Taiwanese cuisine (臺灣料理; Táiwān liàolǐ; Tâi-oân liāu-lí, Bopomofo: ㄊㄞˊㄨㄢˉㄌㄧㄠˋㄌㄧˇ, or Chinese: 臺灣菜; pinyin: Táiwāncài; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tâi-oân-chhài, Bopomofo: ㄊㄞˊㄨㄢˉㄘㄞˋ) is a popular style of food with several variations, including Chinese and that of Taiwanese indigenous peoples, with the earliest cuisines known of being the indigenous ones. With over a hundred years of historical development, mainstream Taiwanese cuisine has been influenced by Hakka cuisine, the cuisines of the waishengren (people of other provinces), Japanese cuisine, and American cuisine, with southern Fujian cuisine having had the most profound impact.[1]

Taiwan's cuisine is tied to its history of colonization and modern politics makes the description of Taiwanese cuisine difficult. As Taiwan developed economically fine dining became increasingly popular. Taiwanese cuisine has significant regional variations.

Night markets in Taiwan form a significant part of the food culture. Vegetarian and vegan food are very common. Taiwanese cuisine is popular around the world with some items like bubble tea and Taiwanese fried chicken becoming global phenomena.

History

At a fruit and vegetable market in Taihoku Prefecture (now Taipei) 1938–1942.

According to Katy Hui-wen Hung, "Taiwanese food history is as murky as Taiwanese politics". This is because Taiwanese cuisine is intricately tied to patterns of migration and colonization. Local and international Taiwanese cuisine, including its history, is a politically contentious topic.[2][3] Taiwan's complex and diverse identity makes Taiwanese cuisine difficult to define.[4][5] Tense political relations between Taiwan and China also complicate the history.[6]

The history of Taiwanese cuisine began with the cuisine of the aboriginal peoples of the islands of Taiwan. In the 16th century Fujianese and Hakka communities immigrated to Taiwan and brought their cuisines with them. Due to this part of its heritage Taiwanese cuisine is often misrepresented as part of regional Chinese cuisine. Early European influences came from the Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese.[7]

Due to the period of Japanese rule, Taiwanese cuisine was also strongly influenced by Japanese washoku and yōshoku.[citation needed] During Japanese rule Japanese dishes and foodways such as bento,[8] sashimi, rice balls, and miso soup were introduced to Taiwanese cuisine.[7]

After WWII, the Kuomintang retreat to Taiwan brought along many Chinese cuisines outside the province of Fujian or Southeast China. After that, the dishes from whole mainland China especially Guangdong, Chaoshan, Shanghai, Sichuan and Beijing could be easily found in Taiwan.[citation needed]

According to Taiwanese chef Fu Pei-mei, authentic Chinese culinary traditions were properly preserved in Taiwan. This claim to authenticity, common among Fu's generation, was in part due to the Kuomintang's Chinese nationalist political messaging which extended well beyond cuisine.[9] The authenticity of regional Chinese cuisine in Taiwan has been challenged.[6] Some sources trace the origin of instant noodles to Taiwan’s jisi noodles, in particular a variation deep-fried in pork fat to be later boiled in water before serving introduced by the Qingji Ice Dessert Parlor in 1951. Following the commercialization of instant noodles Taiwanese companies including Uni-President. In 1973 Wei Lih Food Industrial introduced the first packaged instant noodle meant to be consumed "dry" (without soup or with soup on the side).[10]

The Tatung electric steamer was introduced in the 1960s and became a staple of Taiwanese home and restaurant kitchens.[11] The widespread adoption of the food court during the 20th century formalized more traditional hawkers and vendors. Food courts also became an important part of the malls and shopping centers which proliferated across Taiwan.[8]

In 2002, the ascension of Taiwan to the World Trade Organization forced Taiwanese farmers to compete with global markets. Many responded by shifting from staple crops to high end and niche produce primarily for local consumption. Agrotourism was also more widely adopted, with visitors to farms often being served and/or taught how to prepare dishes with the products from the farms.[12]

In the early 21st century, ideas about sustainability and local food became more prominent in Taiwanese culinary and agricultural circles.[13] An increased emphasis has been placed on understanding the history of food as well as incorporating indigenous foodways into mainstream Taiwanese cuisine.[6]

Ingredients and culture

Further information: Agriculture in Taiwan and Maritime industries of Taiwan

Paddy field in Hualien County
Vegetable farmland in Lienchiang County
Fishing port in Penghu County

