Snacking on regional produce does not need to be unhealthy. Tainan has several fruit shops and stalls that take advantage of the area’s abundance fresh produce. My favourite fruit stall is the Tai-cheng Fruit Shop at No 80 Zhengxing Street (泰成水果台南市正興街80號). It is not the oldest fruit shop in Tainan (the honours for that go to Lili Fruit Shop near the Confucius Temple), but still there is a strong sense of history at this three generations-run shop, in part due to the simple Chinese calligraphy and framed news articles hung around the walls. I like sitting here by the street and imaging what life was like in Tainan during in its glory days as the seat of Japan’s colonial occupation of Taiwan.
Although it is a quiet sidestreet now, this area was a thriving retail district during the 1930s and 1940s. Wander further down the road and you will see the crumbling facade of the former Old West Gate Market, which was once filled with throngs of busy shoppers. My friend Amy used to take me to the market to visit her father, who still manages to keep a small shop selling household wares to newlyweds and homemakers. But most of the other businesses in the market have now shut down or relocated.
But back to the food! Tai-cheng prides itself on serving fresh produce. Unlike other fruit shops it does not have a menu, preferring instead customers be inspired by the colorful and artistic mounds of fruit on display. Their fruit juices are first-rate: my friend Amy says this is because unlike most fruit shops they do not water down their juices. Other than juices, they also do smoothies. They make a rich, golden papaya smoothie (木瓜牛奶 – mùguā niúnǎi), but I especially like their watermelon smoothie (西瓜牛奶 – xīguā niúnǎi) and also their red grape smoothie (葡萄牛奶 – pútáo niúnǎi). If you want something rich and decadent, I recommend their avocado pudding smoothie (鳄梨布丁牛奶 — È lí bùdīng niúnǎi).
In addition to juices and smoothies, Tai-cheng also prides itself on platters of freshly sliced fruit. All their subtropical fruit is delicious, and it is hard to go past local mangos, paw paw (papaya) or pineapple in season. But their signature dish is sliced tomatoes served with a sweet, gingery soy dipping sauce (番茄切盘 — fānqié qièpán). While this might sound odd, the salty/sweet dipping sauce draws out the natural sweetness in the tomatoes. Even my husband Sam, who usually dislikes tomatoes, approves of this simple dish.
And I should add that if you are in the area, stop by a unique hole-in-the-wall food stand across the road. Lin Guo (令果) is a Japanese vegetarian restaurant decked out in a quirky, 1940s colonial style. The owner does not have a menu, but creates new dishes daily depending on the available produce. Unfortunately for us, he had already sold out by the time we got there but Amy assures me that it is very good.