Alaska's ties with the Pacific island nation of Taiwan continue to expand, and now it's a new restaurant with a strong Alaskan connection. Alaskan expat Benjamin Mercer, who just turned 30 the other day, had long been talking about setting up some kind of small restaurant with a fellow traveller from Michigan while both of them were taking Chinese classes and teaching English in Taipei.
They did and it's called "Salt Lick." It's a barbeque joint along Taiwan's scenic east coast (which some expats and locals call paradise).
Opened last April by Mercer and expat pal Jason Delickta, 38, a restaurant introducing some good American fare to Taiwanese diners made sense since both men have a background in catering -- and Mercer, born and raised in Alaska, has a background in cooking authentic smoked salmon as well.
"Jason and I moved from Taipei to Hualien and opened the restaurant last spring," Mercer told me in a recent email. "The place is called the 'Salt Lick' in English, but we call it 'Little Locomotive' on our Chinese-language sign because our smoker is shaped like a small locomotive. We're doing authentic smoked American barbecue, including smoked salmon (although not Alaska wild salmon, I'm ashamed to say). We've recently started to sell our ribs and jerky across Taiwan."
Mercer and his business partner received some good press from local newspapers in Taiwan over the past few months and set up a Facebook page for customers, and while the two men still teach English at a language school to pay the rent, their heart is in smoking. Jason's hometown newspaper in Michigan did a story on the restaurant in far away Taiwan earlier in the year, and the Taipei Times, a daily English-language newspaper serving the expat community and foreign diplomats nationwide, recently filed a glowing report on the place.
So another Taiwan-Alaska connection makes the news. And if all goes well, maybe authentic Alaska salmon will be on the menu soon, shipped frozen from the Last Frontier to Isla Formosa ("beautiful island," in Portuguese, which Portuguese sailors said sighting the Pacific island and making landfall long ago).
Mercer lives in a region of Taiwan that has been dubbed the nation's ''Eden," according to the Taipei Times.
"The clean air and slower pace of life are attractive to many, not least members of Taiwan's (expat) community, who visit for the surfing, trekking, cycling, bird watching and myriad other outdoor activities," Ian Bartholomew wrote in his restaurant review.
Some of them have come and stayed. In recent months, Hualien has seen a small burgeoning of foreign-run eateries, which have greatly diversified the county's food profile.
Specializing in American southern-style barbeque, "Salt Lick" serves up Texas brisket, Kansas City ribs and pulled-pork from the Carolinas. With his Alaska background, Mercer said he hopes to get salmon from Alaska on the menu as soon as possible, once he figures out the logistics of shipping and air freight.
Dan Bloom lives in Taiwan. He is a former editor of Juneau's Capital City Weekly and now works as a book producer and packager.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.