Common ingredients of Taiwanese cuisine are pork, seafood, chicken, rice, and soy.[14] Traditionally, rice formed the basis of most Taiwanese diets. Before the Japanese colonial period, most rice grown in Taiwan was long-grained indica rice. The Japanese introduced short-grained japonica rice which quickly changed both the farming and eating patterns of the Taiwanese. Due to Japanese influence, the Taiwanese generally prefer rice that is plump, aromatic, slightly firm, and sweet. Differences between the Taiwanese and Japanese rice preferences are demonstrated by differences in their cuisine with Taiwan's more flavorful and aggressive cooking methods calling for highly aromatic rice while the Japanese prefer a more subtle and pure taste and smell.[15] During the Japanese Colonial period, Taiwanese cuisine was divided. High-end restaurants, or wine houses, served Chinese cuisine such as Peking duck, shark fin with bird's nest soup, and braised turtle to the colonial elite. In the meantime, those without wealth or connections primarily ate rice, porridge, pickled vegetables, and sweet potato leaves. Cooking oil was considered a luxury and was only used for special occasions.[16]

Taiwan's cuisine has also been influenced by its geographic location. Living on a crowded island, the Taiwanese had to look aside from the farmlands for sources of protein. As a result, seafood figures prominently in their cuisine. This seafood encompasses many different things, from large fish such as tuna and grouper,[17] to sardines and even smaller fish such as anchovies. Crustaceans, squid, and cuttlefish are also eaten.[citation needed] Milkfish is the most popular fish in Taiwanese cuisine; it is valued for its versatility as well as its tender meat and economical price.[18]

Beef is less common than other proteins, and some Taiwanese (particularly the elderly generation) still refrain from eating it.[14] This stems from traditional reluctance toward slaughtering precious cattle needed for agriculture, and an emotional attachment and feeling of gratitude and thanks to the animals traditionally used for very hard labor.[14] However, due to influences from the influx of mainland Chinese in the 1900s, the Taiwanese version of beef noodle soup is now one of the most popular dishes in Taiwan. American food aid in the decades following WWII which primarily consisted of wheat, beef, and processed meats like Spam permanently changed the Taiwanese diet with wheat-based noodles, breads, and dumplings taking a more central role in the cuisine.[3] Rice consumption in Taiwan reached a height of 80-90 kilograms per person per year in the 1960s and 1970s before falling as consumers shifted consumption to wheat-based foods. However, the Taiwanese still consume a large quantity of rice, particularly brown rice and exotic varieties like black, purple, and red rice. Recently rice consumption in Taiwan has enjoyed a renaissance with both growers and consumers devoting the level of care and attention to the rice that is given to high-value crops like tea.[15]

Dumplings were a minor part of Taiwanese cuisine until the expansion in wheat consumption following WWII. Dumplings and dumpling like foods (such as xiaolongbao which is actually a small steamed bun because its wrapper contains yeast) are very popular in modern Taiwanese cuisine with most combining Chinese and Taiwanese influences. In Taiwan dumplings are often paired with hot and sour soup.[19]

Because of the island's sub-tropical location, Taiwan has an abundant supply of various fruit, such as papayas, starfruit, melons, and citrus fruit. A wide variety of tropical fruits, imported and native, are also enjoyed in Taiwan. Other agricultural products in general are rice, corn, tea, pork, poultry, beef, fish and other fruits and vegetables. Fresh ingredients in Taiwan are readily available from markets.[20]

In many of their dishes, the Taiwanese have shown their creativity in their selection of spices. Typical spice mixes in Taiwanese cuisine are five spice powder and hujiaoyan (a mixture of white pepper, salt, MSG, and sugar).[21] Taiwanese cuisine relies on an abundant array of seasonings for flavor: soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, fermented black beans, pickled radish, pickled mustard greens, peanuts, chili peppers, cilantro (sometimes called Chinese parsley)[22] and a local variety of basil (九層塔; káu-chàn-tha̍h; 'nine-story pagoda').[23] Widespread use of sugar is part of the legacy of Taiwan's commercial sugar industry.[24][25]

Taiwanese black vinegar has more in common with Worcestershire sauce than other black vinegars and is considered an outlier among black vinegars. Its base is sticky rice which is then aged with other ingredients in clay pots. It is used as a condiment and seasoning. Kong Yen is the largest producer of Taiwanese black vinegar. According to Bon Appetit, compared to Chinese black vinegars it is "simpler, fruitier, and cleaner."[26] Taiwanese soy paste is a soy sauce based paste thickened with rice flour and sugar.[27] Taiwanese mayonnaise is made with both egg whites and egg yolks and is sweetened.[28]

