Food in Taiwan
Eating is a universal hobby, which almost everyone in the world shares mutually. Eating not only helps to fill the gut, but is also a tantalizing experience when tastebuds are put to test. Being in Taiwan, you must never escape the chance of sampling the local cuisine. To the Chinese people, food is like the very 'air' they breathe, thus the preparation and eating of food is a chief preoccupation. The quantity and quality of their daily meals is analogous to the quality and success of life collectively.
In Chinese cooking, the preparation of each dish requires concentration, time, and skill. The importance of color, aroma, and flavor are emphasized greatly in their daily cooking. A dish with fragrant aroma will whet the appetite. Basic ingredients found in most Chinese dishes are scallions, fresh ginger roots, garlic, chili peppers, wine, star anise, stick cinnamon, pepper, sesame oil, dried Chinese black mushrooms, and other mouthwatering aromatic spices. Sauces are made from vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and other seasonings that add richness to a dish. Nutrition is another bearing to Chinese cooking. Ingredients used in Chinese cooking, such as scallions, garlic, ginger roots and more, have properties that thwart and alleviate various illnesses. Therefore, the correct ingredient proportions must be adhered to in the preparation of each dish or soup to ensure full nutritional value.
Going into a Chinese restaurant in Taiwan is like entering an examination room - you never know what to expect. Foreigners frequently encounter pitfalls when they try to order from a Chinese menu without fully understanding its contents.
Nonetheless, if you do not get the same menu as Chinese patrons, call upon a waiter to assist you. Do not be afraid to inquire about the freshest items at hand that day or to ask for house specialties.
The general rule of thumb for ordering any Chinese meal is to choose a main dish for each person in the group, a few appetizers, a soup perhaps, and dessert.
A typical Chinese restaurant is hardly ever quiet. The rambunctious and clamorous surrounding of any Chinese restaurant is a distinct trademark that differs from the more subdued Western tradition. Dining is a gala occasion meant to be merry and joyous. The more people in a party, the more festive the occasion.
Food culture represents one face by which a country knows itself and by which it shows itself to the world. Due to its great ethnic diversity, Taiwan has a wide variety of such faces and, moreover, these have increased and strengthened with the rise in local awareness. This diversity of cuisines includes eight main categories: Holo (also called “Minnanese,” or simply “Taiwanese”), Hakka, and vegetarian foods, as well as the various cooking styles with long histories from the length and breadth of mainland China such as northern style, Hunan, Jiangzhe (from the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang), Hong Kong (Cantonese), and Sichuan. In general, therefore, it can be said that Taiwan’s varied cuisine shows ethnic, geographic, economic, and other cultural influences.
Chinese cooking is mainly divided into a few different styles based on geographical domains: northern, southern, eastern, western, and local cuisine
This situation can be illustrated using the example of Changhua County in west-central Taiwan. While Changhua’s one city and 25 townships have a variety of distinctive geographic conditions, there is an overall tendency toward agriculture, meaning that Changhua foodstuffs tend to have a rural flavor. Local influence can be seen on top of this, however, such as in the seafood ingredients used for coastal dishes such as o-a-tsian (oyster omelet) and o-a-mi-suann (slender noodles with oysters), which are considered Changhua specialties. Agricultural communities throughout Taiwan tend not to include beef as a staple of their diet, so Changhua’s meat dishes are also generally based on pork. These include rice with stewed pork, and bah-uan (rou-yuan in Mandarin), which are meatballs in a large dumpling. These are so famous that, throughout Taiwan, they are known as Changhua rou-yuan. These meatballs are made using bamboo shoots and mushrooms as well as pork, and the dough is generally made using sweet potato starch. This shows how such dishes are closely bound to the agricultural societies that produced them. Local religious activities have also contributed to the development of pastry making, so that Changhua’s many old pastry shops now enjoy a widespread reputation.
The situation in Taoyuan can be contrasted to that in Changhua. The culinary culture of the 13 conurbations of this northern county was originally similar to that of Changhua discussed above. Following settlement by large numbers of mainland veterans and the arrival of foreign workers, however, local cuisine has been influenced markedly. Initial Han-Chinese inhabitants of Taoyuan had been mostly descendants of immigrants from the Zhangzhou area of mainland China’s Fujian Province. The rich tapestry of local inhabitants also includes indigenous Atayal, Hakka, and immigrants from Matsu Island and Yunnan Province, giving rise to an equally rich variety of cuisines. Following the arrival of foreign laborers, Southeast Asian restaurants have also prospered, while the hot and spicy beef noodles of the veterans’ community has become another feature of local food
In contrast to the refined dishes served at elegant banquets are a wide variety of local foods generally known as xiao-chi in Mandarin (“small eats”), which are something like a delicacy, snack, or one dish of a main meal. These are local dishes with the taste of the countryside. They are the product of folk culture and represent popular aesthetics. Superficially, therefore, xiao-chi seem to be quite the opposite of banquet dishes: folk as opposed to elegance, of different classes, with different flavors. For some time, however, xiao-chi culture has been on the rise, honing its qualities, and attracting attention and praise from all strata of society. This goes to show that there are no distinct boundaries between the two culinary cultures but, rather, that they share much in common.