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,
1947–1949 Immigration Wave
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.
- 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
- 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.
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
- Wasabi is a common accompaniment to certain
- 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,
- Curry – An insipidly mild curry that always
includes potato, often chicken, seems to have come
- Japanese-style chopsticks Japanese chopsticks
are shorter and have pointed ends. They function better
than Chinese chopsticks which seem clunky in comparison.
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
Vegetables Taiwan produces
a huge variety of vegetables, particularly the leafy green
- Spring onions
- Chinese chives
- Basil – Used extensively in cooking
- Coriander (cilantro) leaves – Strong tasting herb used
as a garnish on soups and stews.
- Water spinach
- Taiwan bok choy
- Shanghai bok choy
- Oil seed rape
- Chinese broccoli
- Garland chrysanthemum
- Chinese cabbage
- Chinese celery
- Mung bean sprouts
- Soy bean sprouts
- Bitter melon
- Winter melon
- Asian radish (daikon)
- Sweet potato – Tuber & leaves. Thought of as famine
food, though still enjoyed nonetheless.
- Chinese yam
- Bamboo shoots
- Oriental cucumber
- Yard long beans
- String beans
- Chinese eggplant
- 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
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,
- Mandarin oranges
- Asian pears
- Honey dew melon
- Star fruit
- Custard apple
- 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.
- Beef – Most commonly eaten
in beef noodle soup
- Frog (also known as 'rice paddy chicken')
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
- Oysters – Oyster omlette is
a traditional snack.
- Sea cucumber
- 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
- Tofu of many kinds
- 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
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.
fried broad beans
- 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
eggs [ Recipe ]
- Spring onion omelette
- Oyster omelette
fried tofu [ Recipe ]
- Radish cake
– Sweeter than European sausages
Dumplings in Bamboo Leaves (zongzi) [
- Corn – On the cob, grilled
- Bawan Mince pork
wrapped in skin of tapioca flour and a little sticky
rice. A traditional favourite.
- Dried squid
(wide variety of deep fried foods)
mung bean soup [ Recipe ]
- Soft tofu dessert (dou
- Shaved ice – with fruit, adzuki and mung beans, peanuts
or various other toppings
(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.
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.
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
- Rou zhao fan
- Lu rou fan
- Steamed bamboo cup rice 'cake' (mi
- 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)
[ Recipe ]
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)
– 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.
The Wok, More Than Just a Stir Fryer
People tend to pigeonhole the wok as an instrument of stir frying. It seems to have been developed specifically for that use; that is the job it does to perfection. Yet this uniquely shaped cooking pot handles at least adequately: frying, deep frying, braising, stewing, boiling, smoking, steaming, and soup making … more
Chinese Food Facts
Chinese Cooking Tips