An important part of Taiwanese cuisine is xiaochi (小吃),[29] substantial snacks along the lines of Spanish tapas or Levantine meze. The Taiwanese xiaochi has gained much reputation internationally. Many travelers go to Taiwan just for xiǎochī. The most common place to enjoy xiǎochī in Taiwan is in a night market. Each night market also has its famous xiǎochī.[3] Moreover, the Taiwanese xiǎochī has entered more "refined" eating environments. Nowadays, Taiwanese xiǎochī can be found in luxury and high-end restaurants. These restaurants use higher quality ingredients and creative presentations, reinventing dishes whilst keeping the robust flavors. The prices usually jump by twice the price or even higher in the restaurants. The Taiwanese government supports the Taiwanese xiǎochī and has held national xiǎochī events in Taiwan regularly.[citation needed]

Grilling is an important part of Taiwanese cuisine with many Taiwanese grilling at home and street side grills being a ubiquitous feature of night markets.[30]

Modern Taiwanese cuisine is influenced by Taiwan's freedom and openness which enables chefs to innovate and experiment.[31]

Roadside banquet chefs are ubiquitous in Taiwan; these small (often single-person) catering firms provide on-location cooking for wedding banquets and other celebrations often held on the roadside. During the COVID-19 pandemic these chefs saw a significant downturn in business due to the lack of people hosting large traditional functions, especially those around the Lunar New Year.[32] The banquet industry returned after the pandemic but have faced criticism for a lack of innovation and the repetition of traditional dishes.[33]

Vegetarianism and veganism

Vegetarian restaurants are commonplace in Taiwan with a wide variety of dishes, mainly due to the influence of Buddhism and other syncretistic religions like I-Kuan Tao.[14] These vegetarian restaurants vary in style from all-you-can-eat to pay-by-the-weight and the regular order-from-a-menu. Vegetarian restaurants and foods are often marked with a left-facing swastika.[34]

In the 21st century, Taiwan has seen a rise in non-religious vegetarians, especially among the young. There has also been a rise in veganism with concerns about animal welfare, personal health, environmental sustainability, and climate change driving both trends.[35] Taiwan's traditional vegetarian products companies have also expanded into the booming fake meat market. The traditional culinary use of fake meat in Taiwan has given Taiwanese companies an edge and Taiwan is now a market leader in the fake meat sector. Taiwanese companies do a significant amount of export business, particularly in the European, North American, and Southeast Asian markets. Hung Yang Foods, one of the largest producers of fake meat products, does 80% of their business overseas with their products being stocked in 90% of Australian supermarkets.[36]

In 2023, there were approximately 6,000 vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan.[37]

Regional specialties

Defining dishes by region
Region Dish Han Characters Taiwanese Hokkien (Tâi-lô) Description Photo
Changhua ba-wan 肉圓 bah-ôan Literally meaning 'meat sphere'. They are a kind of large dumpling made from a gelatinous tapioca starch dough and stuffed with pork and vegetables, most commonly mushrooms and bamboo shoots.[18]
Chiayi turkey rice 火雞肉飯 hoe-koe bah-pn̄g Bowls of rice with shredded turkey layered on top, often accompanied by pickled radish. The rice is drizzled with a kind of gravy made from the turkey drippings and soy sauce.[38]
Chiayi/Tainan Coffin bread 棺材板 koann-chhâ-páng Similar to French toast or bread bowl soups, but filled with savory fillings, such as black pepper beef or curried chicken. Thick-cut bread is dipped in egg, deep fried, cut along three sides, opened and filled, and eaten.[39]
Daxi Daxi dried tofu 大溪豆乾 Tāi-khe tāu-koaⁿ Firm tofu fried and braised in a sweet soy-based sauce and then dried.[40]
Hsinchu pork balls 貢丸 kòng-ôan Often eaten in soup (; thng).[41]
Hsinchu rice vermicelli 米粉 bí-hún Thin al-dente rice noodles. Often eaten 'dry' (; ta/kan, without soup) with mushroom and ground pork.[42]
Nantou yi mein 意麵 ì-mī Soft tender noodles in soup.[citation needed]
Taichung suncake 太陽餅 One of the most noted pastries of Taichung, suncake is a baked layered puff pastry with a sweet center often made with honey or molasses.[43][44]
Tainan milkfish congee 虱目魚肚粥 Breakfast dish consisting of a congee with milkfish belly.
Tainan ta-a mi 擔仔麵 tàⁿ-á-mī Also known as slack season noodles. Yellow "oily noodles" shown served with minced pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, cilantro, black vinegar, garlic, soy sauce and egg.[18]
Tainan shrimp and pork meatballs 蝦仁肉丸 hê-jîn bah-ôan Shrimp crackers/biscuits are among the most notable local dishes. Another popular dish originating in Tainan is "oily rice" (台南油飯; Tâi-lâm iû-pn̄g), a rice dish containing savory oils and shredded pork meat, mushrooms and dried shrimp.[45]
Tamsui a-gei 阿給 a-geh Deep-fried tofu that have been stuffed with crystal noodles and sealed with fish paste and drizzled with spicy sauce on the outside.[46]
Tamsui Tamsui fish ball 魚丸 hî-ôan Tamsui is near the ocean and known for their fish balls of fish paste stuffed with meat and garlic cooked in light broth.[47]
Tamsui iron eggs 鐵蛋 thih-nn̄g Eggs that have been repeatedly stewed in a mix of spices and air-dried. The resulting eggs are dark brown, chewy and more flavorful than ordinary boiled eggs.[18] Pictured with a regular boiled egg.
Yilan Peanut ice cream roll 花生捲冰淇淋 huāshēng juǎn bīngqílín Thin crepe filled with pineapple, taro, or peanut ice cream and covered with shaved maltose peanut and cilantro.

