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Taiwan Food
A hundred miles from the Chinese coast lies Taiwan. Most simply described, the cuisine of this mountainous island nation on the edge of the Pacific is Chinese, with some significant Japanese influences. Apart from the staple, rice, Taiwan is a bounty of fruit, vegetables, and seafood.


Taiwan Lunchbox (bien dang)  

 

Contents
Geographical Influences
Historical Influences
Japanese Influence
1947–1949 Immigration Wave
Taiwan Vegetables
Taiwan Fruit
Taiwan Meat
Taiwan Seafood
Other Items
Taiwan Snacks
Taiwan Appetisers
Taiwan Dishes
Taiwan Drinks

 

Broadly speaking, the food of China can be divided into four regional styles - northern southern, eastern and western. Fujian, according to E. N. Anderson, belongs to the eastern tradition but is quite distinctive in its own right. Taiwanese cuisine can be see as an outgrowth of Fujianese cuisine.

The major influences on Taiwanese cuisine are, as anywhere, the geographical, and historical.

Geographical Influences

  • Dominance of mountains resulting in a population crowded into a limited area of plains, mainly in coastal areas.
  • Island nation, close proximity of the population to the sea

Historical Influences

  • Pre-20th Century History - Immigration from China, southern Fujian in particular. As well as a close geographical proximity to Taiwan, Fujian has similar weather, and has in common with Taiwan formidable mountain ranges and a lengthy coastline. It would not have been difficult for the early settlers to replicate their native food ways in their new home.
  • Japanese Influence 1895 – 1945. The Japanese during their fifty year occupation turned Taiwan into a major food supplier to Japan as well as off-loading a considerable amount of their own foodstuffs and eating habits onto Taiwan.
  • 1947 – 1949 Immigration Wave Led by the Guomindang (KMT), huge numbers of migrants arrived from China, They carried their eating habits, which in many cases were quite different from the local Taiwanese.
Common Taiwan Dishes  

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Japanese Influence While Japanese cuisine has had a big influence in Taiwan, Taiwanese cuisine clearly belongs to the Chinese food tradition. Some Japanese influences, such as popularity of sashimi and sushi are obvious, others blend in and are more difficult to recognize. Japanese restaurants, both 'authentic' and Taiwan-style, are very common.

  • Cooking wine - Few dishes are cooked without rice wine, and it is here that Japanese influence is very pervasive. Unlike the mainland, Taiwanese cooks rarely use yellow wine (Shaoxing-style wine). The standard cooking wine in Taiwan is a clear light rice wine, very similar to mirin, the Japanese cooking wine, though less salty. Taiwan rice wine is much less distinctive in taste than yellow wine and has the effect of lightening the flavour of the food in comparison.
  • Sashimi Commonly served in Japanese and in Chinese restaurants.
  • Sushi As above.
  • Miso / Miso soup As above.
  • Seaweed Coastal Chinese eat seaweed but it is the Japanese who take it to the level of an art form, and this seems to have carried over somewhat to Taiwan.
  • Wasabi is a common accompaniment to certain seafood dishes
  • Teppanyaki grills are common, though usually highly localized, most obviously by adding lashings of minced garlic and chili to most dishes.
  • Yansu Ji This seems to be inspired by the Japanese cooking style tempura, though with major Taiwanese characteristics, the most obvious being, that not all of the foods are battered. I call it Taiwan fish and chips. It is sold be roadside deep fry stands which offer up a whole range of foods with fresh basil leaves, then powder the whole lot with a salt and pepper mixture and chili powder if you want. Items include: chicken pieces, dried tofu, string beans, sweet potato chips, potato chips, pig's blood/rice cake, squid, fish balls,
  • Curry – An insipidly mild curry that always includes potato, often chicken, seems to have come via Japan.
  • Japanese-style chopsticks Japanese chopsticks are shorter and have pointed ends. They function better than Chinese chopsticks which seem clunky in comparison.
Northern Chinese-style Buns & Bread  

 

1947 – 1949 Immigration Wave
The writing was already on the wall by 1947. Chiang Kai shek's Guomindang was defeated by Mao's determined Red Army in 1949. The US moved a large sector of Chiang's army and even more civilians to Taiwan. They were from many areas of China. The result of this mass immigration is that today in Taiwan you can find a great range of regional foods from all over China, many of which have adapted to suit local tastes.

