Editor’s note – Monthly tickets There is a new CNN travel series that focuses on some of the most interesting topics in the world of travel. In the month of May, we are riding the rail as we explore the world’s largest train journey. Whether you’re looking for travel inspiration or insights, a monthly ticket will get you there.
(CNN) – Taiwan’s first gourmet dining train has just hit the tracks – and this stunning design is quickly gaining fans not only for its food, but also for its appearance.
The Moving Kitchen was unveiled in March 2022 on the Nangang Train Station platform in Taipei – a fantastic moment for Johnny Chiu, founder of Taipei-based JC Architecture.
Given the chic orange and black train, it’s hard to believe that when it first debuted in 2019, its original appearance was described by the local media as an “aesthetic disaster.”
Chiu redesigned the entire train, including the new gourmet dining car, and that’s the main reason why this former “disaster” is now affectionately known as “Taiwan’s most beautiful train.”
The letter that started it all
“In Taiwan, train travel has always been a big part of our lives,” Chiu told CNN Travel.
“From joining the army (military service is compulsory for men in Taiwan) to going home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, to meet our girlfriend or grandmother, the train journey is in everyone’s memory.”
“The kitchen bar looked almost like a hospital, with white plastic countertops and trash cans you can find on the streets. And with loud flowers painted on the wall – it wasn’t really delicious. Everyone was naughty. Photos were on. Every media outlet. The site and every social media account, “recalls Chiu.
Moving Kitchen, designed by Johnny Chiu, launched in March 2022.
Lee Kuo-min Jesse Architecture
Saddened by the situation, Chiu wrote an open letter, inviting everyone to see this as an opportunity to modernize Taiwan’s railways, and hoped that someone would take their message to the TRA.
In response to the criticism, TRA registered a group of creators to find a more eye-pleasing solution. One of them saw Chiu’s open letter and reached out to him.
“I received an email response saying, ‘Johnny, nice. We’re glad you have this positive response. I’ll give you two weeks and please let us know your thoughts,'” Chiu recalls.
After two weeks of sleepless nights and whiskey-infused brainstorming sessions, Chiu and his team presented TRA with a plan for a makeover. Shortly afterwards, they were awarded the project.
Building a 50 year old train
Architect Johnny Chiu and his team were tasked with replacing the 50-year-old train in 2019.
Lee Kuo-min Jesse Architecture
But the real challenge had just begun.
The team had only seven months to rebuild the refurbished Orange train. Once known as the Chu-Kuang Express, it was the oldest diesel engine since the 1970s.
“We didn’t know it was an old train,” says Chiu.
They faced many challenges, including power and infrastructure issues.
There were intricate electrical wires needed to hide them. Meanwhile, safety standards were higher than their usual interior projects because the material of the train should be flame-resistant and durable.
Putting the hardware aside, it was also difficult to persuade the 132-year-old government agency to join these new design ideas.
“Taiwan does not represent railway design – it represents safety, punctuality and accuracy. But fortunately, the TRA director and vice director were able to make tough decisions and move the whole team forward with dedication and passion,” says Chiu.
The new design came together in seven months – and was re-released in late 2019. The historic orange color remains, but has been enhanced with black to create a luxurious look.
The team mimicked the original retro Japanese-style font on Car Leveri.
The interior is inspired by Taiwan’s natural environment, with wood textures and black stones used to echo the formation of mountains and rocks along Taiwan’s shores – where the train will travel.
“We’ve also thought about how you get tickets. Like Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, you open an envelope to find a golden ticket and you’re gladly looking forward to your ride,” says Chiu.
The Future 2.0: The first gourmet train in Taiwan
The Future’s Lever was inspired by the orange color of the original train.
Lee Kuo-min Jesse Architecture
With a big win under its belt, TRA built The Future 2.0 – The Moving Kitchen Gourmet Train.
Victor Cheng is a senior director at Lion Travel, which handles train bookings.
“Gourmet trains are a familiar concept in Japan and Europe, but not Taiwan,” he tells CNN Travel. “But the people of Taiwan love the train and they love the food – so it was a logical and exciting move to combine the two.”
