|Fried Mi-fen 炒米粉 [source: here]|
There is a small area known as 米粉寮Rice-stick-shacks, about 0.5 km due east of Tamsui Golf Course. It was where the Chen陳 Family plied their trade. So popular were their rice-sticks, the Chen family became wealthy and built their first stone house (called 德安居) in 1916 with two more built by 1931.
Rice-sticks were actually quite pricy in the old days, served only as a special treat and on special occasions such as entertaining VIPs and celebrating Lunar New Year. In fact, at one point, 8 kilos of rice could trade for only 5 kilos of mi-fen. Rice sticks were also served fried with expensive ingredients added (e.g., choice lean pork, shitake mushroom, and dried shrimps), never the modern-day rice-stick-soup fast-food [although it is really not a bad stand-in if done right, now also widely available in Tamsui].
Mi-fen has always been made with Taiwan native 在來 rice. Replacing rice with corn starch appeared to have occurred in the 60s when some merchants discovered by accident that mi-fen made with corn starch, then imported from South Africa, was even more chewy than that made with rice. And since anything chewy [有嚼勁] was something that the consumers looked for, the fraud perpetuated. Gone with it was of course the distinct rice fragrance. Fortunately, in Tamsui and elsewhere, there are still others who have stuck it out with the old ways, so authentic rice-sticks are still available.
|Bundles of mi-fen being dried|
*The first mi-fen maker in Hsinchu, the Kuo Family was also from 惠安, migrated to 南勢 in N Hsinchu in 1858, later than people of Tamsui.