Authentic German Flavors from Ralf , a German Settling Down in Taiwan and Loving Tamsui
When he was a mechanical engineer, Ralf was often dispatched around the world to help clients install or maintain machines. He had, therefore, visited Taiwan a couple of times and been really impressed by its beautiful natural environment, comfortable weather, and its people’s hospitality. Therefore, 12 years ago, when a client of his company invited him to work in Taiwan, he agreed immediately and, later, settled down. He married Guo Zhihui, a Taiwanese, and has joined the big Taiwanese family.
Despite his experience and expertise in mechanical engineering, Ralf had a dream, that is, to retire at 50 and run a genuine German restaurant. This dream came true 6 years ago. He and his wife Guo Zhihui opened Die Deutsche Hütte together, first near Tianyuan Temple in Nanshipu area, then on Xingzhong Road, halfway up the mountain, at the end of 2015. Both locations are in Tamsui District. They stick to Tamsui not only because Guo’s grandfather on her father’s side had lived here but also because Ralf truly loves this place.
“Tamsui is very close to Taipei City and is quite accessible without the hustle and bustle of the urban area. You can get to the mountain and the water fairly easily, not to mention the magnificent view. That’s why we chose to open our restaurant and live here. Tamsui is both beautiful and livable.” Ralf commented with a smile.
Ralf was once a mechanical engineer. Thanks to his love for Taiwan, he not only married a Taiwanese but opened a distinctive German restaurant, Die Deutsche Hütte, here. For the past 6 years, he has strived to deliver true German home cooking to Taiwan. It has been hard but he had won wide support and acknowledgment from customers.
There are only several main dishes in Die Deutsche Hütte, Schweinshaxe, pork rib, 3 types of German Sausage, and Wiener Schnitzel. Each is served with Sauerkraut, French fries, unpeeled potato chunks, and a small garden lettuce salad or a large cheese lettuce salad. According to Ralf, these dishes are not something served in upscale restaurants; instead, they are dishes his mother used to cook at home, dishes he loves. He had watched his mother make them so many times that he eventually learned how to make them himself. He never thought, though, a machine engineer can one day bring these rich German flavors to Taiwan. Although Ralf offers authentic German tastes, as half Taiwanese, he has incorporated some Taiwanese preferences into his food. His less-salty Schweinshaxe has won over both local customers and German business travelers. Through word of mouth, business gets better and better without any advertising. As a matter of fact, Ralf only makes 40 servings of Schweinshaxe per day and they are sold out pretty quickly, so better make an order beforehand. The customer base, both old and new, of Die Deutsche Hütte is growing. Ralf does not yet speak fluent Mandarin, but customers love to take photos with him and “check in” at his restaurant. Many customers have kindly suggested Ralf open a second Die Deutsche Hütte downtown, but he never wants to. He stressed that he switched gear to the restaurant business because he wanted to do something he is interested in, not to make big money. A good reputation is built only when you put quality before quantity. Ralf said with a serious look: “If I open more restaurants and have a lot more customers, I will not be able to stick to my current operating model and prepare all the food by myself. That’s not what I want.” Ralf emphasized: “My career used to control me. Now I control my career. ” This is his greatest gain turning from a mechanical engineer into a restaurant owner.
Living in Taiwan for 12 years, Ralf has naturally grown to love Taiwanese food. Even the spicy hot pot and stinky tofu, which are too challenging for many foreigners, are savory delicacies to him. Therefore, he often goes to Yingzhuan Road in Tamsui District with his wife just to enjoy those 2 dishes after work.The new Die Deutsche Hütte half way up the mountain was designed in a complete German style. It is difficult to imagine it was built from a ruined broken house. There were only two brick walls when they started. Therefore, the couple often called the restaurant “The Miracle Hut” for its dramatic transformation, but the restaurant is by no means luxurious. Its decoration is subtle and simple because Ralf wants all customers to “feel like home” when they come to Die Deutsche Hütte.On the other hand, Ralf is meticulous in the “heart” of the restaurant, the quality of the food. From the main dishes, such as Schweinshaxe (German ham hock), Wiener Schnitzel, and German sausage, to Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), and to the sauces, everything is handmade without any chemical additive. Ralf was generous enough to share how he makes Schweinshaxe: “Select a white pig hock weighing around 2.5 kilos. Soak it in water flavored with sea salt and store it in the fridge for 6 days, and then cook and roast the hock twice separately in high heat. Roast the hock again right before serving so that the Schweinshaxe will be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and have rich flavors when the customer tastes it.” Because this is such a complicated process, taking much more time (5 times more) than preparing half-processed products bought from factories, he has to get up at 6 o’clock in the mooring every day, spend 2 days a week solely on preparing ingredients, and work 75 hours a week. “Since this process is so painstaking and time-consuming, I don’t think anyone would want to do it even if I tell them how,” Ralf said with confidence.