Taiwan Vegetables Taiwan produces a huge variety of vegetables, particularly the leafy green varieties

  • Spring onions
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chinese chives
  • Leeks
  • Chilli
  • Ginger
  • Basil – Used extensively in cooking
  • Coriander (cilantro) leaves – Strong tasting herb used as a garnish on soups and stews.
  • Water spinach
Water Spinach  

 

  • Spinach
  • Taiwan bok choy
  • Shanghai bok choy
  • Oil seed rape
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Amaranth
  • Garland chrysanthemum
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cabbage
  • Chinese celery
  • Celery
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • Soy bean sprouts
  • Bitter melon
  • Winter melon
  • Asian radish (daikon)
  • Luffa
Luffa Vines  

 

  • Sweet potato – Tuber & leaves. Thought of as famine food, though still enjoyed nonetheless.
  • Potato
  • Taro
  • Chinese yam
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Carrots
  • Oriental cucumber
  • Yard long beans
  • String beans
  • Chinese eggplant
  • Corn
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Wood ear – This fungi turns up in a surprising number of dishes and is absolutely required in Taiwan Hot and Sour Soup
  • Lilly buds
Sweet Potato Leaves  

 

Taiwan Fruit Taiwan grows a wide range of tropical and temperate fruits, and also imports a good deal. Taiwanese gorge on fruit, and no decent communal meal would be complete without a large platter of sliced fruit (it's good for digestion, your host will say). For the fruit platter, chopsticks are dispensed with. You eat the fruit slices with bamboo toothpicks. Many fruits are eaten unripe. The list below is for locally grown fruit.

  • Plums There many kinds of plums, usually preserved.
  • Peaches
  • Lychees
Lichis  

 

Longyan  

 

  • Longyan
  • Jujube
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Kumquats
  • Apples
  • Asian pears
  • Watermelon
  • Honey dew melon
  • Papaya
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Guava
  • Banana
  • Star fruit
  • Custard apple
  • Loquats
  • Pomelo
  • Coconuts
  • Grapes
  • Passionfruit
  • Strawberries
  • Strawberry pears (pitaya) A very recent introduction.
  • Tomatoes Large tomatoes are usually served green, as a vegetable, while small cherry tomatoes are eaten ripe as a fruit.
Papaya Tree  

 


Taiwan Meat

  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Goose
  • Turkey
  • Beef – Most commonly eaten in beef noodle soup
  • Frog (also known as 'rice paddy chicken')
  • Snails
Turkey Rice with Side Dishes  

 

Taiwan Seafood: As you might expect of island where you are never far from the shoreline, seafood is plentiful and very fresh.

  • Clams – I doubt a week goes by when I am not served clams at least once, usually in soup.
  • Oysters – Oyster omlette is a traditional snack.
  • Prawns
  • Crab
  • Cuttlefish
  • Squid
  • Sea cucumber
  • Jellyfish
  • Eel
  • Seaweed
  • Saury
  • Cod
  • Salmon
  • Shark


Other Items

Rice Seedlings  

 

  • Rice A hybrid of long and short grain, developed during Japanese rule in the first half of the Twentieth Century, has long been dominant. It is quite sticky.
  • Tofu of many kinds
  • Chestnuts
  • Water caltrop
  • Thousand year–old egg
  • Salty duck's egg
  • "Barbeque Sauce" (sha cha jiang / sand tea sauce) Used in cooking and as the base for hotpot dipping sauce.
  • Dried pork and fish floss
Tofu with Thousand year old egg  

 

Taiwan Snacks (xiao chi) Taiwanese are great snackers as a visit to one of the island's ubiquitous 7-11 convenience stores will show. There you will find hundreds of different snack foods, including traditional favourites like tea eggs and dried squid, sitting alongside more recent imports like chocolate and potato chips.

