Legitimate Pasta, Middle of Nowhere, Taiwan

Giovanni and Coco Filippini greeted me with an ice-cold bottle of San Pellegrino bubbly water as I sat in their kitchen. Still dripping with hot sweat, I could already tell it was worthwhile taking a trip in the unforgiving heat for another visit to the island’s most underrated Italian restaurant.

On a previous trip to Taitung’s South Donghe (東河), I was so famished, I was willing to stop at any place that was open – a telling sign of true desperation and resignation to the lack of choice in a small rural town. A wrong turn led me to a front yard repurposed as a shaded alfresco, filled with local diners. I read the sign Trattoria, glanced at the freshly dolloped plates of linguine and ordered my own in pesto. It was so good I returned for dinner that same day.

Finding exceptional, authentic cuisine other than local food in Taiwan is a big deal. Huge. Even in the capital, you won’t be spoilt with choice. Yet, the quiet county of Taitung, which is literally on the opposite side of the island from any major city, has already enamoured visitors and locals alike looking for variety beyond noodles and dumplings. VICE previously covered authentic Mexican food in Taitung’s art-central Dulan. But South Donghe, home to some hundred residents, is best known as only a stopover for steamed buns. Hidden in a small suburban street, this really is the middle of nowhere, and Greensliding 133 joins a small number of eateries that dare to rebel against Taiwan’s local palate.

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Coco and Giovanni, the owners and chef, allow no excuses or shortcuts when it comes to serving dishes you would expect in an Italian home. They import as much quality produce from Italy as they could. The cheese, the oil, the flour, even the salt make long trips to get to their resting place in the seaside home.

Italian cooking is very simple. Pasta, oil, garlic, salt.
Sometimes that’s all you need. – Coco

Simple, yes. But if you don’t have the right ingredients;
if you don’t know exactly how to cook pasta, it will be shit. – Giovanni

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Greensliding 133’s quiet yet notable reputation of great taste stems from Giovanni’s Roman background. Having lived most of his life in Oriolo Romano, a quaint municipality northwest of Rome, his mother did what all Italian mothers were famous for – making sure her family was well fed on bonafide home-cooked Italian meals. When in Rome, you cook and eat like the Romans do, and so it was here that Taipei-born Coco was first acquainted with what true Italian taste was like. From Giovanni’s mother she learnt to make legitimate fresh pasta, cannelloni and of course, tiramisu.

The couple first met while surfing in Bali and began splitting their time between Taiwan, Italy, and Indonesia. They kept their traveling romance like this for years until the couple discovered they were pregnant. Taiwan seemed like the obvious choice as a place to permanently call home.

I love the people and the country. And you know, we’re close to the waves here. – Giovanni

 We can create our own life in Taiwan. Our own style. – Coco

And create their own they did. Giovanni already good with his hands in woodwork and hand-painting began designing and making his own furniture. The signage, the tri-coloured picket fence, and the dining tables and chairs were all handcrafted by Giovanni. Enter the living room and you will gaze upon polished wooden surfboards carved to different lengths and shapes. Alaia Hawaiian surfboards were hugely popular in pre-20th century but almost disappeared after synthetic boards were introduced. Giovanni is the only vendor of handcrafted Alaia in Taiwan.

With her husband’s own creative label already in motion, Coco set out to recreate what she ate in Italy in her own humble kitchen of 133 South Donghe, Taitung. Greensliding 133 was born and despite owning two businesses, the couple took no concessions when it comes to keeping up with the surf life. Mornings include a tag-team of surf sessions, and taking care of Anna Asia, their four year old daughter. By mid-morning, Coco would be in that same kitchen preparing for the day’s lunch and dinner.

Coco makes the dough like how they do it in Italy. She beats the egg swiftly into a whirling well of flour until the yellow blur turns a soft vanilla white. After a good round of kneading, throwing and patting, the dough is allowed to rest before Coco religiously rolls and cuts it into linguine. And that’s it really. Just flour and egg, hand-beaten and moulded into oblivion. She has no commercial appliances to help her. Each batch of dough, big enough for four servings, would take a good hour out of Coco’s time to prepare and make. Her many returning customers, most of whom are from surrounding towns like Chenggong, ensure they don’t miss out by calling ahead to order the fresh pasta.

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Though fresh ingredients are sourced locally, Coco doesn’t serve the pasta most city-dwelling locals are used to. You won’t find soggy, cream-laden pasta here. It is with this attitude to serve what she and Giovanni likes to eat that has made their restaurant outstanding. To me, Greensliding 133 is a relieving oasis to the ill-representing landscape of Italian cuisine in Taiwan – and one that is well-priced at that.

Eating is about enjoyment. I want everyone to learn and enjoy what real Italian food is. Greensliding 133 is about sharing this passion and that is enough.
– Coco

Before leaving, I sat at one of Giovanni’s tables enjoying a plate of fresh pasta that moments before Coco had made by hand. I could still smell the eggs she had beaten into it. It was flavoured with butter and parmesan and paired with a Tuscan white wine.

I have found little Italy in even smaller Donghe Taiwan.

