Eat’n Out!: Tasty Taiwan

Published 11:00 am Saturday, July 15, 2023

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Column written by Robert Duke

Most of you know by now that my daughter gave me a Christmas present where I receive a box each month this year each from a different, surprise country. Each one is a sampling of snacks and points of interest from each of the countries/cultures.

This month’s package arrived from Taiwan.

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Some interesting things about Taiwan. It may appear small on the map, but Taiwan is bursting at the seams with rich culture, history, and of course, food. It has amazing inspiration and influences coming from all over Asia. In June, the Taiwanese ward off bad luck by holding the Dragon Boat Festival. This tradition was originally meant to encourage rainfall, so the fields could thrive and bring prosperity to the people. But today, it’s a public holiday where people partake in traditions both old and new such as, boat racing, eating rice dumplings, and wearing silk ribbons.

Taipei is home to the world’s first cat café. The Cat Flower Garden opened its doors in 1998 and is still open today. There you can grab a coffee and cat cuddles in on swoop. The café is home to two dogs and one bird, just in case you don’t like cats.

At 7-Elevens in Taiwan, locals can do their dry cleaning. You can also pay electricity bills, ship packages, buy concert tickets, have your clothes washed, and even check your blood pressure.

In August each year, locals make sure not to get married. In August the country celebrates the Hungry Ghost Festival. According to local lore the gates to the underworld are open during this month releasing ghost seeking fun and entertainment. So, weddings are avoided to avoid ghost wedding crashers. Instead, locals prepare food and other offerings, burn incense, and light lanterns for visiting spirits. Hey, it’s no weirder than Halloween.

Taiwanese schools do not have janitors. They don’t need them as it is the student’s responsibility to keep everything tidy and spotless. Students report at their assigned times to clean the classrooms and the entire building. They even keep it clean during the summer when school is not in session. I know our kids would likely revolt but I agree with the Taiwanese that this can/will teach responsibility and community respect that will likely carry over into their adult lives.

In Taiwan it is bad form to give clocks or watches as gifts. Even though we would likely consider them a thoughtful gift, not in Taiwan. In Mandarin (their language) the word for clock sound exactly like the word for “end” or “termination”. So giving a clock as a gift implies that the giver is expecting the other person’s life to end. So, bad form.

The treats were found in our box this month were:

  • Choco Peanut Mochi (chocolate covering with gluten rice and peanut crème filling)
  • Spicy Been Noodle Popcorn (sound weird but is really quite tasty)
  • White Pepper Crackers (crispy crackers with a peppery twist. Delicious.)
  • Pineapple Cake (really good shortbread cookies. The word pineapple in their language sounds like the word for “luck arrives” so they say the are lucky cookies)
  • Yogurt Animal Crackers (crunchy with a yogurt icing flavor)
  • Peach Jelly Shot (Fruity, jiggly, jello-like snack)
  • Salty Lemon Pea Crackers (Zesty, citrusy, and extra crunchy. Salt on fruit is a common thing in Taiwan.)
  • Cheesy Potato Fries (nothing like American fries but I thought they were pretty good)
  • Cherry Blossom Wafer Rolls (crispy cookies with floral aroma. Great with hot tea or coffee)
  • Kimchi Soy Crackers (I thought kimchi was a Korean thing and it is. But this spicy, veggie dish is also super popular in Taiwan. Generally, not as hot as Korean though.)

This box was complete with the facts, snacks, and several other things to round it off. It included a recipe for a national dish called “Lu Rou Fan” which is Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice Bowl and looks and sounds delicious. It also included a step-by-step introduction into learning the Taiwanese Tea Ceremony. I knew both China and Japan had formal tea ceremonies. Now I know Taiwan does too.

When the sun goes down in Taiwan, the streets light up and convert into a nighttime marketplace where you can buy clothes, toys, and most importantly, street food. Some of the country’s most famous dishes come from street food. Things like:

  • Stinky Tofu (Tofu is fermented and fried with pickled cabbage and chili peppers)
  • Black Pepper Buns (Buns spiced with black pepper, then baked in a deep charcoal pot)
  • Coffin Bread (So tasty you could die happy! Named for its resemblance to ancient coffins, it’s actually a crunchy piece of fried toast stuffed with seafood and vegetable chowder like a loaf of pot pie.)
  • Deep Fried Milk (Sounds crazy but they freeze milk in cubes, then cover them in batter. The batter fries quickly before the inside begins to melt and makes for a creamy, melty, crunchy, delicious snack.)

All in all, Taiwan has a very rich culture and many savory and sweet snacks that are very good when Eat’n Out! I like them all!