Did you know that one of the famous ‘snack foods’ (小吃 — xiao chi) in Taiwan is its meatballs? I’m talking about Taiwan, not Sweden! Actually, the meat balls here are a bit different to what you would expect. They are really a type of unformed steamed dumpling filled with pork — referred to as ‘rou yuan’ (肉圓 — literally ‘meat balls’) in Mandarin.
In Tainan, Chien-Kuo Taiwanese Meatballs are famous for their prawn meat balls (蝦仁肉圓 –xia ren rou yuan). They are more meat than prawn, but the addition of seafood gives them a bit of a lift. I like ‘rou yuan’, but if they are not done well they can be stodgy and gluggy. But not here: the dumpling ‘skin’ is silky smooth, and the filling is tasty without being too overpowering. It is also perfectly complemented by the tangy ‘gravy’ on top: not quite thousand-island-dressing, not quite sweet and sour, not quite gravox, it has a taste all of its own. And it is even nicer augmented by a bit of wasabi.
Chien-Kuo Taiwanese Meatballs is a Tainan institution, which has been serving up rouyuan for over eighty years. It is located at No 45 Minquan Road (建國蝦仁肉圓, 台南市民權路一段), phone (06) 224 6608.
If you have trouble finding the restaurant, it is directly opposite a small cinema. Actually, the Chien-Kuo Cinema is quite famous because at one time it was the only porno cinema in town. It is just a normal cinema now, albeit a small one.
After eating the Taiwanese meatballs, it is worth stopping to check out the shop next door. It sells all sorts of traditional cane products, including hats, baskets and furniture. We bought a small cane bikeseat. It worked sort of okay. My favourite, though, is the cane rice sifter which was decorated for use in weddings.