Blog: Love, Dadaocheng

The Dihua Juice Guy 迪化果汁

If you ask the average Taipei citizen what comes to mind when they think of Dadaocheng, the responses are usually related to the architecture, Chinese medicine shops, or the Lunar New Year Market that takes place every winter. However, though few would list it among the famous features of the neighborhood, there’s one little spot that everyone seems to recognize the moment you mention it or share a photo of it, causing them to exclaim: “這家超好喝!” (“This place is delicious!”)

Such praise is a point of pride for 林尊賢 (Mr. Zun-xian Lin), owner of the simply and appropriately named street stand 迪化果汁, or “Dihua Juice.” Of course, few actually know the name of this little stand, and folks in the neighborhood often refer to Lin as “柳丁的那個” (“the one with the oranges”) or “柳丁哥” (“Orange Brother”). It makes sense, since the stand has no sign despite having been a Dadaocheng institution for decades.

Lin’s mother opened the stand when Lin was still a teenager, nearly 40 years ago, and neighbors who have been in the area for generations recount watching him grow up over the years. Now in his fifties, Lin has long since started his own family and taken over the business as a second generation owner. He doesn’t know if his own son will someday be willing to inherit the stand, but says that he won’t force the issue if his son wishes to pursue another path.

Watching Lin work is like seeing a master in action. Decades of daily practice have translated to swift movements that customers like to watch, never having seen someone make freshly-squeezed juice at such a speed. Indeed, Lin enjoys surprising his guests, delighting in their frequent exclamations of “這麼快!” or “So fast!” when he hands over orders in under a minute.

Lin’s speed comes primarily from skill rather than the high-tech equipment you’ll see at most modern juice stands. For the most part, his trade requires only 6 tools. Among the six are a cutting board, a sharp knife, a strainer to catch stray seeds, and a funnel for filling bottles. Then there’s this hand-crank ice machine that has been in use since the stand opened, and which would be nearly impossible to buy new these days.

The most important tool Lin uses is manually operated as well: a custom hand-press juicer that he says customers frequently ask to buy. He says he replaces the press at regular intervals and keeps a supply of them, so he has no problem hooking his customers up, particularly when citrus fruits are in season and locals buy oranges and kumquats in massive quantities.

“Orange Brother” lives by his own product, too, regularly drinking juice throughout the day. He says it’s a nice side benefit to his business, since it’s a natural form of quality control, it enhances customer trust, and it’s great for his health. As Lin says, he is very rarely sick, and almost never takes a day off.

Lin’s oranges are usually locally sourced, except when they are out of season, at which point he is forced to use imported fruit in order to keep up with demand. Though you might guess that the juice stand is primarily a summer business, Lin operates year-round, going through several boxes of oranges even on the slowest days.

According to Lin, he gauges each day’s business by how many boxes of orange peels he has at the end of the day. He’ll fill at least 5 boxes on most days, though hectic summer days and special events often result in a large stack of boxes by the time he closes up for the night. 

Altogether, all those boxes equate to a minimum of about 200 cups of juice per day, or more than 500 cups whenever there’s the “perfect storm” of high temperatures and humidity during a special event on a summer weekend. It’s on these days when even Lin’s furiously working hands alone can’t keep up, and he needs to work together as a team with his wife or son to meet the demand.

When asked about whether he’s considered opening up a regular shop instead of an outdoor stand, Lin says “細水長流,” a Mandarin idiom which loosely translates to “narrow stream, long flow,” indicating that the stand’s success comes from persistence more than anything else. In Lin’s case, though he earns his living selling juice at NT $35 per cup, the sheer volume and longevity of the stand add up to a comfortable living.

One might think it would be tedious standing behind a juice stand from morning to night, day after day, year after year, but Lin rather enjoys his work. Besides, Lin’s corner at Dihua and Guisui Streets (迪化街/歸綏街) is a great location for working because he gets a front row seat to the goings on of the neighborhood, such as the regular parades put on by the Xia-Hai City God Temple only a block and a half away.

The stand is also an essential part of the neighborhood, and Lin knows his regulars so well that they need only approach the stand without a word and he’ll start preparing the usual. Some of the older men also like to stick around to shoot the breeze despite the lack of seating. They’ll simply borrow Lin’s stool, saddle a parked scooter, or even plop down on a stack of garlic from a nearby shop, then watch the world go by, juice in hand.

Author’s note: The content in this interview was actually cobbled together over many, many visits to Mr. Lin’s stand, rather than the usual one or two sessions it takes to put together a post. That’s because not only is Mr. Lin a gem of a human being, but also: the juice is that good. Sometimes I would stop by for a 綜合汁, talk to Mr. Lin for a bit, and be finished with my juice by the time I left, meaning of course I’d have to order another for the road. Stop by for a chat yourself, and you’ll likely end up doing the same.