Taiwanese cuisine has been influenced by Chinese and Japanese cultures
Photo by: John Y. Can, Creative Commons
Taiwan is an island off the coast of China located in the South China Sea. Its history is greatly entwined with China culminating in the immigration of the Chinese Nationalist government to Taiwan in 1949 after Chinese communists took over mainland China. Because of this tie with China, Taiwan’s cuisine holds many similarities particularly to that of the Fujian province in Southern China. However, Taiwan’s cuisine is also partly influenced by the Japanese and the long standing traditions of indigenous tribes in the area and the Hakka people. All these combine to form what is known today as Taiwanese cuisine.
The characteristics that probably best describe Taiwanese dishes are its simplicity in terms of presentation and the surprisingly complex tastes. Though influenced by China, Taiwanese had to adapt their dishes to the lack of resources in the country. Thus, unlike China’s elaborately prepared and arranged dishes, those of Taiwan’s are simpler and make use of what is readily available. This simplicity in aesthetics is balanced however by the complex flavors that are a product of the different seasonings and spices taken from different cultures such as soy sauce, black beans, rice wine, sesame oil, pickles, chili, mustard, and parsley.
Traditional meals are mostly seafood and fish-based owing to the vast coastal waters surrounding the country. This is paired with steamed rice and cooked very quickly in order to save energy. Other meats such as pork and chicken are also consumed although some regions have reservations about eating beef, because of the Buddhist reverence for the animal that they depend on for agriculture.
Rice is the staple food in the country, but is compensated in some areas by sweet potato and taro roots. The rice is cooked in a variety of ways ranging from fried rice, rice with topping, rice noodles, and rice vermicelli. Just like Japanese and Chinese practices, rice is made into snack as well in the form of mocha and a New Year’s cake.
With the prevailing culinary traditions as well as the influences of other cultures, Taiwan’s cuisine has evolved into one that has captured both local and foreign flavors beautifully.