Dongshan District—Fragrant and Aromatic Doroko
Travelling Tainan, Exploring the Old Town: Dongshan District—Fragrant and Aromatic Doroko
See a coffee tree loaded with red coffee berries deep in the mountains and spot a longan tree full of ripe fruits on an estate. Let’s go! Come to Dongshan District to experience the fascinating fragrant world of fruit growers.
The sister of the first daughter of the older brother of A-Hu’s mother, or my cousin, A-Ling, is a slim, pretty and elegant woman. She married in Dongshan District and has two sons. Now, her family lives on the hillside. Her husband is handsome and manly and loves A-Ling dearly. My mother loves to listen to him singing “Love in Winter.”
Each year, I only have the chance to see my brother-in-law when I come back to my hometown during the Chinese New Year or when he carries bags and bags of dried longan and fresh mangos back to my hometown.
Occasionally, I cannot help but wonder why he is willing to make a living by farming since he has better job offers. After a trip to the mountains with “i-tour”, I realized they insist on staying.
Such insistence cannot be put into words. Only when you see their expressions personally do you truly understand what it is.
The insistence cannot be made up. Only when you are a part of their life will you feel it and be moved by it.
I set out to get the train at 7 a.m. The further north the train headed, the darker it got. The weather condition was fine with me because I like travelling the countryside in heavy rain. When it rains, a special scent will fill the air and the landscape is cleansed. The pitter-patter sounds of rain are pleasant to the ear. Moreover, I love wearing a raincoat.
I came to Garden Café of the Chief of Village first to learn coffee beans, hand-roasted coffee and enjoy every sip of it. With a long stick in his hand, the middle-aged man in hand-made clothes who resembled a traditional medicine sales person was in fact the Chief of Village devoting himself to the coffee industry.
The Chief of Village did his best to explain the coffee industry for us.
The Chief of Village did his best to explain the coffee industry for us.
“Well…when it comes to pest control, we use methanol mixed with alcohol instead of chemicals.” It is an ingenious method of attracting and trapping coffee berry borers with a special scent. Once they fly near, they will get stuck on the bottles. Farmers are always wise to sort things out with highly effective solutions made from limited resources.
“Drinking coffee improves blood circulation. Let me teach you to roast coffee beans with your own hands” I have been to numerous cafés but never roasted coffee beans by myself.
First, I poured all the green coffee beans into the coffee roaster for roasting. Later, I had to spoon some beans out of the roaster while waiting to see the color change so that I could make sure that the beans were not over-roasted. Pop! The beans were cracking! Finally, after all the popping sounds ended, I poured out the roasted coffee beans. Everyone, here are the medium-roasted coffee beans which A-Hu has produced on her own!
I felt extremely flattered when the Chief of Village told me that I was very talented at coffee roasting.
The Chief of Village said that he hoped visitors coming here could fully enjoy the fun of drinking coffee, eating longan fruit, and buying fruit while promoting the industry and tourism. On the second floor is a bright, well-lit place for drying longan fruit. To me, the sheer white interior design of this place is perfect for taking wedding photos.
After coffee roasting and a visit to the place for longan fruit drying, it’s time for lunch: coffee-flavored meal! My actions reminded me of something A-Hu’s mother once said, “You have one in the mouth and another in the chopsticks while looking at the other dishes on the table and worrying about what you should eat next.” You should learn this saying because it is really vivid. See, I was eating rice noodles as if starving to death.
Not only is the Coffee Chicken Soup a must-try dish not found anywhere else, but the Coffee-Flavored Vegetable Salad is incredibly tasty. With local-grown vegetables wrapped with seaweed and dipped in coffee dressing, this dish had plenty of dash with a gist of coffee aroma with and left a surprisingly sweet taste on the tip of my tongue. My God! I had originally thought this dish was salty! This dish is really amazing.
Due to the nonstop rain, we had no choice but to give up the original plan of picking coffee berries outside. After the meal, I just went to play with A-Fang, making the trip relaxing and carefree.
