Taiwanese food calls to me, though I’ve never stepped foot on the island of Taiwan, but it’s enough that director Ang Lee comes from there and made the sumptuous foodie movie Eat Drink Man Woman – certainly a top 3 food movie in my books.

taiwanese food


Why would I bring Taiwanese food with me? The cuisine is so diverse, I could never want for more.

The island of Taiwan, around the size of The Netherlands, holds about 24 million people. That’s got to be cramped and requires alot of bellies to be filled.

Taiwanese cuisine can be divided into about eight styles, mostly derived from the ethnic groups that inhabit the country: Hoklo (also called “Minnanese,” or simply “Taiwanese”), Hakka, Hunan, Jiangzhe, vegetarian, Cantonese and Sichuan (or Szechuan).

A majority of the early Chinese came from the Guangzhou and Fujian provinces, known for their seafood cultures, while the hardy Hakka, who dispersed throughout the world, also built a life on the island -- importing their famous salty dishes, steamed chicken, dry mustard cabbage and bean curd plates.
Taiwanese fare includes boiled salted duck, chicken stewed in Chinese herbs, eggplant in garlic sauce, scallion pancakes, beef noodles, oyster omelette, stuffed flour dumplings, glutinous rice cake, grass jelly juice and the sauce of fermented bean curd paste. Don’t forget the Taiwanese are especially captivated with bubble tea, also known as pearl milk tea.

GET PAST THE STINKY TOFU

I spoke with Kang Wei of Wei’s Taiwanese Foods in the east end of Toronto to get a clearer idea of the cuisine. Kang and his wife Sharon have run a lunch place for a few years now. Sharon ran her own restaurant in Taiwan for six years.

tofu


The weather is mostly semi-tropical, so we do not eat the foods that are too spicy like the northern China does. We have a lot fresh seasonal herbs and fresh vegetables in our cooking. We also use a lot seafood, chicken and pork in our cuisine. Rice is our bread and butter. We love vegetables.”

These are what he considers the main traditional Taiwanese foods:
  • Taiwanese peanut sticky rice with sausage –- fatty pork sausages with a sweet taste, sometimes wrapped in glutinous rice (actually looks like a hot dog).
  • Three cups flavour spice chicken – the three cups refers to sesame oil, rice wine and soy sauce. Other savoury ingredients include ginger, garlic and fresh basil.
  • Taiwanese style crispy fried chicken – described as fried like KFC, only better. Small chunks of chicken sprinkled with peppers and basil flavor with a beautiful crispy top.
  • Smelly To-Fu or Stinky To-Fu – tofu that is fermented in a veggie brine. It can be eaten cold, steamed, stewed, or fried and often accompanied by chili sauce. Despite its strong cheese-like odour, it has a mild taste. (Kang Wei confesses this to be one of his faves)
  • Stir fry rice noodle – usually with with cabbage, onion, carrots & pork.
FAST FOOD

There’s a real dine and dash culture in Taiwan, according to Kang Wei.
We present the cuisine snack style due to [our] lifestyle.

Wei is talking about the food stalls on the street. Many Taiwanese enjoy a dinner or late-night snack that are available from hawkers from 7 pm to 3 am every day. Strolling around after work or later in the evening is just a part of the culture.

"The outdoor street night markets in Taiwan are so wonderful," says Wei.
If you're on the streets of Taiwan, you must try the plethora of steamed buns available.

Of note are the Shanghai-style soup buns (filled with pork, scallions and ginger) or crab-flavored steamed small soup dumpling. The very substantial meat and veggie buns (usually stuffed with pork, cabbage, white pepper and scallions) are good for lunch and if you’re a vegetarian, the shitake mushroom buns are superb, sometimes filled with dried tofu. And if you have a sweet tooth, the yellow milk buns are right down your alley – filled with a mixture of mung beans, condensed milk, sugar, and powdered corn.