Investing in China’s food market is no easy task for Taiwanese restaurateurs, as in addition to significant increases in the minimum wage and rental fees over the past few years, maintaining the original Taiwanese flavors in China poses even more challenges.
Taiwanese restaurants in China tend to opt for Chinese ingredients, because some are not suitable for long-distance shipping. Therefore, delicacies served on the tables of a restaurant’s branches in China may not taste like they do in Taiwan. This situation has led to some Taiwanese restaurateurs closing some of their outlets there or even pulling out of the China market altogether.
Tu Hsiao Yueh (度小月), which features a signature dish of fragrant tan tsai noodles (擔仔麵) with minced meat, is a store that first opened in 1895 in Tainan. It put a great deal of effort into finding stable suppliers for its ingredients before opening its first store in China last month.
Hung Hsiu-hung (洪秀宏), the executive director and a fourth-generation founding family member of Tu Hsiao Yueh, said that through participating in several food exhibitions organized by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA, 外貿協會), he found that many dishes, such as oyster omelets and sausages, which are described as having Taiwanese flavor, do not taste as they should when they are served in China.
To make sure the restaurant could present authentic local Taiwanese cuisine, its staff traveled between Taiwan and China several times for half a year to find stable sources of ingredients that taste truly Taiwanese.
However, the restaurant still insists on using minced meat cooked in Taiwan and pork balls from Hsinchu County.
A similar story can be told for the renowned dumpling house Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐).
Following the opening of its first branch in China in 2004, the company has opened seven restaurants there at a pace of one store per year to obtain a scale of operation that can allow it to source quality ingredients.
Like its outlets in Taiwan, customers at the Beijing branch can watch the chefs showcase their skills in making Din Tai Fung’s famous hsiao lung bao (小籠包) — juicy pork dumplings — through the glass walls of the kitchen.
Hsu Chih-chiang (許志強), who runs the restaurant’s China operations, said that Ding Tai Fung is very strict in terms of its selection of ingredients, staff hiring, standard operating procedures and the quality of services it provides for its customers.
Beijing resident Chen Lifeng, meanwhile, said Taiwanese food brands are more reassuring to Chinese people in terms of the selection of ingredients, as well as food processing and preparation.
“Chinese care more about eating healthy, and price is no longer the top priority,” Chen said.
As competition in the food and beverage market becomes ever more intense, Hsu suggested that Taiwanese who intend to tap China’s food services market should first embark on field visits, gain an understanding of customers in China and ensure that their enterprises are properly oriented.