Wulai Township is one of my favourite places in Taiwan. This tiny village of 6,000 is a very special place where you can get away from the city, breathe clean air, enjoy a lush mountain landscape, hike in the woods…
…soak in natural hot springs…
…and try some of Taiwan’s best local cuisine. Wulai Old Street is packed with restaurants and snack vendors offering all kinds of delicious local treats – especially the traditional cuisine of the local Atayal indigenous group.
I just went to Wulai again for the first time since Typhoon Soudelor, which triggered landslides that killed several people and destroyed roads, homes, and businesses. The town was inaccessible for over a week following the landslides, and repairs are ongoing. This tourism-dependent community is struggling to rebuild and needs our love and support!
泰雅婆婆是烏來老街最有名的原住民料理餐廳之一。我平常吃他們的特殊涼拌檳榔花和小米飯，但我這次去，是他們的寫著”新品冰淇淋”的大紅牌caught my eye。他們目前有小米與馬告(山胡椒)兩款口味，都是泰雅族傳統料理常用的，產於本區的食材。這是我第一次看到這些料使用在冰淇淋上，感覺很創意，讓我看得很興奮!
Taiya Po Po is one of Wulai’s most famous Atayal restaurants. I usually come for their amazing betel flower salad and millet sticky rice (check out this great blog post for more about their food). However, yesterday it was their big red ice cream sign that caught my eye! They’re currently offering two flavours: millet (小米) and may chang pepper (Litsea cubeba, 馬告/山胡椒), which are both locally-grown products that feature in traditional Atayal cuisine. I’ve never seen either of these flavours in ice cream before and I was super excited to try them!
The ice cream is prepared on-site in large batches and sold in take out containers. Each cup is about 125 ml, but the cost is super low – only NT$30 per cup. That’s less than half the price of most handmade ice cream I’ve tried.
May chang has a very unique and assertive flavour, spicy and menthol-y at the same time. Its unique fire-and-ice character reminds me a lot of Sichuan pepper, but without the weird long-lasting aftertaste. Many Wulai vendors sell fresh, dried and pickled may chang, like the jars above. You can also get may chang hot sauce and snacks like may chang-flavoured peanuts and dried toufu (豆干). But Taya Popo is the only place where you can get may chang ice cream!
So it’s local, unique, and affordable – how does it taste? To be honest, it’s not the most professional ice cream I’ve ever had – Taiya Popo specializes in frying things, not freezing them. The texture isn’t very smooth – frozen solid at first, the ice cream becomes a little granular and flaky as it thaws, while the outside melts quickly. However, the flavour is lovely, and the sugar and fat are nicely balanced. You can see bits of ground may chang throughout the ice cream, but they used a pretty light touch. There’s only enough may chang for a burst of citrusy-minty freshness – not enough for it to show its fiery side. I’d have liked to kick it up a notch, but it’s quite approachable for people with lighter tastes.
Millet is a staple of the traditional Atayal diet and is a star ingredient in Wulai. Millet sticky rice, millet wine, millet milk, millet porridge, and millet mochi are popular products here.
But again, Taiya Po Po seems to be the only place in Wulai where you’ll find millet ice cream! When I asked the staff if their ice cream was made in-house, they said it was, but the millet ice cream’s label seems to indicate it was made in Nantou, so it’s either resold or outsourced. The may chang ice cream has no label, so maybe that one is made on-site. In any case, it’s still a local product, and it’s just as tasty!
Unexpectedly, the millet ice cream is more flavourful than the may chang – a little sweeter, and with a nice nutty richness. It’s textured with tiny whole millet grains, cooked until soft.Both ice creams have the same texture – a little dry and flaky – so they’re probably made with the same base. Light and icy, they’re typical Taiwanese-style ice creams. If you’re looking for rich and creamy European-style gelato, this won’t be your favourite, but if you have lighter tastes and like trying new things, you should definitely go to Taiya Po Po and give it a try!