Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nantou County Travel Diary: Blazing a beautiful and fragrant flower trail high above the clouds

By Nancy T. Lu

Travel in Nantou County with an itinerary designed to appeal to flower lovers can begin with an exciting escape to the highlands literally above the clouds and straight into the heartland of perfumed lily cultivation at 2,044 meters above sea level.

Bo Wang New Village in Cingjing is home to an ethnic Bai Yi group from Yunnan, China, and the 30 households accounting for a population of about 200 spend a good part of the year, notably from June to November, growing over 10 exceedingly fragrant lily varieties for the markets in the lowlands.

Holland, France and Chile are the seasonal suppliers of the bulbs needed by the nurseries and green houses up in Bo Wang. Visitors have to negotiate steep slopes overlooking ever-changing mountain silhouettes playing a game of hide-and-seek behind clouds to get to the rows and rows of cultivated lilies. Unsightly water pipes bring the needed water supply in flower cultivation to private plots but they also spoil the Cingjing landscape.

Don’t expect to see blooming flowers. No local horticulturist who knows what he is doing wants to become the laughing stock of his neighbors. The lily plants must be cut before the buds start opening up in preparation for daily dispatch on a long journey to flower markets as far as Taipei. Occasionally, however, lilies on a plot protected by transparent plastic cover are allowed to bloom freely to satisfy the curious tourists seeking a first-hand visual feast in the area thriving on horticulture. .

When in Cingjing,Renai Xiang, make sure to drop by Mama Lu’s restaurant (tel. 049-2803876)for lunch. The quaint new building replacing an old and original structure elsewhere stands out even from a distance to visitors arriving by car or bus. The elderly woman from the Bai Yi tribe settled down here with her veteran husband, who followed Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist forces to Taiwan after fighting an unsuccessful guerrilla war in Yunnan in southwest China. She runs the dining establishment with help from her trained children.

Lu Wen-yin, one of her sons, thought of selling coffee to tide over the months when he didn’t have cut flowers to sell. A good friend suggested that his family should try try opening a restaurant with Bai Yi cooking as the specialty of the house.

Crispy deep-fried bamboo worms – yes, insect larvae – are a most popular dish at Mama Lu’s place. The larvae are imported still inside the bamboo cylinders from Burma and Thailand. Once the hesitation to taste the gourmet food is overcome, clamor for it comes after each helping. The insect larvae snack is believed to be high in protein and fiber and low in fat.
Mama Lu’s inviting menu highlights the spicy, the sour and the salty as natural flavors of the cuisine. Of the dishes, the minced meat with five-six spices added contributes to a hearty meal. Fresh cabbage arrives at the table on a separate plate for use in holding or taking a spoonful of the minced meat.

Deep-fried fish stomach is another must-try dish. The chicken soup requires tangkuei or ligusticum roots in it. Tangkuei leaves flavor the egg omelet in the special ethnic cuisine.

Fresh cuttings of big and fragrant lilies from the Lu family’s mountain slope plot decorate the restaurant’s interior. Even the paintings on the walls are of the big lilies. After all Cingjing produces 63 million stems of lilies in a year, accounting for 90 percent of Taiwan’s total output and earning for the place recognition as the hometown for growing lilies. . .

In Bo Wang New Village, where stands still the original restaurant of Mama Lu Lu Mama to the local residents), there is a small museum of sorts filled with old black-and-white photographs taken in the post-1949 period. The pictures fanning nostalgia for yhe past even document Chiang Kai-shek’s visit to the area. Displayed with pride in this space also are the many fragrant lily varieties cultivated in Cingjing.

Every Sunday until December 13, the Renai Xiang Farmers Association offers to bring visitors to Cingjing, Renai Xiang to experience a trail of floral sight and scent in the highlands of Nantou County Everyone gets to prepare a potted lily bulb to take home to look after according to simple instructions.

After a lunch of Bai Yi cooking, the group will proceed to a Saiteke weaving center to learn to be a weaver. Before the end of the day, the entourage will drop by the Puli Flower Center to have a look at the exhibition with the rose as main theme of the arts and crafts on display.

On the second floor of the Puli Flower Center is the enormous Puli Banquet Restaurant, which can accommodate 1,000 guests. The menus served here revolve around the seasonallocal produce. Jiao bai shun, a kind of bamboo shoot known locally also as "beauty's leg," is the theme of this season's banquet. The main ingredient, Puli's pride, is boiled, steamed, cooked, stir-fried or simmered in a soup. But if you are blazing a flower trail, then recipes featuring flowers such as roses can be tasted.

For inquiries about the day-long flower appreciation activity in Nantou County, call tel. 049-2920480 ext. 14 and 10. You can also try to contact Mr. Gao through cellphone 0975120340. or Ms. Hsu through cellphone 0963471250.


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