Tom Stapleton, WildChina’s representative in the UK and Europe, reflects upon the delectable delicacies he enjoyed during a recent trip to Taiwan.
Ask people what they associate with Taiwan and you’ll get blank faces, or at best ‘manufacturing’. Those with a few more miles on the clock might mention Chiang Kai-shek. What you’re unlikely to hear in reply is ‘outstanding food’.
Yet that is what travellers to Taiwan can expect – some of the freshest, tastiest and most innovative food in Asia.
Partly this is due to geography.
Being an island Taiwan has an abundance of seafood – squid, tuna, shrimp and much more besides can all be found in Taiwan’s waters.
The steamy, sub-tropical and tropical climate (Taiwan straddles the Tropic of Cancer) give rise to a verdant landscape with a bounty of fresh herbs and ferns used in more indigenous Taiwanese dishes, as well as juicy tropical fruits.
History gives us an explanation too.
Indigenous peoples of Taiwan have their own distinct dishes, often based on unique fruits and vegetables found in the mountainous centre and east of the country. This has combined with the cooking styles found in the mainland’s Fujian province, from where most pre-20th century migrants from the mainland originated.
Layered on top of this heady mix is a distinct Japanese influence – Japan was the occupying colonial power in Taiwan from the late 19th century to after the Second World War. Sushi and sashimi remain extremely popular, and the quality is such that Taiwan exports a large amount of its catch to Japan.
After the defeat of the Nationalists in China’s civil war, Chiang Kai-shek led a two million strong army to Taiwan, bringing culinary influences from all over China, and expanding the horizon of Taiwanese cuisine yet again.
This myriad of influences, set within a thriving, dynamic and open food scene has given rise to one of the most innovative cuisines in Asia. Michelin starred dumpling restaurants, lively street markets, local seafood restaurants and upmarket fusion eateries – Taiwan has it all.
Come with an open mind and an empty stomach and you’ll not fail to be disappointed!
All photos credited to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau