FYI SOUTH Magazine, May 2006.

MeiNong I-Chan (Tea Preparation Shop)

142, ChengGong Rd., MeiNong town, Kaohsiung County (opposite MeiNong gas station)
(07) 681-8475
Hours:Everyday 10 am-8:30 pm
Parking available.

-- By Peiling Wu Translated by Annie Liu

As traditional cuisine loses its grip on modern taste buds, individuals like Lin Hsi Shuh, is keen on preserving the cultural remnants. Mr. Lin came across the pestle and mortar used in making "Lei Cha" (Lei Tea) by chance. He was determined to revive the "Art of Hakka Lei Cha" and opened the first Lei Cha Teahouse in MeiNong. "Lei (to grind) Cha (tea)" is made by grinding several ingredients: tea, various herbs, sesame and nuts.

Entering MeiNong I-Chan is like stepping back in time. To begin, you are presented with a clay mortar and wooden pestle, a plate of assorted ingredients and instructed on the art of making Lei Cha. Then grind away! The role of grinding is passed around the table and energy is kept high by complementary herbal tea, snacks and even traditional Hakka costumes. The resulting powder is spooned into individual porcelain bowls, stirred together with hot tea and crispy puffed rice...justifying all the effort.

Another signature dish, the Hakka "tobacco leaf rice" (served by appreciative hosts to those helping with the harvest of tobacco leaves) is topped with Hakka pickled vegetables, tender slices of pork and fried eggs with Chinese basil. At NT$130 per serving (NT$230 with Lei Cha), it is available on weekends but requires ordering prior to weekday visits. Lei Cha is NT$120 per person, NT$230 for 2 people and NT$320 for groups of three and NT$100 per person for groups of four or more. Make a date with friends and invigorate your senses the Hakka way. Don't be surprised if you end up spending the whole afternoon.