When I first came to Tainan, the old capital in the south of Taiwan, it was 2012, and I was overwhelmed by the amazing food culture here. Amongst all the new tastes and novel encounters was something very familiar but nevertheless completely different: the fruit café. Although fruit cafés might sell other things, their basic offer is ripe, freshly cut, tasty fruit, served simply on a plate. This is my kind of café!
Fruit Café 1: Tai Cheng Fruit Shop – 泰成水果店
29-21, Lane 86, Section 2, Hai’an Road, West Central District, Tainan City, 700 – 台南市中西區正興街80號
This was actually the first fruit café that I visited, nearly 10 years ago, situated in the charming and historic (though touristy) West Central District of Tainan. I was immediately taken by its stepped seating that seems something like a tiny theatre auditorium. The fruit is housed in a glass refrigeration unit that wishes you a Merry Christmas all year round, and displayed below on staggered shelves are more fruits, that feel something like offerings on a small altar.
One ‘classic’ thing to have at a fruit café is chopped tomatoes with a dip of soya sauce, gan tsaǒ (see below), and ginger. Do try this at home. It’s a lovely refreshing and rich taste. Here tomatoes are treated more like the fruit that they actually are, than the ‘salad vegetable’ we tend to consider them as in the West.
This fruit café also serves ‘melon bowls’ with sorbet or ice cream. (This one with grape and mango flavours.) When you dig to the bottom you find out that there are balls of melon that have been helpfully scooped out for you. This little detail makes it even more pleasant.
Fruit Café 2: Shishixia Fresh Fruit Ice City – 石獅下鮮果冰城
No. 146, Fuzhong Street, West Central District, Tainan City, 700 – 台南市中西區府中街146号號
I am yet to sample the fruit at this café, despite passing it on numerous occasions. It’s located on Fuzhong Street (府中街), a pedestrianised route perpendicular to the famous 17th Century Confucius Temple. There’s plenty to see and do around here which is probably one reason why I haven’t stopped long enough to sit down but I admire this cute little place even before sampling their fruits.
Fruit Café 3: Qingji Fruit Shop – 清吉水果行
No. 294, Section 1, Fuqian Road, West Central District, Tainan City, 700 – 台南市中西區府前路一段294號
This fruit café is probably my favourite, not so much for it’s location or its architecture (it’s on a main road and although the abundance of fruits are beautifully arranged, the display does not face the street and lacks the orthogonal play in some of the other cafés) but rather because the fruit is always perfectly ripe and full of flavour.
I can imagine it must take some care and planning to keep this lot at peek condition and a particular kind of expert knowledge to know when to cut into one of these nectarines.
My general habit is to be a fruit purist and simply to opt for a plate of mixed fruit (the choice of which I leave to the shop keeper’s discretion) but on one occasion I did try this custard apple milk, which I think just had two ingredients: custard apple, and erm, milk. My gut doesn’t normally tolerate dairy but this was worth the inevitable windy afternoon. It was delicious. (Custard apples are called shìjiā – 釋迦 – in Chinese, which literally translates as ‘Buddha’s head’ because of the similarity in shape to stylised sculptures.)
Fruit Café 4: Huaxi Street Rare Fruit – 華西街珍果
No. 113, Huaxi Street, Wanhua District, Taipei City, 108 – 台北市萬華區華西街113攤
The preponderance of fruit cafés are in the south of Taiwan but they are found across the country. This one, close to Huazi Night Market in Taipei doesn’t have the romance of the Tainan fruit cafés but it does have a storybook orthogonal display of fruit and is very affordable.
Alongside my regular variety plate, I took the opportunity to have an additional plate devoted only to delicious fresh mango.
Fruit Café 5: Fruit Cart – 水果車
No. 361, Renai Rd, West District, Chiayi City, 600 – 嘉義市西區仁愛路361號
Last, and in some sense least, is this little roadside fruit café cart underneath the awning of Taiwan Cooperative Bank in the city of Chiayi, that I stumbled upon en route to the National Palace Museum Southern Branch. Less choice but not less taste. A very refreshing pit stop on a hot day.
By the way, the little mounds of beige that you see on the edges of the plates of these fruit platters are not sugar but rather a mixture of plum powder, liquorice root, salt, and sugar (house styles vary). It is known as gan tsaǒ – 甘草 – and is mostly unnecessary but it does bring out the tongue-sucking sweet-sour-umami of some fruits, especially guava.
There are plenty more fruit cafés than these to discover. Feel free to let me have your tips! If you are coming to Taiwan, make sure to sit down to a plate of fruit.