The boss was shouting, “It’s time for coffee!”
To be frank, coffee made of beans roasted by myself tasted unsurprisingly normal. I could not boast and say I was moved to tears by my ability to make coffee. However, as I drank coffee made with the beans I had roasted myself, I felt I had gained some knowledge about coffee. It was a pragmatic experience.
After the rain stopped, we went to Longhu Eco-Mountain Restaurant. Once I got in the door, I saw there was a bamboo box full of dried longan as a welcoming gift. I really like the hospitality of people in the countryside.
The boss had prepared all the ingredients for us to make jelly with dried longan and goji berries! I placed the proper proportions of dried longan, goji berries, brown sugar, and gelatin into the pot. I kept stirring while they were heating to avoid lumping.
Mimi and I read the recipe to see how to make jelly correctly. Finally, we divided the jelly into packages. It will be ready after chilling in a refrigerator for a while.
Worried about me, Mr. Li just stood next to me. I told him everything would be perfectly okay!
Although it was drizzling, Mr. Li invited us to visit his longan estate in the mountains.
Yeah! I had longed to put on my raincoat to walk around in the mountains.
This estate is Mr. Li’s turn, and he knows well which road to take, which road is particularly slippery, how to catch pests, and the species of each longan tree there.
While talking, Mr. Li was modest at times and overflowed with confidence at others. Everything in this estate was grown with his two hands and protected through his daily morning rounds. Touching the growing longan fruit, and checking how many bottles of pests he had captured today, he scratched his head and thought of how to clean up the estate after the typhoon.
Out of hospitality, Mr. Li said, “I grow all the fruits myself, so just help yourselves.” We did as he told us—picking a large bunch of longan fruit.
At that time, I suddenly realized why my brother-in-law chose to stay in the mountains. Farmers’ lives are both bitter and sweet. They may have pride in themselves when their plants survive a raging typhoon, but may also feel worried about severe damage caused by pests. Uneasy as the whole process of farming is, the land seems to talk to you as time goes by. You may understand the words the land speaks, and only the land truly understands you.
Here is the smoke-roast stove created by Mr. Li for roasting longan fruit.
All longan fruit for roasting should be carefully selected. To make perfect dried longan, we cannot simply leave the fruit but must keep turning them over regularly just as when roasting meat. All processes require manual labor. See, I was almost choked on the heavy smoke…
Starting from the beginning of Autumn in the lunar calendar, the whole process of longan roasting will take about two and a half months. During this process, the workers cannot go to bed each night until 12:30 and have to get up early to turn over the roasted longan fruit. Generally speaking, it takes nine kilograms of fresh longan fruit to produce one kilogram of dried longan. The cost is surprisingly high.
My brother-in-law once said, “The yield of dried longan is too low because of the lack of labor this year.” Today, I finally learnt that the production of dried longan requires workers to remove the shells after the roasting process. How labor-consuming it is!
After a visit to the estate, let’s go downhill to have some jelly! After hearing the story and visiting the mountains on which longan trees are grown, I ate my jelly while continuing to imagine those who had carefully produced the longan fruit.
It was hospitable and considerate of Mr. Li to prepare tasty shaved ice with longan fruit for us! How incredibly wonderful to have ice in the rain in the hazy mountains!
The Chief of Village, who is devoted to coffee, Mr. Li, who loves longan, and my brother-in-law, A-Zhong, all have one thing in common—they hold on to their dreams like fools. “Will the coffee industry be prosperous in Taiwan? Can Taiwanese coffee beans be of comparable quality to those of other regions? Don’t be silly!” “It takes so much time and effort to make dried longan by manual labor…Why don’t you just buy a machine to roast them?” “A-Zhong, stop farming in the country and come to do business with us!” These are words or suggestions they have heard from others.
Either for coffee, longan, or the land in Dongshan District, we shall just stick to what we are doing! If we grow with the land, we will surely earn the value of our own existence as time goes by.