Under the cool white lights of the World Trade Center, Yeh Min-wen (葉敏雯), a mother of two, stops to consider a glistening mound of dongpo pork (東坡肉). “It’s expensive,” she pronounces. “But spending money feels better than cooking.”
We’re at opening day of the New Year Shopping Fair, Taipei’s first trade exhibition for Lunar New Year supplies. It doesn’t look quite like Dihua Street (迪化街), which is lined with sellers of dried scallops, crinkled rare mushrooms and other ingredients used in seasonal dishes. There isn’t much of that here. Instead, this emporium offers an extensive range of pre-made festival food, like hearty soups in bags, or frozen dishes that are ready to eat with minimal preparation.
In one wing, restaurants display fully composed entrees available for takeout. There are platters of Peking duck, shell-on lobster and cold cuts with roe. Vendors shout the choicest ingredients in their Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, a savory stew. There is plenty of fish head casserole.
“Past generations were able to cook these dishes, but I don’t know a lot of younger people who can,” Hsu Heng-chia (許恆嘉) says at his booth for Malaya (馬來亞), a wedding reception venue and restaurant near Dihua Street.
“People still want to spend New Year’s Eve with family around the hearth. Maybe that’s why they are so open to the concept of takeout ... Most Taipei restaurants are starting to push takeaway service,” he says.
At the trade show, Taipei’s Garden Restaurant (青青食尚花園會館) offers its two marquee dishes, a shark-fin soup and Buddha Jumps Over the Wall.
“I think some consumers want to make their own food, but with time-consuming dishes, they tend to want to do takeout,” says Pan Chia-ching (潘家慶), who is manning the Garden Restaurant booth.
“Buddha Jumps Over the Wall takes about twenty hours to make,” he says.
This year, Hsu’s Malaya is offering banquets for on-the-day takeaway, with a meal for ten priced upwards of NT$10,000. Choosing not to go a la carte is risky, but Hsu sees easy sales ahead.
“The market is maturing. Five years ago we sold about 100 sets. Now we are planning to make 300 sets and it won’t be enough.”
A NEW YEAR, A NEW MOSQUITO SCREEN
The New Year Shopping Fair is the Taiwan External Trade Development Council’s first effort at centralizing Lunar New Year commercial opportunities at a full-fledged trade show.
The event, which runs to next Wednesday, brings together 300 local businesses that sell ready-to-eat dishes and ban-shou-li (伴手禮) — classic gifts like pastries and nougats.
There are also booths offering washing machines, mosquito screens, toothpaste, beer shampoo and a rocking horse, with vendors hoping that the seasonal shopping spree will be a wave that lifts all the boats.
“It’s not Dihua Street, but there’s a lot of weird and fun stuff here,” says Hung Hsiang-bin (洪祥賓), a purveyor of beans and dried organic snacks.
“The strategy is to say, hey, here are some New Year’s supplies — now look at this,” he says.