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Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan
Spring Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(1) page(s): 16-19
Meaning 'terraced bay,' Taiwan was known for centuries as Formosa, that name meaning 'beautiful island.' Both names are for what was the protectorate of the Chinese Empire in 1206 CE. That was when the Yuan Dynasty was founded by Mongol leader, Genghis Khan (now spelled Chinggis Khan).
Taiwan's past has multi-cultural influences. In the 1600's, the Dutch invaded and remained for thirty-seven years until defeated by Ming Dynasty warriors. Two years later, the Spanish barged in but did not stay long; and they only occupied a small area in the north. They were booted out shortly after arrival. In 1884, the French came and occupied a small portion, but just for some months. In 1887, this island and the almost sixty smaller ones around it were made a prefecture of the Fujian Province.
Taiwanese, European, and Chinese influences early on helped foreign foods mix easily with Chinese ones. Add to that the Japanese, in 1894, took over the Pescadore islands, known at Peng Hu. They and the big island were ceded to them, and they stayed until 1945. After World War II, these islands and Taiwan were returned to the Chinese.
Before, during, and after the Second World War, fourteen thousand square miles of bug-infested swampland in the north of Taiwan island was reclaimed. In 1949, one small part of this land became Taipei, this country's capital city. A bit later, they built a financial center tower; it is one of the world's tallest buildings. Called 'Taipei 101' and named for the number of floors above ground; there are five others below.
In 1948 and 1949, about two million Han Chinese and fewer non-Han arrived led by Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist army. They had ruled or tried to rule China since 1911 after they toppled the Qing Dynasty. They came across the Taiwan Straits wanting to avoid living under Mao Zedong and communist domination.
These newcomers, most Buddhists with a few Daoists and a lesser number of Christians and Muslims joined local Republic of China (ROC) Chinese and fourteen different aborigine tribes called Gaoshan, and became the People's Republic of China (PRC). The aborigines multiplied and are now one million strong. Their growthe and the huge influx of Han Chinese changed Taiwan. It became a bastion of Chinese culture. Go to a restaurant with any of them and learn there are two types of conversations at mealtime: A discussion of what is being eaten at the moment, and what do they hope to eat in the future.
Taipei, now some three million folk in a country of twenty-four million, is the largest city on the island. Tainan and Kaoshing, which is now written as Gaoxiang, follow. Since 1949, Taipei is the political, cultural, economic, and transportation capital of the ROC. In the PRC, the government sees Taiwan as the twenty-third province of the PRC. The Taiwanese sees themselves as living in a country with nineteen provincial regions.
No matter that, food in Taiwan is the number one thing on people's minds. This country overflows with great food morning to night, even with good fast food 24/7. Many of its restaurants have been reviewed in this magazine. If planning to go there, check them out at www.flavorandfortune.com and elsewhere.
At breakfast, chui ping, which came to China during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), came to Taiwan in the late 1940's. This hand-held breakfast food is popular around the clock. While some Chinese believe its origin is Persian, most Taiwanese we queried claim it as their own.
Lunch, if not a business meal in a place such as the Grand Hotel seen here, is when fast food prevails for the masses under age forty. It includes burgers, pizza, fried chicken, even a lunch box. Older folk and those with more time go for yum cha. These southern and Cantonese dim sum delights are loved here. They might go for a big buffet meal where folks select quality dishes quickly and efficiently in places. Most, but not all these dishes are Chinese, others from any country in the world. Lunch might also be a snack of noodles, rice, or wheat in any form from spring rolls, peach buns, steamed or fried dumplings, or breads, filled or not. The rice and noodle dishes can be hand-held as are zongzi wrapped in lotus or bamboo leaves and stuffed with anything one can think of, or they can be dishes needing chopsticks.
Dinner in winter is often huo kuo, known in English as hot pot. Or it might be any number of other cook-yourself dishes with or without plain white rice or noodles, or steamed bread, or it might be rice stuffed into a duck or a chicken, rice balls in or around a dish, even rice showing up as Eight Treasures at the meal's end.
Though fast food and western food are everywhere, traditional Chinese food is still an important hallmark of Taiwanese food. It is available at almost all restaurants, always present at festival and celebrations meals, and many of its items feature seafood. Fresh foods of the sea, fresh fruits of the regions–papaya to pomegranate, and foods imported from all over the word are available for festive and ordinary meals.