As The Future’s only travel operator and Taiwan’s largest travel agency, Lion Travel spent more than a year curating its experience with JC Architecture and TRA before its unveiling in March.
“To become the first five-star gourmet train in Taiwan, we had to overcome some obstacles – lack of cooking water and electricity are the first two major difficulties,” says Cheng.
Large quantities of water are required for drinking, cleaning and cooking. But there is limited storage space on board.
To solve the problem, fresh water and utensils are brought in the train between meals at the stop. Staff Partner Caterer also works closely with the Silk Hotel Group, which operates luxury hotels and restaurants in Taiwan to arrange the necessary equipment on board.
“The second challenge is to provide fine-dining restaurant services on the moving train. Our servers spent a lot of time practicing taking a firm stand while waiting for the table in the wagging train. Every meal time must also be on point,” says Cheng.
The delivery of each course matches the scenarios passengers will see.
For example, the first course of one of the meals on a two-day trip is abalone. It is presented when the train arrives at Turtle Island, which is famous for mollusks.
The second course is a seafood salad on a blue dish, paired with sea views of the east coast.
Then, as the meal passes through various locations, it continues to display local specialties such as hot spring vegetables (vegetables grown with local hot water), ducks, and sweet potatoes.
“And because it is a travel train, we have no schedule to go from one station to another. We can slow down the train during some of the most scenic routes. The train is closest to the sea in Hualien, “says Cheng.
A culinary trip
Moving Kitchen is Taiwan’s first gourmet train.
Cheng says every party involved in the project has done its best to make the moving kitchen run smoothly.
“At the station where we stopped our train, there was excessive growth that blocked parts of the sea view. Knowing this, the TRA sent someone to cut weeds and cut down trees for travel,” says Cheng.
Train travel serves more than a culinary experience. It combines in-depth spectacular activities such as visiting local rice fields and fish ports to understand the food that will be eaten on the train.
“So it’s not just about having a good meal on a moving train. The moving kitchen combines food, scenery and sights as an all-around tour,” Cheng adds.
Unlike the first version of The Future, the moving kitchen car took about a year to renovate, giving it more time for customization.
There are two new dining cars with 54 seats, as well as a new bar and a new kitchen. The dining room has a combination of high bar counter, sofa booth and table with two to four seats.
Chiu says, “We’ve pushed the material a little further. We bring marble from Hualien County and rattan made by tribal people in the south of Taiwan.”
“I’m also from the south of Taiwan. I remember my grandmother sitting in a rattan chair when I was younger because she spoiled me with her cooking.”
The chairs feature rattan from the south of Taiwan.
He inspired Chiu to design a special rattan chair for the moving kitchen. The chairs can be fixed to the floor for safety but are designed to look light.
The armrest has a 45-degree angle, which allows passengers to easily squeeze into their seat but “there is still an armrest chair that exists in a really nice dining restaurant” – with plenty of experience designing JC architecture.
Special spotlights were designed to make the food delicious and Instagram-friendly. Phone and menu stand is installed next to the table. The pagan wall lamp allows passengers to change the shape of a thin foil lamp shade.
Sold until September
Cheng of Lion Travel tells CNN Travel that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Tickets for the Gourmet Train and Moving Kitchen, launched on March 30, are on sale until September.
“On the first trip, we had an orange and black dress code – to go with the colors of the train. We saw a lot of people who get dressed for the occasion and they couldn’t stop taking photos once they got on the train. We were all very excited. Were, “says Cheng.
Moving Kitchen currently offers one- or two-day tours. Later, guests get off the train and spend the night at a nearby hotel. Six trips depart every month.
Six more train tours on The Future – without moving kitchens – are also available each month. They are seasonally themed and range from one to four days. The Future Train has four business class cars, each with 33 seats.
“I am very proud of this train. Because I think it is uniquely Taiwanese. I think it is successful because the train trusts this 132 year old company. And there is a saying that, if TRA did it. Yes, other members of the public sector can do the same, “says Chiu.
“I also think that there is still a lot of history and culture that we can find and express in a new story. So I’m really happy that this one letter changed the public sphere.”