I like to smash things.
Or more importantly, I like to smash my food. I found myself in Beipu (北埔), Xinzhu County last fall for exactly that reason. I didn’t smash salty potato chips or double-stuffed Oreos in Beipu. I smashed tea, or to be more exact, the ingredients for tea. Pumpkin seeds, black sesame seeds, puffed rice, mung beans, and ground matcha green tea lay before me in a gooey mess as I continued to grind, pound, and crush them using a mortar and pestle to hand make lei cha (擂茶). My friend Heather sat across from me and alternately laughed and sighed as we worked together to make our own bowl of the traditional Hakka drink. At the very least, my right arm got a good workout. By the end of solid half-an-hour of hard work, we were rewarded with filling, flavorful lei cha which was definitely worth the effort.
If you want a village adventure, I recommend a day trip to Beipu. A peaceful Hakka town nestled at the base of mountains, Beipu is one of the best places near Taipei to experience Hakka culture. With roots tracing back to ancient China, the Hakka people have a rich culture characterized by their language and food. Not only can you smash your tea in Beipu, you can also try salty, hearty Hakka cuisine, which is exactly what Heather and I rewarded ourselves with after our tea workout. Flat, rice noodles (板條), stir-fried pork and tofu with onions (客家小炒), and salty, barbequed pork (碳烤鹹豬肉) are some of the most well-known and appetizing Hakka dishes.
Beipu has more to offer than just traditional tea and food. If you’re not too tired from crafting your own tea, Beipu has some charming local sights, most notably the Jian Family Temple, Zhitian Temple (慈天宮), and dozens of traditional houses and shops along the old street. Beipu was also once the site of the Beipu Uprising, a 1907 armed resistance against Japanese rule and the first of its kind in Taiwan. In the hills behind the old town you’ll find small memorials to the incident.
By the time my friend and I had smashed and enjoyed our tea, walked around the old town, and seen the local sights, we were ready to head home. For people who are more energetic and want to see more, Five Finger Mountain (五指山) is an accessible spot for a hike from the village. Just follow the signs posted in English and Chinese. The DaPing River (大坪溪) cold springs are also seven kilometers out of town if you want to cool off in summer and take a dip beneath a man-made waterfall.
Beipu is a cozy village where you can enjoy small-town charm and learn more about Hakka culture while also getting a break from Taipei. You can get there easily by bus by taking:
GuoGuang Bus 1820 from Taipei Bus Station to Zhudong
and then transferring to bus 5627 toward Xinzhu.