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A Culinary History of Taipei, Beyond Pork and Ponlai

by: Steven Crook
Hui-wen Hung, Katy

Lantham MD: Rowman 6 Uttlefield 2018, Hardbound
ISBN: 978-1-5381-0137-1

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(3) page(s): 20

This book is one in the ‘Big City Food Bibliographies’ edited by Ken Albala. It was written by two Taipei city residents, one a native, the other making home here for more than a quarter of a century. Both believe Taipei cuisine should be delicate, not even forcefully explained, yet they do so in ten chapters, the last one titled: ‘Signature Dishes and Recipes.’ It includes twelve of them with one more than a single one. It incorporates several others in this master recipe, just not named as such.

This book delightfully details the Taiwan’s larder, their kitchens, special foods, festivals, some holiday foods, the farms that feed this city, the markets, restaurants, tipples, teas, and minor points in its overall cuisine. It includes a long bibliography, a many-page index, but only two short paragraphs about its authors.

Overall, there and many details about this city even though few are about its authors. Learning about them is in just eight lines about both of them. That was a pity; we did want to know more about each one of them.

We did enjoy their take on Taipei’s kitchens, soy sauce, and other culinary essentials. Also learned about the Japanese influences here. We became mre knowledgeable about Hakka cuisine and how it came down from the hills. Now we understand more about Taipei’s role of rice, festival foods, Bando and other Holo banquet and wedding celebrations, postpartum customs, various teas, local indigenous cuisines, the city’s markets, and the culinary teachers whose influences prevail.

We learned more about their experts including Angela Cheng, Teresa Lin, Penny Pan, and others. Learned about their teaching and enjoyed stories about the foods they tout, the current and past, some web education provided, many on-line sources, the city’s agricultural sectors and what they produce, other famous chefs, super stars, and some Taipei folk worth knowing about.

This is the first English-language book about Taipei’s food and fabulous culinary people, the place and its foods and more. It is comprehensive, accurate, fascinating, and fun to read. This serious food destination we know and love, and learned it is growing more enticing, more complex, even more adventurous day by day. Like every city, it is the sum of talented eaters, preparers, and those who frequent and indulge in its dishes. We have and you should, too. We often have enjoyed every minute we did, and know you will, too.

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