  • Watermelon seeds
  • Deep fried broad beans
  • Dried tofu
  • Puffed rice cake
  • Sugarcane – Street side snack. The 'skin' is shaved off and it is cut into 12" lengths and sold by the bagful. You need good teeth, and don't forget to spit out the fibre once you have chewed the juice out of each mouthful.
  • Tea eggs [ Recipe ]
    Stinky tofu
  • Spring onion omelette
  • Oyster omelette
  • Deep fried tofu [ Recipe ]
  • Radish cake
  • Sausages – Sweeter than European sausages
  • Rice Dumplings in Bamboo Leaves (zongzi) [ Recipe ]
  • Corn – On the cob, grilled or boiled
  • Bawan Mince pork wrapped in skin of tapioca flour and a little sticky rice. A traditional favourite.
  • Dried squid
  • Taiwan tempura (wide variety of deep fried foods)
  • Sweet mung bean soup [ Recipe ]
  • Soft tofu dessert (dou hua)
  • Shaved ice – with fruit, adzuki and mung beans, peanuts or various other toppings

Taiwan Appetisers (xiao cai) Taiwan is also known for its range of appetisers. Few dishes, in fact, are eaten without some sort of starter or side dish.

  • Pickled cucumber salad [ Recipe ]
  • Fish Fry with peanuts [ Recipe ]
  • Clams pickled in soy sauce
  • Jellyfish salad
  • Stewed appetizers egg, seaweed, tofu, pig's ear, pig's skin, various pig guts etc.
  • Pig's blood and rice cake (a duck's blood version is available for those who eschew pork)
  • Tofu with thousand year-old egg

Taiwan Dishes While stir-fries are plentiful, Taiwanese food is characterised by stews and soups. A ten course banquet will probably have four or five on the menu. Here is just a small selection of typical dishes.

  • Rice porridge [ Recipe ] The standard tradition breakfast dish. Now relegated to the role of comfort food.
  • Taiwan sandwich – Taiwanese have adopted the sandwich, but strictly for breakfast only. The range of fillings is limited: fried egg, ham and diced cucumber, and dried pork floss
  • Pastry omelette (dan bing) A common breakfast dish.
  • Rou zhao fan
  • Lu rou fan
  • Steamed bamboo cup rice 'cake' (mi gao)
  • Soups: Just a few: Bamboo and pork chop soup [ Recipe ] Thick soups called geng, with minced pork pieces orsometimes squid, Clam soup, Oyster soup, Pork ball soup, Fish ball soup, Egg drop soup, Miso soup, "Green vegetable" & tofu soup, Seaweed soup, Corn soup, Pig's blood soup, Hot and sour soup [ Recipe ]
  • Fried rice noodles
  • Thin noodles with oysters
  • Beef noodle soup [ Recipe ]
  • Dumplings: Jiaozi boiled and steamed. Potstickers, Steamed bread dumplings (bao zi, xiao long bao)
Beef Noodle Soup  

 

  • Three Cup Chicken [ Recipe ]
  • Chafing Dish Tofu [ Recipe ]
  • Pickled radish omlette
  • Ginger duck
  • Hotpot (steamboat)
  • Taiwan steak (also pork and chicken options) – Always on a sizzle plate with noodles, frozen corn and carrot pieces

Taiwan Drinks Tea is rarely taken with meals (but soup almost always is)

Tea Bush  

 

  • Tea – Taiwanese are inveterate wulong drinkers. Black or green tea is always considered second-rate and is only used in flower or scented teas of cold tea concoctions (usually tea shakes) such as fruit tea etc.
  • Bubble tea – a local invention
  • Winter melon tea
  • Soybean milk – usually sweetened
  • Papaya milkshake – Delicious, just finish it within 20 minutes or you will get a nasty surprise – it will solidify into a bitter custard
  • Kaoliang (sorghum) liquor – Traditional staple of the Taiwan hard drinking crew
  • Taiwan Beer – "Famous in the world."
  • Shaoxing wine – Until ten years ago, a very popular drink, now under an onslaught of imported choices – wine, whiskey, beer – hardly anyone touches it. Not normally used as a cooking wine.
  • Millet ale – a traditional drink of the aborigines

See Recipe page for some Taiwanese dishes.

       
     
 
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