Typical dishes

Common English term Han Characters Taiwanese Hokkien (Tâi-lô) Mandarin Pinyin Influence Description Photo
Gua bao 刈包 koah-pau guàbāo Fujian Flat, clam-shaped steamed white bun with soy sauce braised porkbelly, pickled mustard vegetables, peanut powder, sugar, and cilantro inside.[3]
Cuttlefish geng 魷魚羹 jiû-hî keⁿ yóuyúgēng Local Clear thick soup with cuttlefish covered in fish paste. Cuttlefish geng
Oyster omelette 蚵仔煎 ô-á-chian ézǐjiān Fujian Chewy omelette made with eggs, oysters, tapioca starch and Garland chrysanthemum leaves: soft, sticky texture, eaten with a sweet and mildly spicy sauce and topped with cilantro. Very common in night markets and the most popular snack in Taiwan.[48]
Oyster vermicelli 蚵仔麵線 ô-á mī-sòaⁿ ézǐ miànxiàn Local Thickened soup containing small oysters and steamed misua (Chinese vermicelli).[3]
Bubble tea 珍珠奶茶 zhēnzhū nǎichá Local The original milk tea uses black tea and milk as well as sugar. The pearls or boba are tapioca pearls that are chewy. It is a very popular drink and was invented in Taichung[49] 50_Lan_Bubble_Tea_20061226
Pig's blood cake 豬血糕 /
豬血粿
ti-huih-ko /
ti-hoeh-kóe
zhūxiěgāo/
zhūxiěguǒ
Fujian A cake made from pork blood and rice. It is usually cut into a rectangular piece and served on a stick, dipped in soy sauce, with the option of adding hot sauce, then topped with powdered peanut and cilantro.
Lo bah png (Minced pork rice) 滷肉飯/魯肉飯 ló͘-bah-pn̄g lǔròufàn Fujian Minced, cubed, or ground fatty pork, stewed in soy sauce and spices, then served on rice.
Khong bah png (Braised pork rice) 炕肉飯/爌肉飯 khòng-bah-pn̄g kàngròufàn Fujian Pork chunks, stewed in soy sauce and spices, then served on rice.[3]
Small sausage in large sausage 大腸包小腸 tōa-tn̂g pau sió-tn̂g dàcháng bāo xiǎocháng Local A grilled Taiwanese pork sausage wrapped in a grilled, salty, sticky rice sausage. Usually wrapped with garlic and basil. Customer can also choose the flavor they want, such as black pepper, garlic, chili, butter and chocolate. A Taiwanese snack, common in night markets.
Sanbeiji 三杯雞 sam-poe-koe sānbēijī Jiangxi A chicken dish which literally translates as "three cups chicken", named because the sauce is made of a cup of rice wine, a cup of sesame oil, and a cup of soy sauce. Alternatively, the sauce can also be made of a cup each of rice wine, sugar and soy sauce.[3]
Dried radish omelet 菜脯蛋 chhài-pó͘-nn̄g càifǔdàn Local Finely cut Taiwanese-style preserved white radish cooked into an omelet Taiwanese preserved radish omelet
olen 黑輪 o-lien' Hēi lún Japan This is used fish cake, a fish sauce made with fish soup, than cooked in a pot with different ingredients, similar to Oden.
Cucumber pork 瓜子肉 koe-á bah guāzǐròu Guangdong Steamed, minced pork with Taiwanese-style pickled cucumber.
Spicy hotpot 麻辣鍋 ba-luah e málàguō Sichuan It is increasingly popular, especially in Taipei. The soup of this hotpot is very spicy, inclusive of Chinese herbs and other special materials. People can cook what they want with this soup.[3]
Eel noodles 鱔魚意麵 siān-hî ì-mī shànyú yìmiàn Local Rice eel with Yi mein in a starch-thickened sweet and sour soup.
Tamsui a-gei 淡水阿給 Tām-chúi a-geh Dànshuǐ āgěi Local Steamed aburaage tofu stuffed with cooked cellophane noodles and covered with surimi
Danbing 蛋餅 nn̄g-piánn Dàn bǐng Local A breakfast dish made by kneading flour, potato starch, glutinous rice flour and water into a thin dough, and an omelet is baked on top.
Iron eggs 鐵蛋 thih-nn̄g tiědàn Local Eggs stewed in soy sauce, usually with their shells still on but cracked throughout, until they are flavorful and chewy in texture.
Chhau-a-koe 草仔粿 chháu-á-kóe / chháu-á-ké cǎozaǐguǒ Fujian A type of kuih made with glutinous rice flour, sugar, and a ground cooked paste of Jersey cudweed or Chinese mugwort. Often filled with dried shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, white radish (菜脯), and deep-fried shallots.
Moon shrimp cake 月亮蝦餅 ge̍h-liāng hê-piánn yuèliàng xiābǐng Thai/Southeast Asia Commonly found in Taiwanese Thai restaurants. Shrimp, garlic, and pork fat are pounded then spread on a circular spring roll wrapper. Another wrapper is placed over top and the cake is pan-fried and served with sweet chili sauce.
Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup 臺灣牛肉麵 dái-wán gu-bà mi táiwān niúròumiàn Local Red-braised version of beef noodle soup.
Tube rice pudding 筒仔米糕 tâng-á-bí-ko Tǒng zǐ mǐ gāo Local Dish consisting of a stir-fried glutinous rice mixture that is seasoned and steamed in a bamboo tube.

