Working at a Family Restaurant in Asia
Sizzling bell pepper and onion wafted in great steamy gusts, as a cool winter breeze came through the window of the intimate kitchen, the intense heat of the stove warming my belly and hands. I knew this would be the only moment I experienced this exact joy. I understood.
I had the honor of working at a family restaurant in Taiwan for two weeks. In short terms, the experience was unforgettable. While in America, working in the food industry (restaurants included) is seen as a poor job, the view is quite different in Taiwan, and most Asian countries where family-run restaurants abound. Generations will continue a restaurant, children raised to take over the business, learning after school and many times, furthering their education to further the restaurant. Working the family restaurant isn’t seen as an undesirable career. Rather, in my experience, it is enjoyable, expected, and one of pride, not demeaning as I was lead to believe in the food experiences of my youth.
I was able to get a taste of that for two whole weeks in the countryside of Madou, Taiwan. The change in mentality working in this industry was wonderful and exactly what I hoped for when volunteering to work at a family restaurant. The secure routine of sweeping, wiping tables, setting place mats was comforting, rather than dreary. Chopping vegetables in large quantities, shopping for ingredients, and preparing large pots of food over industrial sized stoves gave me a thrill and passion I never had working in the food industry in America.
Laughter and paprika filled the kitchen, as I bumbled with my measly year of Mandarin knowledge. My arm ached from stirring a gargantuan pot of diced onion, red bell pepper, pureed tomato, and chopped squid, the sauce for their famous paella. My back ached from making dozens of dime-sized meatballs. Yet I smiled. I never imagined working in a restaurant would be so enjoyable.
That was the difference between working the food industry in the states and working in a family restaurant in Taiwan. This was precisely the stark difference I wanted to experience in Asia, where family-run restaurants are prevalent. It was a joy to chop, to stir, to prepare the restaurant, and to see the payoff when guests came and laughter and chatter filled the dining hall. This family is in the business of making people happy. There is nothing to pity in that, nothing to be ashamed of in that. I can only hope America changes it’s attitude toward the restaurant industry. We have a lot to learn.
Now let me tell you about the restaurant that provided this wonderful experience. The Donkey Kitchen is a restaurant and B&B in Madou, Taiwan (near Tainan, but the countryside). They have 2 B&Bs, one above the restaurant, and one separate, with the overarching name Donkey Lashes. The comical names came because the mighty horse is considered beautiful and strong, with long curly lashes. The horse is reminiscent of “the westerner.” It is compared to the sturdy donkey as the preferred choice. The donkey is considered more “like Eastern people.” Hard workers, short eyelashes. So Donkey Lashes embodies this adorable, friendly restaurant and family.
If you find yourself in Tainan or even Madou, I highly encourage at least a stop for dinner at this unique little restaurant for some authentic Spanish couisine. The head chef, Min Pei, studied in Spain and brought back her knowledge to the restaurant. She’s actually my first Amazing Woman to be featured on Life Outside the Cage. You can read her story HERE. With a little Taiwanese flair, this restaurant stands alone, and the family will charm you into returning. I couldn’t have chosen a better family restaurant for this experience.
Thank you Donkey Lashes!