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.
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
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.
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.
To secure your own fresh pasta, review the menu and pre-order via telephone or Facebook @Greensliding133
(Feature photo and all other photos, by Guang-Hui Chuan of GSquaredTravel)