by Qian Leung
@ 28 Jul 2017
The story of Astoria Cafe began in 1949, when six Russians fled to Taiwan for political reasons. “If they didn’t run away, they’d be beheaded,” says Archiybold Chien, 86. “One of them, Mr Elsner, was in greater danger than the others.” He was a surviving member of the Russian royal family that was killed in 1918. With the help of Chien, who was then 18 years old, Mr Elsner operated the cafe that would serve Russian specialties. The young Taiwanese man, who had learned English by reading the bible, soon knew how to converse in Russian as well. Chien’s daughter, Karen, recalls, “Before I was even born, they were already staying in our house.” Since they could not return to Russia, her parents took care of them, till they grew old, and ultimately passed on. Kholodets, a Russian dish that appeared in the early 19th century, is made by covering shredded meat with a clear broth made from gelatin-rich pork legs, ears, and beef tails. The consommé sets to form a chilled meat jelly on cold winter nights. Borsch, made with beef, beetroot, radish, and carrots, is light, yet flavoursome. Pork knuckle, served with sauerkraut and mustard, has to be my favourite dish. Roasted till wonderfully crispy, each morsel is hot, juicy, and tender. The cakes, while not fanciful in appearance, are the taste of honesty - with fresh cream, light sponge, and crispy puff pastry. I can understand why the cafe was the haunt of novelists and poets in the 1960s, when they needed a cup of coffee and a place to work.