There is a type of outdoor barbecue called khòng-iô [zh]. To barbecue in this manner, one first builds a hollow pyramid up with dirt clods. Next, charcoal or wood is burnt inside until the temperature inside the pyramid is very high (the dirt clods should be glowing red). The ingredients to be cooked, such as taro, yam, or chicken, are placed in cans, and the cans are placed inside the pyramid. Finally, the pyramid is toppled over the food until cooked.

Many non-dessert dishes are usually considered snacks, not entrees; that is, they have a similar status to Cantonese dim sum or Spanish tapas. Such dishes are usually only slightly salted, with many vegetables accompanying the main meat or seafood item.

Desserts

Main article: List of Taiwanese desserts and snacks

A plate of tshuah-ping with strawberries and condensed milk
There are other cakes that can mix salty ingredients with sweet ones to create a balance while enjoying these delicacies with tea. The crust could be shiny from applying a layer of egg yolk before putting in the oven, or not in that case it is often whiter and the crust has more layers.

Night market dishes

Taiwan's best-known snacks are present in the night markets, where street vendors sell a variety of different foods, from finger foods, drinks, sweets, to sit-down dishes. In these markets, one can also find fried and steamed meat-filled buns, oyster-filled omelets, refreshing fruit ices, and much more. Aside from snacks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts, night markets also have vendors selling clothes, accessories, and offer all kinds of entertainment and products.[52] Street vendors used to be common across Taiwan but due to increasing regulations and health safety concerns are now primarily found at night markets and food courts. Taiwanese food courts incorporate ideas from traditional night markets a well as importing ideas from the United States and Japan. Food courts have become ubiquitous across Taiwan. Many night market dishes can now be found outside night markets.[8]

In 2014, The Guardian called Taiwan's night markets the "best street food markets in the world".[52] Some, such as Shilin Night Market, have become as popular with tourists than they are with locals leading to complaints that they've lost a measure of their authentic flavor though commercialization.[8]

