Picture this. It’s a hot a steamy Friday night, it’s about 9pm in Taipei’s seaside Danshui district (sometimes written as Tamshui just to confuse us foreigners). Scooters and motorbikes are zipping past on the footpath. Buskers are singing Chinese love songs to blissed out lovers and hawkers are throwing glowing toys into the air in order to try and get you to buy them. The air is full with nice, and not to nice aromas from food outlets serving dishes unimaginable to a western pallet. This is about as far away from my familiar antipodean culture as you can get, I’m hungry and thinking of trying a traditional Taiwanese dish (you know like duck head or stinky tofu) when suddenly some words written in the Latin alphabet on a sign a captured my eye. “Kia Ora Kai”.??!?!
‘Kia Ora’ is the New Zealand Maori greeting, what on earth is it doing written on a shop here? Continuing on the sign actually says “Kia Ora Kai – Burgers and Beer”. This is truly the last thing I expected to see. Even in in my home country of Australia where 600,000 New Zealanders live a Kiwi bar is almost impossible to find. How has one ended up on the outskirts of Taipei is beyond me. I HAVE to go in and find out more.
Up some stairs to the first floor, through a glass door and I’m in what could almost resemble a US frat house rec-room. There’s a PlayStation set up with steering wheel and pedals in one corner. A solid looking HDTV flicking between movies and sports above the bar, and friends playing games and chatting to each other on the tables whilst eating some of the juiciest burgers I’ve ever seen. Oh and I forgot to mention a cute puppy running around the place too.
I’m greeted almost like a lost friend and given a seat outside on the balcony which looks directly on the estuary where the Danshui River and the South China Sea meet, framed with towering mountains beyond the other side of the waterway. Before l knew it a frosty Carlsberg draught is in my hand and I’m feeling pretty content, thinking it was a smart move to enter this place.
After checking out the menu, A Taiwanese guy comes up to me and asks me what I would like to eat. He asks in English with a solid Kiwi accent, instead of the a thick Taiwanese one like I was expecting. It turns out his name is Will and this place is his baby.
I am really liking this place so I wanted to get down to the bottom of how it came to be so I started up a chat.
Tell me the story behind Kia Ora Kai Taipei? How did a Kiwi burger joint end up in Danshui?
Well….. I started working for the old man after I graduated from University in Taiwan, and it was a horrible year for both me and my father because the way I was brought up in NZ just cant handle being a slave to work! So I decided to do what I enjoyed the most when I was in NZ which was working in a kitchen. I started off by trying to get a job at a burger restaurant but they didn’t reply back to me until after I started my own place, so oh well its their loss!
Anyways I thought of a few things, the stuff that I was taught to cook while I was in NZ, pasta, pizza and burgers. But eventually I decided on burgers in Danshui coz there wasn’t any decent burger places around nothing flamed grilled nothing basic like how a burger should be done! And plus I live in Danshui so I thought I’m gonna work close to home!!
What made you choose to specialise in burgers and beer?
One of the places I worked back in NZ also had flame grilled burgers and personally I knew beer and flame grilled burgers are awesome and there isn’t a place in Danshui that does flame grilled burgers, that’s why I decided to specialise in it.
The location is amazing. I’d imagine many businesses would love a place like this. How did you manage to get such an awesome spot?
Well before I took it over it used to be an Irish cafe, and I knew the owner through a friend and I also used to go there quite often till the owner got too lazy and rarely opened for business. Once I heard he was selling the place, got hold of him and talked to him over some details and boom! that was it!
Who are your customers? (EG Expats, Taiwanese just passing by? Kiwi’s meeting up to watch Rugby??)
My main customers are the foreigners based in Danshui, there aren’t too many Kiwis in Taiwan at the moment, but I’ve met a few just coz they saw Kia Ora guess it was homey to them. Not too many Taiwanese people come to have burgers, but I do get some and they do come back coz the food is good!
Do you host any regular nights? (EG Movie Nights? Playstation Nights?)
Not really, the guys just jump on the PS3 with the racing rack when they feel like it, legal drink driving!
How often do you personally eat your at Kia Ora Kai Taipei? What is your favourite thing on the menu?
I eat my own burgers sometimes, used to eat more often but you do get sick of burgers after a while even if they are soooo good!! lol
My favourite burger is the bacon cheese burger with jalapenos!!
I notice you have a dog (very cool)! What’s their name? Is the dog normally hanging out at the restaurant? Does the dog have a favourite burger?
My dog’s name is Tono( Japanese for “King”) He comes to work with me everyday he is a pretty chilled out dog and he likes most customers. He doesn’t get to have burgers but I do cook fresh chicken breasts for him once a week
What’s been your favourite moment since starting Kia Ora Kai Taipei?
My favourite moment… when the place was jammed packed with customers drinking and watching a baseball game Taiwan v.s Korea!
(Baseball is serious business in this part of the world. Check out my post about visiting a Korean Baseball game.
Thanks Will for answering my questions
If you are a homesick kiwi expat, or just want to try some of the best burgers Asia has on offer you can do a lot worse than to step inside Kia Ora Kai. I personally came in just for a 20min dinner and ended up staying until closing time with a bunch of new friends. There’s not to places in Taiwan, let alone the world where you can have a genuine experience like that.
Kia Ora Kai is located at:
Taipei, Taiwan 25173
If that makes no sense to you click here for Google Maps reference. But it’s a 2 minute walk west along the foreshore from Danshui MRT
You can find out more and even ask Will some questions at the Kia Ora Kai Facebook page.