From bubble tea to gua bao: all about Taiwanese cuisine

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What exactly is Taiwanese food?

The first and most important question also happens to be the most difficult to answer. That’s because many of the dishes of Taiwanese cuisine are not rooted in the country itself. Taiwan has undergone so many demographic, cultural and technological transformations that the food has taken on its own identity. It’s a real melting pot. 

Logical if you look at (modern) history. The island spans centuries of immigration and colonization, fifty years of Japanese occupation (from 1895 through World War II), and has seen a large influx of Chinese fleeing the mainland when the Communist Party came to power in 1949. What does all this have to do with the food? Everything. You can taste this special kaleidoscopic mix in the dishes. 

And the dishes themselves?

You could say that all the food of the first inhabitants of the island is ‘typical’: roots such as taro and sweet potatoes, millet, wild herbs and vegetables, and lots of seafood. There are also traditional dishes associated with the different regions of Taiwan. Just for our understanding: the island is about the size of the Netherlands with more than 23.5 million inhabitants (the Netherlands has 17.44 million). 

For example, the rice bowl with tender pieces of shredded chicken is very typical of Chiayi City and in the coastal region you have an impromptu ‘mushy season’ noodle dish, where a small amount of seafood is cooked with pork stock (to compensate for fish shortages), garlic and noodles.

But you also see influences from mainland Chinese cuisine: pickled rice noodles and vegetables. Influences from Western China: beef, flatbreads and hand pulled noodles . The people of Fujian province, in turn, brought the sweet braising liquids, for example the chicken and lu rou fan . Some Japanese dishes were so popular that they stayed: sashimi, oden (stew), and bian dang (bento boxes).

Taiwan street food

But what Taiwanese food is really depends where you ask the question. If you ask elsewhere in Asia, Taiwan would be listed alongside Hong Kong and Singapore as a prime destination for xiao chi: ‘little bites’ from street stalls. Such as scallion pancakes, black pepper rolls, oyster omelette and noodles in all conceivable variants.

Taiwan also set the East Asian trend for “Q” dishes, the local term for the springy, chewy texture found in thick rice noodles and tapioca pearls, for example. So much sticky stuff. Amy Qin of the New York Times calls Q—aka “QQ”—the al dente of Taiwan. 

Typical Taiwanese specialties

beef noodle soup

It’s hard to imagine that one culture could lay claim to something as basic as braised beef with a jumble of slurpable noodles. And yet this dish is considered the national dish of Taiwan (although its origin is Chinese). It becomes ‘Typical Taiwanese’ with the addition of pickled mustard vegetables and the signature five-spice powder with star anise, cloves, Chinese cassia, Sichuan pepper   and fennel seed.

hot pot

Every season is hotpot season. The hot pot is so central to Taiwanese food culture that most home kitchens are equipped with a special hot pot burner as standard. There are nearly 5,000 hotpot restaurants across the country, each with its own vibe and specialty. From shabu-shabu to Sichuan-narcotic mala– and from fast-food restaurants to all-you-can-eat fantasies.

It’s the place where Taiwanese people gather to submerge their food—seafood, thinly sliced ​​meat, leafy greens, noodles, wontons, mushrooms, and all kinds of tofu—in pots of broth made from pork bones, jujube, or sauerkraut. After the food is fished out of the stock, it’s time for a double dip in a savory sauce that you can compose yourself with sesame oil, sha cha sauce, soy sauce, garlic, freshly sliced ​​spring onions, black vinegar, sugar or chili sauce.

Spring onion pancake

The pride of Taiwanese cuisine: these pancakes with finely chopped spring onions in the dough. Actually, it’s more of a croissant-like flatbread than a pancake. The texture is wonderfully flaky, and the dough springs back in your mouth. The hot baking tray and the oil in the dough make the pancakes so nice and crispy. Eat one like this, plain, or fill the pancake with eggs, basil, cheese, beef, ham or corn.

And further…

  • Gua bao, or the Taiwanese hamburger:  steamed buns ( mantou)  filled with marinated pork belly.
  • Zong Zi, sticky rice:  a triangular rice bundle filled with shrimp, mushrooms, peanuts and chestnut – often in combination with pork.
  • Taiwanese fried chicken: fried  not once, but twice (the Korean chicken too) and then sprinkled with salt, pepper, basil and five spice.
  • Braised Pork Rice:  neither fancy nor difficult, this is essentially just braised pork belly in soy sauce served over a bowl of white rice.
  • Oyster vermicelli noodles: a slimy soup with meaty oyster chunks and chewy bits of pork intestine. It is topped with coriander or a spoonful of vinegar. Oyster omelette has a similar texture.
  • Three-Cup Chicken: s an bei ji is also known as ‘three-cup chicken’, because of the three equal parts rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil that the chicken is fried in. The whole thing is cooked and served in an earthenware pot and arrives sizzling on your table with a generous amount of basil.
  • Fan Tuan: A burrito-style roll of sticky rice with fillings that range from pickled radish, pickled mustard greens, stewed egg and pork, bacon, and even sugar. Modern versions flirt with different colors of rice – purple is especially popular – and, wrapped in plastic, it’s an ideal breakfast on the go.
  • Bubble Tea :  Ice cold black tea with tapioca pearls and condensed milk. Sometimes fruit syrup comes into play.

> Also read: everything you need to know about a Taiwanese breakfast

Source: Culy by
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