Travel in Taiwan Dining

The Teppanyaki Experience

By Conrad Oust, Photos by Sung Chih-hsiung

In Japanese,teppan means an iron plate or a steel sheet, and yaki, stir-fried food or stir-frying. The whole experience of eating teppanyaki, however, proves this word is far more than the sum of its parts. Teppanyaki is stir-fried meat and vegetables cooked and eaten off a large, table-top grill. It is a mouth-watering form of cuisine which continues to increase in popularity as adaptations are made to suit local taste preferences.

Teppans are made of stainless steel of varying shape and size. A large teppan, including the surrounding counter from which diners eat, can seat as many as 20 people, allowing just enough elbowroom for diners to sit comfortably while watching the chef prepare their meal on the grill in front of them.

Teppanyaki chefs, even more than bartenders, have ample opportunity to demonstrate their skill. The flashing tools of their trade are a knife, a fork, and two metal spatulas. In spectacular displays of dexterity, chefs cut, stir, season, and divide each diner's portion onto plates on the teppan. As the food is prepared on the same surface that keeps it warm, meals are served as soon as they are ready. Teppanyaki has to be eaten leisurely. The chef only works on one course at a time; there is no rushing him. Watching the chef adroitly wield cooking tools over the shining teppan is fully part of the meal. While veteran teppanyaki-diners drink, eat, or converse while admiring the chef's expertise, first-timers may have difficulty taking their eyes off the performance in front of them.


Watching the chefprepare teppanyaki is an important part of the meal. The diners' plates rest on the hot teppan, assuring their food will not get cold.

Teppanyaki differs from traditional Japanese cuisine in many ways. With teppanyaki, the soup is served first, folowed by salad, the main course, vegetables, fruit, and dessert. Main courses usually consist of beef, lamb, chicken, and seafood. Soup, salad, and dessert are usually Western-style. Often made with a cream base, soup comes in many varieties: cream of mushroom, cream of corn, cream of seafood, cream of vegetable, French onion, or seafood consomme. Unlike its Western counterpart, the salad is rather small and the dressing usually sweet or sour.

Not restricted by seasonal availability, stir-fired bean sprouts are almost always served, along with a side dish of chopped onions. Seafood can include prawns, fish fillets, cuttlefish, scallops, clams, oysters, eel, lobster, and abalone. Fish is usually salmon, pomfret, or porgy, depending on season and availability. Sashimi (raw fish fillet), while not itself a teppanyaki-style dish, is often on the menu.

Ordering Beef
Beef is the most popular part of most teppanyaki meals; beef of different qualities and from different geographical areas can be selected. The more expensive varieties are Japanese beef from Matsusaka, Akita, and Kobe. They are often offered along with less expensive beef from the United States and New Zealand. Top-quality Japanese beef is said to come from cows nourished with apples and beer and mellowed with music and massage. All beef cuts are choice sirloin or tenderloin.

Light seasoning and fresh ingredients are the keys to teppanyaki's success. This is especially important because teppanyaki-style cooking enhances rather than covers up the original flavor of its ingredients. Seasonings are usually limited to soy sauce, wine, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Garlic is used generously when preparing bean sprouts, meat, and chicken.

There are clear advantages in going out for a teppanyaki meal. When ordering teppanyaki, the diners can tell the chef exactly how they want each dish prepared. Health-conscious customers can determine the variety and amount of seasoning and oil they want in each dish. With the chef working right in front of you, it is easy to make sure he follows instructions. In some restaurants diners can even select their own chef. The quality of teppanyaki ingredients also make it a healthy choice compared to other barbecue-type cuisines.

Originating in Japan, teppanyaki is a combination of Eastern meticulousness and Western finesse, Eastern flavors and Western side dishes. In Taiwan, over 100 middle-and high-class restaurants all across the island attest to teppanyaki's rising popularity. Its taste continues to improve as more variations are devised to suit local and international tastes. Visitors to Taiwan should take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the entertainment and unforgettable dining experience of an evening of teppanyaki.

Restaurants


Teppanyaki meals are delicious, healthy, and aesthetically pleasing.

Most teppanyaki restaurants are quality establishments, and so it is always better to make reservations beforehand. Many offer separate dining rooms for groups of customers, including such luxuries as a dessert-and-beverage bar and piano music. In some restaurants, dining rooms are equipped with sofas and coffee tables. Many also often offer luncheon specials.

The teppanyaki restaurant with the longest history in Taipei is the New Hama Steak House at 10 Nungan Street (Tel: 595-0990). The Hama Steak House chain, headquartered in Tokyo, sent chef Satayoshi Yoshida, now the general manager of its Taipei restaurants, to set up the New Hama in Taipei in 1971. Over the past 24 years the New Hama has done well. In fact, a number of teppanyaki chefs for restaurants across the island received their training under Yoshida. In 1993 New Hama opened another restaurant at 33 Kuangfu N. Rd., Lane 11 (Tel: 761-5616). Located in the bustling business district of eastern Taipei, the "newest" New Hama is large and modern. Besides having a spacious main dining area, it has six smaller dining rooms and a piano bar. Diners can select Japanese beef from Matsusaka, Akita, and Kobe, or beef from the United States and New Zealand.

The Gourmet Teppanyaki Restaurant at 147 Ta-an Road, Section 1 (Tel: 781-7621) is also an old establishment. With a small part of the restaurant used to serve shabu shabu (Japanese-style hot pot), it has teppanyaki tables in a large dining area as well as three smaller dining rooms and a piano bar. Kobe and U.S. beef are available.

The Dublin Teppanyaki Restaurant at 137 Hsinyi Road, Section 4 (Tel: 704-7798) is also old and well-respected. House specialties include: French goose liver, salmon sashimi, and Kobe beef served raw.


Travel in Taiwan Dining
Copyright 1995 Vision International Publishing Co.