New Qingli Rice Mill 新慶利碾米廠

Rice depot in Datong district
An old rice depot in Datong district.

I often find myself intrigued by traditional shops in Taiwan, the sort of businesses that most people take for granted and seldom mention or even notice. Many of these businesses are slowly disappearing due to competition from big chains and industrial operations with greater economies of scale. For example, consider the humble rice mill, a business that processes “rough” harvested rice into an edible product for wholesale distribution and consumption. My understanding is that small-scale, family-run rice mills are a dying breed, outcompeted by exurban factories owned by large corporations.

Even so, you’re still likely to find traditional rice mills in older neighbourhoods now and then. On my last walk down Díhuà Street 迪化街 in Taipei 台北 I happened to notice one hidden under an awning on the northern end of the strip. I snapped a photograph and thought nothing of it until, while post-processing, curiosity got the better of me and I went to look up information about it.

Turns out the New Qingli Rice Mill 新慶利碾米廠 has been passed down through four generations and has been in continuous operation for something like 50 or 60 years. Apparently it is one of the only rice mills still operating in western Taipei 台北, though I swear I’ve seen a few more in Wànhuá District 萬華區. Perhaps those other places are merely wholesale dealerships and not actual rice mills? At any rate, better catch a glimpse before it’s gone—the sun is surely setting on small-scale shops like this one.