For the longest time, I kept reading 眷村 as 春村. Do you see the difference? Ok, let’s take a closer look.
眷村 (juàncūn)：military village
春村 (chūncūn)：spring village
Military villages 眷村, in Taiwan, actually refer to the housing communities built during the Kuomintang retreat (1940s-1950s) to Taiwan, to provide a place to live for all those mainland soldiers and their relatives. If still standing today, they are recognizable by their one-story uniform-architecture and decrepit look. As for spring villages 春村, this is a pure linguistic fluke on my part. An episode of TVBSuper Taste 食尚玩家 titled 「春神來了怎知道」happened to be shot in one of Kaohsiung’s military villages 眷村, but unaware of those military housing at the time, seeing how lively the place looked, and the similarity of the characters 眷 and 春, my mind was fine with it being called spring village 春村. Learning Chinese is fun, isn’t it? 😉
I wanted to point out those military villages because the establishment I’m babbling about today is considered as juàncūn food 眷菜, meaning dishes and tastes from mainland China which traveled along with the soldiers. Soldiers and their families came from all four corners of China, each with their own culinary traditions, and so I will only cover a tiny piece of it in this post.
Liu’s Traditional Juancun Food actually started as a homemade dumpling shop, over 50 years ago, but with the handover to a new owner, the establishment has made sour cabbage and pork hot-pot as one its main attraction, and has kept “Liu” in the restaurant’s name to honor its original founder. Sour cabbage hot-pot is a tradition from the Dongbei 東北 region of China, for the uninitiated, the taste is rather peculiar, but it will grow on you, it did for me at least.
The menu offers some group set meals, including small side dishes, scallion pancakes and dumplings, and of course the sour cabbage and pork hot-pot. Literally, the hot-pot, 酸菜白肉, should be translated as sour vegetables white meat, but in Chinese, white meat does not refer to the wing or breast of the chicken, meat by default means pork. Knowing that the hotpot already came with meat and other ingredients inside, I didn’t feel like getting ourselves overstuffed, and so only ordered the hot-pot and a beef roll pancake, to which we later added a plain scallion pancake.
Though I always find it fun to cook my own food when eating hot-pot, for once, I was happy to see the pot, charcoal-powered and with its huge chimney, arrive at the table with all the ingredients bathing in the bubbling hot broth. After a trip at the sauce station, we all digged in. A generous portion of thin slices of pork, tofu skin, frozen tofu, small meatballs, all on a thick bed of homemade sour cabbage, immersed in a broth of pork bones and chicken, this was totally the kind of hearty pot I expected, especially on the frigid day that I went.
Coincidentally, a week before, I got invited to a friend’s family gathering, it was at a buffet-style restaurant, which also served sour cabbage hot-pot. Hence, the novelty of the sour cabbage broth faded way, but at least, at Liu’s I was fully focused on the hot-pot and not a myriad of other dishes. I have never taster nor know of any western soup made with sour/pickled vegetables, so it took a few sips of the broth to register and figure out if I really liked it or not, but seeing how I kept refilling my bowl, it was clear that I approved. There’s just something about that sour cabbage, it gives another layer to the broth and keeps stimulating the appetite, I found it addicting in the end, but that’s just me. For once, I almost finished the broth of my hot-pot, unlike other times when I usually go for sichuanese mala hot-pot, because really, who is crazy enough to stomach all those fiery spices?
Since I couldn’t think of a similar sour vegetable soup in the Western culinary repertoire, I imagined using sauerkraut into a broth, maybe that sounds horrible, but it maybe also taste better than what one would think. Opinions on this anyone? 😉
Anyway, moving on to the beef roll pancake and scallion pancake. I enjoyed the scallion pancake, it was solid, maybe a tad oily, but the broth quickly washed that away. The beef roll looked promising, stuffed with scallion and shredded iceberg lettuce, but were it not for the creamy dressing, each bite would have felt less heavy. Oily and creamy just didn’t harmoniously add up in this case.
I can’t comment on the dumplings or beef noodle soups, which are two of their house specialties, but will surely be back to taste them out.
There are actually two restaurants in the Zuoying area, both near the Lotus lake, not convenient to get to by public transportation so you’ll have to taxi or scooter it. If you go to their very first shop, do know that A-Main mochi has a spot inside their main hall, so you don’t have to trek it to the Yancheng district for some mochi goodness.
Scooter or bicycle is really the best way to get around Lotus lake and the Zuoying area, and if you’re still lucky, you may still catch a glimpse of the remnants of the military village there. I was lucky to visit it in its last months of life in 2012, a great contrast with the scene of shambles now.
Sour/pickled cabbage hot-pot has been quite a revelation to me, and I recommend you give it a try. Military villages are all over Taiwan (east coast aside), so chances are there may just be another respectable place near where you live, serving this specialty from another time.
Name: Liu’s Traditional Juancun Food 劉家酸菜白肉火鍋
Additional Reviews+Photos: pixnet/goldenbee, pixnet/wenshing
Address: multiple locations. Address visited: 高雄市左營區介壽路227號
Menu: Chinese only (give Pleco some thought）