat?
Markus: Spicy noodles. 10 dumplings, and some tea eggs.
Me: Could I please have some white vinegar?
Waitress: (chilling a fraction) Okay. Wait a minute.
Me: Could we have some soy sauce?
Waitress: (still trying to relax) I'll bring some to your table.
(Seconds later, and yelling at us)
Waitress: HEY! GIVE ME THAT SOY SAUCE BACK! ANOTHER TABLE NEEDS IT!
Markus: Miss, you can have the soy sauce when you ask politely. How does that sound?
Waitress: (finally, a smile) Sir, could I please have the soy sauce?
Me: And I want some glasses.
Waitress: (taking me by the arm - Wow!) Here they are.
I think next time I go to the Entrance to the Village Restaurant, the service is going to be better. The food is already great. There's also a big cheery guy with betel-nut stained teeth at the door, wishing everyone well when they leave. He shouted "thank you" in English at us as we were leaving. Markus is actually German and Spanish. I'm a new Taiwanese, but the intent was right.