Taiwan's Little Burma

By Kev Lax¡@Translated by Christine Wang

       Taiwan's largest Burmese-Chinese community lives in Zhonghe City, not far from Taipei City. Huaxin Street is the center of this community, the place where Burmese-Chinese go to eat familiar foods, and chat in the "old country's" language.

       At Huaxin Street you can sample inexpensive Southeast Asian food, and enjoy an atmosphere noticeably different to the one that prevails in Taipei. You'll find yourself surrounded by signs in Burmese script, and hear a language you don't usually hear in Taipei.

       Most of the restaurants on the street are simple, low-cost eateries, but the flavor is distinctly non-Taiwanese--"Yunnanese, Thai and Burmese style," the signs say. At several places you can see people chatting with friends and drinking tea. This leisurely approach contrasts sharply with the hectic lives of many city folk in Taiwan.

       Huaxin Street has two other things which the initiated love--milk tea, and "Indian cakes." This tea, made using condensed milk and black tea, is drunk widely in Southeast Asia. Sweet and addictive, it usually costs around NT$25 a cup.

       The "Indian cakes" are a kind of naan bread, baked after being stuck on the inside of a special oven. Huaxin Street is one of very few places in Taiwan where this South Asian staple can be bought. Taken with butter or beans, they make for a very tasty snack.

       The street is particularly busy at weekends when it resembles a bustling market in Southeast Asia. One woman sells Thai-style papaya and chili salad, which she mixes to order while you wait. You can also buy Southeast Asian ingredients if you want to cook Burmese or Thai dishes at home.

       One notable establishment is the Li Yuan, at 16 Huaxin Street. This little eatery is run by a Burmese-Chinese Muslim family; their food is simple and cheap, but very tasty. They sell what are probably the area's best "Indian cakes," and have mouthwatering beef noodles (NT$50), plus homemade yogurt (NT$50).

       Also, try the Southern City restaurant a few doors down at Number 12. Set individual meals cost around NT$150.A group of four can eat very well for NT$1200. Open from 9am to 9pm, this place has a picture menu--useful for those who can't read Burmese or Chinese. Another restaurant worth looking at is Nan Guo, at 43 Zhongxiao Street, just off Huaxin Street.

       Huaxin Street is busiest and most interesting in the mornings, especially on weekends. Many of the restaurants open early in the morning, but close around 7pm.

       In most eateries the menu is stuck on the wall, and in Chinese and Burmese only. Don't worry if you can't read either language. The people hereabouts are friendly, so just see what others are having, or what's on display, and point. You're sure to find something tasty, and eating here never breaks the bank.

       In mid-April every year local residents hold the Water Sprinkling Festival on Huaxin Street and in front of Nanshih Chiao MRT Station. In addition to water being thrown about, there are traditional Burmese song and dance performances. These activities are held in the morning. If you go, prepare to get wet.

       After arriving at Nanshih Chiao MRT Station, leave by Exit 4 and walk right along HsingNan South Road. After about five minutes you'll pass a 7-11 and a police station. Keep going for another 300 meters; Huaxin Street is to the left.