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To secure your own fresh pasta, review the menu and pre-order via telephone or Facebook @Greensliding133


*All photos credit of Guang-Hui Chuan of GSquaredTravel
*first published with Ketagalan Media on 25 August 2016
*Chinese version is also published here

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#AskAnAussie – Interview on Life in Taiwan

Coming up to a year of my Taiwanderful life, I sat down with Rose Vassel from the Australian Office in Taipei as part of their #AskAnAussie series to showcase experiences in Taiwan through my eyes.

Looking back on the interview, I wished I expanded a little further on my answers. Since the post, I’ve had a couple of  readers quiz me on a few points I didn’t get to cover. As a token of my appreciation to you who have been following my story, here is #AskQ in finer detail.

Why Did You Decide on Taiwan?

This question comes up more frequently than any other. Especially amongst locals. They all seem surprised that their little home is that enticing for someone to pack up and leave ‘The Lucky Country’ to this almost unheard-of island (well at least amongst some Australians. You’ll be surprised how many times people have confused it for Thailand).

It’s probably exactly this that enticed me in the first place. Yes, I came here primarily to study Chinese. But as I have mentioned here, even before moving here for the longterm, I’ve already had my heart set on Taiwan. I like that there’s still much of it to be explored. That it requires me to do some digging to find its gems. It’s not completely isolated from the rest of the world…but it definitely has plenty of room for someone like myself to discover my own adventure and experiences without having to look into a travel guide.

The secondary reason to choosing Taiwan to learn Chinese is because it still uses the Traditional characters which is becoming rare. Being overshadowed by the more commonly known Simplified Chinese adopted by mainland China and therefore better marketed to the rest of the world, means that the style here calls to my appreciation for the less-commonplace. Why I care for the extra few strokes in a character may seem arbitrary, but what I find is that with understanding how they are formed allows me to better understand the Chinese culture.

And if you don’t know already, Chinese culture is better depicted here in Taiwan rather than China itself. So for someone who wants to be thrown into the cultural deep end, Taiwan was the natural answer.

Do You Plan to Stay Here for Long?

A resounding, emphatic Yes.

I remember clearly the first day I arrived at Taoyuan airport. Alone but not lonely as my eyes drink in the surroundings I would be calling home. From that first rush of being in a new place and doing new things, the excitement I felt that I could reinvent my future into anything I wanted it to be, to finding my place in Taiwan six months in and feeling as though I already truly belong, the question now really is, what is it about this place that keeps me here?

It’s because these feelings have not faded in the slightest over the course of my time here. In fact, everyday I grow more and more enchanted by this place. The further I seek, the more I feel there is much to explore.

Taiwan is an eclectic and diverse island that allows me to mix and match my interests and more. Apart from its ever-changing landscape, its warm-hearted locals, and the array of food (some squirm-worthy yet unexpectedly delectable), it is the energy and vibe I get from this city that makes me want to stay. Afterall Taiwan isn’t crowned World Design Capital 2016 and viewed as a growing incubator of cluster and startups for nothing.

I am energetic and pro-active here. I constantly push myself to do new things – some things I didn’t dare to when I was in Australia. Like hitch-hiking. Scouring through abandoned buildings. Riding a scooter through Taipei’s peak hour traffic (and with drivers who don’t check their blind spot. Some day I will tell you how I was side-swiped by that taxi driver).

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Heading to work Taiwan-style.

These are just some of my little adventures that I have safely tucked in my memories forever. What I’ve learnt and what it has inspired me to do is stemmed from being in this place.

And if you’ve found that happy place, why would you leave it?

Seriously, No Challenges You’ve Met Along the Way?

As mentioned in the interview, sure there are some cultural differences I’ve been met with, but considering it’s all part of learning and gaining a better understanding of Taiwan and its people, I really don’t see it as a big challenge. Because I came here to have my mind opened and there’s nothing quite like a disagreement of perspectives to make me realise that goal faster and better. For the most part, the actual difference doesn’t bother me in the slightest…it is how people approach sorting out these issues that can be extremely frustrating. Like peoples’ views on public displays of affection and romantic gestures, for example (sounds familiar? check out the post here). But I almost think it’s necessary to have a disgruntled cultural experience to really understand your new friends at a deeper level. I seriously can’t imagine what my Taiwan life would be without these little disagreements to spur me forward. And I think that’s what the expat life is all about. Encountering differences, problem solving and onward adventures.

What Do You Miss and Don’t Miss About Australia?

I miss my family of course. Beaches within 10 minutes drive and hot balmy nights of an Australian summer. Oh…and a decent salad.

What I don’t miss is how comfortable it was in Australia. I had a great job, a decent wage and plenty of people who supported me. I was checking all the boxes in terms of what would give me security. But being comfortable makes me uncomfortable. I was restless and needed to do something drastic. Learning a new language amongst learning a new culture, heck, learning a new life, was the driving force that I yearned for. Despite being more settled here, I am still motivated by change. And it comes from my aspirations for a career I actually enjoy, and a lifestyle that involves discovery.

Eventually I will head back home, I know. But I’m definitely not ready to leave Taiwan just yet.

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All Photos Courtesy of Guang-Hui Chuan

So all in all this is a real insight into my life here in Taiwan. I hope you enjoyed this because I’m really laying it all out here which is quite unconventional of my blogging style. Thanks again to my readers, I hope to inspire you to experience living in Taiwan for yourself if you haven’t already. For fellow expats, I would love to hear of your own…what is your story?