Thu, Sep 30, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Flavorful food spans ethnic divides

By Liang Shih-shin 梁世興

On Sept. 16, legendary chef Fu Pei-mei (傅培梅) died of cancer in Taipei at the age of 73. People from all levels of society have expressed regret over her death. Although I never met her personally, I would like to pay my respects to her for her cultural contributions by outlining my view on Taiwan's dining culture.

Most foreign tourists believe that one of Taiwan's greatest charms is its role as a gourmand's mecca -- delicacies from both land and sea can be had around the island. Just walk down Taipei's Yungkang Street and you can enjoy spicy beef noodles from China's Sichuan Province, Ningbo or Shanghai fried rice with eggs, steamed buns (hsiao lung pao) from the world-renowned Din Tai Fung restaurant, Taiwanese thin noodles with oysters or even a luxurious Mango ice invented by local vendors.

You can have whatever you want, on just one street, and each kind of food on offer is fantastic. This culture of food, which has infiltrated our lives to the point where it is taken for granted, is in fact what makes up Taipei's precious charm and competitiveness.

Such competitiveness is the product of decades of accumulated experience in our daily lives of numerous recipes and dishes by Fu and other chefs.

Although my friend in Hong Kong is proud of the city's colorful and tasty Cantonese food, he admits that spicy dishes are absent in Cantonese cooking and that he always chooses to fly to Taiwan for a spicy hot pot whenever he wants to have something hot. My Singaporean friend highly recommends the pepper crabs of his hometown, but complains that the choices for food in the Lion City are fewer than in Taiwan.

My classmate in Malacca thinks that the taste of Chinese food in Malaysia is often affected by heavy shrimp sauce. My Shanghai friend, meanwhile, believes that Shanghai is a center for all cuisines, but praises the creative and exquisite Chinese cooking in Taiwan. Looking at Taiwan from other Chinese societies, its Chinese cultural assets are indeed admirable.

History may be eccentric and unreasonable sometimes. But it also brings us new opportunities. Those who only uphold local consciousness love to criticize the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government that relocated to Taiwan in 1949 as an alien regime. However, it also means that Chinese immigrants from all provinces have joined us with their cooking skills and flavors, bringing an opportunity to this land.

Although some argue about certain elements of this culture, such as its language and character, Chinese cuisine has become one of Taiwan's cultural and economic assets. The formation of such capital has been gradually accumulated through time -- just as food may be slowly smoked or roasted to add flavor.

Most of all, after living together for a long time, it has seeped into our blood and become a shared asset, something we are all familiar with and used to. Without this long-term integration, foreign flavors merely give you a temporary exotic feeling -- like trying a Middle Eastern style kebab at a night market, just to have something different once in a while.

Perhaps we can say that the boundaries between the food of different ethnic groups disappeared from Taiwan a long time ago. All kinds of food have already become public assets.

Those with excessive Taiwan consciousness actively promote things such as a localized world historical view and the Tongyong Pinyin (通用拼音) spelling system that emphasize local awareness. They also attack those who may hold a different opinion for not loving Taiwan, selling Taiwan out, or not lifting the curfew in their hearts.

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