Miyahara Optometry Taichung: A Gourmet Destination Unlike Others
Don't judge a place by its name. Miyahara Optometry (宮原眼科/Gong Yuan Yan Ke) is a gourmet destination that's created not to treat your eyes but your appetite. This emporium of fine foods is a foodie's heaven, and the interior design a visual feast. We popped in for a visit on our way to Taiwan's central mountains, and it was well worth the detour.
Miyahara Optometry was established in the 1920s by the Japanese opthamologist Dr. Miyahara Takeo. The building has since then went through many turmoils: it was used as the office of Taichung Health Bureau, Taiwan Daily Newspaper, and virtually became a ruin in the 2000s after the ravages of earthquakes, typhoons, and fires.
Then, in 2010, the building was purchased by Taichung-based Dawn Cakes enterprise, and has been renovated as its flagship store, where you can find Dawn Cake's famous pineapple cakes and cheese cakes, as well as the myriad of flavors of candies, chocolates, and ice cream. The high-rise ceiling with early 20th century-inspired cabinets make you feel like you've just entered a wizard's pharmacy, where instead of magic potions, sweet promises lure you in to surrender your taste buds.
The ice cream department is by far the most popular area in the store, possibly due to central Taiwan's year-round warm weather. Flavors include pure-origin chocolates like 100% West African Cocoa, 71% Ecuadorian, or 64% smoked Papua New Guinea. They also have an offering of unique Taiwanese local flavors such as Alishan Oolong Tea, sugar apple (釋迦), or longan honey cottage cheese. On weekends, expect waiting more than twenty minutes to get your scoop.
Moon Pavilion restaurant (醉月樓) on the second floor is an elegant place to savor Taiwanese cuisine and to taste the ice creams without standing in line. The interior is a lovely blend of the original steel and brick structure, dark wood chevron wood floor work, and some turn-of-the-century antique furnitures.
The bar itself is adorned by traditional Chinese bird-and-flower paintings of the four seasons; the gilded and lacquered lanterns are intricately painted with oriental beauties with flowing robes and flowers. Still not seeing enough flowers? The fresh-orchid floral display should do the job.
While the cooks focus on the specials du jour, we watch them ascend the long climbs of culinary perfection.
We sat down in the blue velvet chairs, and the kids were immediately provided colorful dining ware and utensils.
To sweeten the wait for our meal to arrive, kids got these sesame and dried prune soft candy sticks, an old-fashioned and nostalgic Taiwanese treat.
And then our dishes arrived! We ordered and indulged in local specialties: sweet potato steamed rice (地瓜飯), Hakka squid and tofu stir-fry (客家小炒), omelette with pickled radishes (菜脯蛋), and seafood porridge (海鮮粥). These dishes have humble origins, but that simplicity has stood the test of time.
It was around the time of Dragon Boat Festival when we visited, so naturally we had to order the seasonal zonzi (粽子): savory ingredients enclosed in brown glutinous rice, then wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed to perfection. They are little pyramids of deliciousness.
My favorite dish has to be the golden pineapple shrimp. Both the shrimp and pineapples are fresh local ingredients, stir-fried with chilli, garlic, ginger and scallions. The whole big tasty mess is then presented on a bed of thinly-sliced oranges. Sweet and savory, the dish bursts of flavors.
After the main dishes, we had to have something sweet to end the meal. What better choice than the famous cheesecakes that enabled Dawn Cakes to build its sweet empire? We treated ourselves with a cheesecake collage plate: original and chocolate-flavored cheesecake cubes paired with kiwis, bananas, candied cherry tomatoes, then topped with fresh mint leaves and a raisin reduction. Like most traditional Taiwanese sweet treats, nothing was too sweet.
We parted our ways with Miyahara Optometry with a small souvenir. The chocolates were sold by weight, wrapped in branded paper, and delicately put in a pretty paper box with golden ribbons. Taking out the chocolate felt like a ceremony, and those eager little fingers worked their ways through the layers of excitement.
Finally, we arrived at the perfect endnote to this culinary expedition to Miyahara Optometry, with ours bellies and eyes full with treats.
No. 20 Zhongshan Road, Central District, Taichung City, Taiwan
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