Common English term Han Characters Taiwanese Hokkien (Tâi-lô) Mandarin Pinyin Influence Description Photo
Takoyaki 章魚燒 Japanese A ball-shaped snack that is filled with diced octopus and fried in a flour-based batter, and it can be eaten with condiments such as wasabi. They are commonly found at night markets.[53]
Wheel cake 車輪餅 chhia-lûn-piáⁿ chēlúnbǐng Japanese Pancake batter is poured into hot-metallic molds and gets quickly cooked into small cakes of various shapes. Countless variations exist. Sometimes the cakes have fillings ranging from cream, red bean paste, to peanut butter. Similar to Imagawayaki or Taiyaki
Stinky tofu 臭豆腐 chhàu-tāu-hū chòudòufǔ Chinese Stinky tofu is popular in Taiwan. It is called as "Stinky tofu" because of its strong unpleasant odour.[18] Back in the Qing dynasty, Stinky tofu was already a dish in the royal family's meal. Besides, it was also one of the favorite foods of the Empress Dowager Cixi. Stinky tofu can generally be classified into two main kinds, which are soft stinky tofu (臭豆腐乳) and dried stinky tofu (臭豆腐乾).
Taiwanese meatball 肉圓 bah-oân ròuyuán Local A sticky gelatinous tapioca dough filled with pork, bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, and served with a savory sweet and spicy sauce.
Maize 玉米 yùmǐ American Vendors may specialize in one type of corn or they could offer varieties between savory/salty and sweet corn. The corn is either steamed, grilled, boiled, etc.
Taiwanese sausages 香腸 ian-chhiâng (煙腸) xiāngcháng Chinese Fatty pork sausages with a mild sweet taste. There are several different kinds. Kaoliang wine is sometimes used in the sausage recipe. In night markets they are often served on a stick with many different condiments. Sometimes, they are wrapped in glutinous rice. In the very early 1980s, when resources were still relatively scarce, the standard serving is one sausage link on a toothpick garnished with a clove of garlic.
Green onion pancake 蔥油餅 cōngyóubǐng Chinese Spring onion flour pancake with many thin layers, made with scallions (chopped green onions). Cheese and egg are popular additional fillings.[18] A snack originating in the Chinese mainland.
Tanghulu 糖葫蘆 tánghúlú Chinese Red candy coated bite-sized fruit served on a stick. Sometimes the fruit is stuffed with preserved plums, and then candied. Cherry tomatoes and strawberries are also used.
Grilled squid 烤花枝 kǎo huāzhī Japanese Grilled squid often marinated and basted while grilled.
Shaved ice 礤冰/剉冰/刨冰 chhoah-peng cuòbīng/bàobīng Local Finely shaven ice with a variety of toppings (peanuts, fruit, azuki beans, sweetened corn, and so on). Sometimes served drizzled with condensed milk.[18]
Oden 甜不辣 tiánbùlà Japanese Deep-fried surimi and fish cakes simmered in broth and served with a sweet sauce. It is similar to Satsuma-age, which in some regions in Japan is called Tempura. Otherwise, it is not related to Japanese Tempura, similar to Japanese Oden.[18]
Taiwanese spring roll 潤餅 jūn-piáⁿ / lūn-piáⁿ rùnbǐng Fujian The Taiwanese spring roll is a semi-crispy super-thin flour crepe filled with a variety of filling, such as powdered sugar, peanut powder, egg, vegetables, pork and even seafood. Taiwanese spring rolls are made from the same dough as Western crêpes.
Shawarma 沙威馬 shāwēimǎ West Asian A sandwich usually made from spiced, grilled chicken and served on a leavened, white flour bun with julienned cabbage, a slice of tomato, sliced onions, ketchup and mayonnaise. Brought over from Turkey decades ago, the seasoning is quite different from the seasoning used in making shawarma in Turkey.
Popcorn chicken 鹹酥雞/鹽酥雞 kiâm-so͘-ke / kiâm-so͘-koe xiánsūjī / yánsūjī American Popcorn chicken made from spiced, deep-fried chicken topped with salt and pepper and seasoned with fragrantly cooked basil. It is a delicious decadence loved by all for its juicy and tender texture.[18]
Fried chicken fillet 炸雞排 zhá jīpái American Fried chicken fillet is one of the most popular snacks in Taiwan.[18] Fried chicken fillets first appeared in Taiwan over 20 years ago but have changed over the years as vendors have concocted new flavors and preparation methods. Unlike the fried chicken served in most fast-food restaurants, this treat is made of chicken breast that has been pounded flat, marinated, battered and deep-fried. After cooking, a generous sprinkling of ground pepper is applied. It is crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside.
Rousong or Pork Floss 肉鬆 Ròusōng Chinese

Food of the Taiwanese Aborigines

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Taiwan's food and food culture is very much diversified and largely influenced by the exodus of Han people. However, one part of the Taiwanese food culture that remains integral is that of the Taiwanese indigenous people. Though indigenous populations only make up approximately 1.5% of Taiwan's overall population,[54] it is notable that their foods eaten and ways of preparation are distinguishable from the more typical Chinese-influenced cuisine.