Taiwan also has its own regional dishes and delights, and tea is one of them. Teahouses are everywhere, bubble or boba as they call it originated here, and teahouses serve and sell it even at highway rest stops. It can be had plain, flavored, in dishes, and as green tea beer. Loved with meals, and before or after them, this island has its own tea food called lei cha. It can be solid or liquid, served not only with Hakka food where it originated, but also with anything else. It is made by pounding sesame seeds and peanuts with dried tea leaves, served dry, baked, even with added hot water.
There are many other snacks in Taiwan found on streets, in tea houses, in restaurants, and in karaoke bars. The latter successful businesses are popular, and where folks go to them to eat, hear, and participate in sing-alongs. Karaoke bars are all over the country and many restaurants feature them before, during, and after dinner hour.
Readers have asked this magazine: What would be a typical Taiwanese menu? We tell them: That depends upon where in the country and for whom? Not wanting to use that as a cop-out, we once copied a Taiwanese cookbook suggestion from a book whose cover is no more and whose name is long forgotten. The pages remaining say a typical Taiwanese meal can include: Three-cup Chicken and/or Three-cup Squid, Braised Beef, Shrimp Cutlets, salted Small Fish with Peanuts, Tanzi Noodles, and Buddha Jumps Over the Wall--made Taiwanese-style with tendons, shark's fins, and lots of green vegetables; and Eight Treasure Rice for dessert, and tea served throughout the meal.
So that you can cook typical Taiwanese dishes, we have gathered some to try before or after going to Taiwan. And, when you go, do visit some aborigine culture. These folks are called 'mountain people' and they have retained much of their primitive behavior. They can be found in Wulai which is near Taipei, their cultural village is near Sun Moon lake, and they are at the Aboriginal Culture Park in Peiyeh in Pingtung County.
Before going, do note that some say there are fourteen groups, other anthropologists report nine tribes including: The Ami, Atayai, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiat, Tsou, and Yami. One major festival celebrates all of them and is called the Ami Harvest Festival or Hualien. It is held near the end of summer. While on Orchid Island, the Yami hold an annual Flying Fish Festival; this is during the second or third month of their lunar year.
In Taipei fifty years ago, there were rice paddies. Now there is that exceptionally tall building and other tall office buildings. The tallest has what some consider the most posh mall. There are also gorgeous condominiums and classic temples such as Lungshan also known as the Dragon Mountain Temple. When in Taipei, go into and up to the top of the tall one, the Taipei World Trade Center. It is exhilarating, and its exhibition hall often has great things to see. Incidentally, the Dragon Temple nearby was originally built in 1740 but several natural and man-made disasters required reconstructions, the most recent in 1957. Be sure to visit that and the two streets nearby; they are the famous Huasi Night Market.
Get to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and see its gorgeous gardens, and to the National Theater and National Palace Museum. We had great food in these places or near them, also near the National Museum of History. The Fine Arts Museum is near the Grand Hotel, pictured on this page. This Qing Dynasty- style building has great restaurants in it, visit them, too.
Also, go north to Tansui and south to Kaishiung. There are many things to see and many delicacies to taste, especially those in Southern Taiwan. We adored a long day in Alishan in south-central Taiwan. This national park has a great restaurant in its namesake hotel. Alishan is the gateway to Yushan or Jade Mountain, the highest peak in Northeast Asia. Geat food can be had near there, too.
Superb noodles are to be had in Tainan City at Tu Hsiao Yeh. Theirs is a more than hundred-year history, and folks adore their Scalded Milkfish Ball in its thick soup and their Xiaoxijiao Bowl Rice cake. When in Tainan, Fengshan, or in Kaihsiung, visit the Meinung Hakka Restaurant. They cook on charcoal, use licorice and rock sugar in their marinades, and prepare lots of delicious Hakka food.
If you are a vegetarian and back in Taipei, then visit the Jen Dow Vegtarian Buffet; it is most unusual. They serve wines, have lots of different kinds of steamed dumplings, many made with konjac and many herbs, and a talented chef who makes to-order dishes. If not a vegetarian and in Taipei, have good luck and eat pig's knuckles. Hsiung's Wanlun Pig Knuckle in Pingtung County is the place to try them. Aside from bringing good luck, thirteen herbs are their secret, and anyone eating them surely is lucky.
Elsewhere in Taiwan, is lots of terrific Chinese food. Check out past articles, there are many in Volume 13(4) but that is but one place to look for them. Plan a trip to this many-faceted country, and until you do, try any or all of the Taiwanese recipes that follow. They can tingle taste buds readying you for the varied foods found there.
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