Wed, Apr 24, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwanese cuisine as soft power

By Chien Yu-yen 簡余晏

Can foreign taste buds appreciate Taiwanese flavors? The question surfaced early last year when the French Michelin Co released its first food guide for Taipei, rousing public concerns that the judges might focus on Cantonese and Western dishes, thus discouraging the development of and confidence in Taiwanese food.

In the second Michelin Guide Taipei, released on April 10, many of the new one-star recipients are traditional Taiwanese cuisine establishments, such as Mountain and Sea House (山海樓) and Tainan Tantsumien Seafood Restaurant (華西街台南擔仔麵).

New entrants in the Bib Gourmand selection, such as Mai Mien Yen Tsai (賣麵炎仔) in the Dadaocheng area (大稻埕) and A Kuo Noodles (阿國切仔麵) in the Shuanglian area (雙連), serve food in the old Taipei style.

These vintage Taipei eateries devote their efforts to maintaining quality food and affordable prices, while creating intricate and multi-layered flavors that are both modern and elegant.

The release of the guide and the Bib Gourmand selection offers a good opportunity to put Taiwan on the international gourmet map.

Looking at Taiwan’s international brand image, it is clearly an island of technology, famous for computer and cellphone-related products.

However, Taiwan is truly a treasure island, with an abundance of locally grown rice, fruit and seafood. While the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) retreat to Taiwan in 1949 contributed to the gathering of various cuisines from different Chinese provinces, the Japanese cuisine was also firmly established through the colonial era.

Apart from these historical factors, Taiwanese enjoy trying new things, which has given Italian and American food a chance to shine. Fusing global flavors with locally grown ingredients, Taiwanese cuisine is the foundation on which the nation can develop its tourism industry.

After receiving a total of 24 stars last year, 24 Taipei establishments were awarded 31 stars by the food guide this year. This is no coincidence: The nation has cultivated more prestigious chefs who have received wide acclaim in Asia. They not only use local ingredients, but also present Taiwanese flavors to the world.

Renowned chef Andre Chiang (江振誠), for instance, reintroduced pig blood cake as a modern dish.

The Tainan Tantsumien Seafood Restaurant in the Huasi Street Night Market in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華) is not the ordinary noodle stand its name suggests: The establishment presents traditional danzai noodles with a stewed egg in bone china tableware.

The Mountain and Sea House even reconstructs the dishes once served at the famous Penglaige during the Japanese era.

A long line can still be seen every morning outside Mai Mien Yen Tsai, a noodle shop run by the third generation of the same family.

Back in the days when Dadaocheng was Taipei’s wholesale and trading center, the owner would get up early and finish all preparatory work to be able to present a vendor’s stall with shiny white ceramic tiles and a spotless glass cabinet. Even today, with furniture already worn down by time, the tables are still wiped clean, and the ingredients are never sloppily prepared, with the senior owner making a quick calculation for every table, showing the sincere Taiwanese spirit that cares for every dish.

The spirit of Taiwanese cuisine can easily be fit into guided tours. Tourists could be brought to a clamorous traditional market and shown the whole process from purchasing ingredients to cooking dishes.

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