The aborigines' diet very much depends on nature. With profuse vegetation and wild animals, the aborigines were natural hunter-gatherers. Essentially, much of what Aborigines ate depended on their environment – that is, whether they lived in coastal or mountainous areas.[55] Tribes like Amis, Atayal, Saisiyat and Bunun hunt what they can, and gather what they cultivate. On the other hand, tribes like the Yamis and the Thao have fish as a predominant source of food. Most foods consisted of millet, taro, sweet potato, wild greens and game like boar and rat. This is in contrast to the main foods eaten by the Han, which consisted of rice and chicken.

Game meats for those living in the mountainous areas include deer, and flying squirrel intestines, a delicacy as regarded by the Bunun people. Another is 'stinky' meat – that is, 'maggoty game' that has begun to rot, which is then barbecued, fried, seasoned with garlic and ginger then served with spicy sauce.[56]

The Amis, apart from meat, had much greens to eat, largely due to the belief that anything a cow ate, was also edible by humans. The Bununs, who are primarily hunters of wild animals, would dine on stone-grilled pork, boar, deer, and hog roast. The Yami tribe, located off Taitung coast, fed on many types of fish, including the prized 'flying fish' (or Alibangbang). A speciality includes rice, mixed with river fish and wild vegetables, served in large bamboo trunks.

Apart from being a staple-food, millet was always produced as wine. Not just for drinking, millet wine played an important role in being used as offerings during festivals, births and weddings. Millet wines are all made in the homes of the Aborigines. Sticky rice is put into a wooden steamer after being soaked in water. Once cooled, the rice is put into a pot of water, then pulled out and combined with rice yeast. After four or five days of being placed in a large jar, the rice is placed in a sieve or rice bag, whilst the alcoholic liquid drips out and is stored away.

Also important to the Indigenous Taiwanese people's cuisine are the sweet potato and taro, favored for their perennial nature and low maintenance. The cultivation of root vegetables rather than typical seedling plants was notably prominent, with archaeological evidence suggesting as early as fourth millennium BC, from the Dapenkeng site, in Guanyin Mountain, New Taipei City.

Given the versatility of both vegetables, they were usually boiled or steamed, and eaten by itself or as ingredients in soups and stews. Without the need for advanced agricultural technology, taro and sweet potatoes were a prime preference for farming. Canadian missionary George MacKay said of 19th century Taiwan: 'the bulb of the sweet potato is planted in March. In about six weeks the vines are cut into pieces eight inches long, which are planted in drills, and from these vine-cuttings the bulbs grow and are ripe about the end of June. A second crop is planted in a similar way in July and is ripe in November.' [57] The influence of sweet potatoes and taro has been vast. They are still widely present in modern-day Taiwan, be it on the streets, night markets, or in successful food chains like 'Meet Fresh' (or 鮮芋仙).

Due to the absence of contemporary culinary utensils such as the refrigerator, gas stovetops and ovens, the Indigenous resorted to other means to prepare their food. Upon bringing back hunted game meat, the Aborigines would preserve the meat with either millet wine or salt. Another cooking technique involved the heating up of stones by fire, which are then placed inside a vessel with other certain meats and seafood, which are cooked from the heat of the stones. Foods were mostly prepared by steaming, boiling or roasting, in order to infuse flavors together, yet preserve the original flavors. This again is contrasted with the Han, who adopted skills like stir-frying and stewing.[58] Meat was also put on a bamboo spit and cooked over the fire.

Taiwanese indigenous cuisine incorporates certain flavors that are distinct from Han Chinese-influenced cuisine. Mountain peppercorns (shan hujiao in Chinese or magao, derived from the Atayal term maqaw) are one of these distinctive ingredients. [59]

A cookbook published in 2000 by the CIP and National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism, listed some foods of the main Taiwanese Aboriginal tribes, showing the Aborigines' adherence and passion for natural foods.

Modern Aboriginal cuisine

It seems that an interest in Taiwanese indigenous cuisine gained traction in the media in the mid-1990s, developing alongside increasing governmental action to protect and recognize Taiwanese indigenous peoples. There are restaurants around Taipei that keep the spirit of Indigenous cuisine alive. Whilst chefs in such restaurants often tweak traditional recipes to suit contemporary tastebuds, emphasis of natural foods is still extant. The annual Indigenous Peoples Healthy Cuisine and Innovative Beverage Competition, partly sponsored by the Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Tourism Bureau provides prize money to contestants who creatively use traditional indigenous ingredients in healthy ways. Other similar competitions are held by local governments (such as Kaohsiung City). In Tainan, indigenous people may sell their food at the Cha Ha Mu Aboriginal Park. Such trends are all to promote the wonderful taste of Aboriginal Taiwanese cuisine.[56] The cultural value of indigenous dishes and ingredients has become more widespread among non-indigenous people, but there are many implications with this growth in recent years. Cultivating or foraging for traditional ingredients is often limited on the small plots of land that are legally owned by indigenous people. Some urban Pangcah/Amis people have resorted to foraging without permission on others' land.[60]

During the martial law period indigenous culture was repressed by the government, despite this indigenous cuisine became a part of Taiwan's national identity.[6]

Silaw is an Amis dish of pickled pork.[61]

The importance of wild greens to aboriginal cuisine is being increasingly appreciated. Wild greens refers to both wild plants found in the forest and to those same plants cultivated in domestic gardens.[62] Rinari, in rural Pingtung County, is an aboriginal restaurant of national significance whose twenty seats are notoriously hard to secure. Rinari primarily serves Rukai cuisine.[63]

Beverages

The Taiwanese drink less alcohol per capita than neighboring South Koreans and Japanese. This is believed to be because approximately half of Taiwan's population does not possess the necessary gene to successfully metabolize alcohol. During the Japanese colonial period the production of alcoholic beverages was industrialized and in 1922, production of alcohol was monopolized by the colonial authorities. Modern Taiwanese drinking culture and beverage production is still influenced by the Japanese colonial period.[64]

Beer

Main article: Beer in Taiwan

Beer is a popular beverage in Taiwan. Taiwan both imports and produces a wide variety of beers from mass market lagers to niche craft ales. Some of the well-developed brands include Long Chuan (龍泉), Le Blé d'Or (金色三麥), Jolly Brewery+Restaurant (卓莉手工醸啤酒泰食餐廳), North Taiwan Brewing (北台灣麥酒) and Taihu Brewing (臺虎精釀).[65]

Coffee

The first coffee plants on Taiwan were imported by the British to Tainan in 1884 with the first significant small scale cultivation taking place in New Taipei City's Sanxia District. Tainan remains the heart of Taiwanese coffee culture. Production reached a peak in 1941 following the introduction of arabica coffee plants by the Japanese colonial authorities.[66] Domestic production is small but of high quality, imported beans account for the vast majority of coffee sold in Taiwan. In 2016, domestic production was 900 tons while 30,000 tons was imported.[67]

By 2020, there were more than 15,000 coffee shops in Taiwan.[68] In 2020, average coffee consumption surpassed average tea consumption for the first time.[69]

Kaoliang liquor

Main article: Kaoliang liquor

Kinmen 58% Kaoliang

Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor is one of the most popular brands of kaoliang liquor in Taiwan. As its name indicates, it is produced on the island of Kinmen. The mainstays of the range are the standard 58 percent and 38 percent alcohol bottlings. Kinmen's kaoliang production traces its roots back to the Chinese Civil War when Chinese nationalist general Hu Lien encouraged Kinmenese farmers to grow sorghum to produce hard liquor as importing alcohol from Taiwan caused financial strain. Kaoliang liquor has become an integral part of Kinmen's economy and plays a significant role in the culture of Kinmen.[70]

Yusan Kaoliang Chiew (Chinese: 玉山高粱酒; pinyin: Yùshān Gāoliáng Jiǔ) is produced by the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation. It is named after the highest mountain in Taiwan, Yushan. One of the most notable products in the range is an "X.O." kaoliang aged for five years in tanks before bottling.[71]

Matsu Tunnel 88 Kaoliang Liquor (Chinese: 馬祖八八坑道高粱酒; pinyin: Bā Bā Kēngdào Gāoliáng Jiǔ) is produced by the Matsu Distillery in Nangan Township, Lienchiang County. The name is derived from the name of an abandoned military tunnel called Tunnel 88 which the distillery took over as storage space for their kaoliang and aged rice wine. All of the distillery's aged kaoliangs are stored in the tunnel for at least five years.[72]

Rum

Commercial rum production was introduced into Taiwan along with commercial sugar production during the Japanese colonial period.[73] Rum production continued under the ROC however it was neglected by Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation which held the national liquor monopoly. The industry diversified after democratization and the de-monopolization of the Taiwanese alcoholic beverage industry.[74]

Tea

Main articles: Taiwanese tea and Taiwanese tea culture

Taiwanese tea is considered among the best in the world and the country has a unique tea culture.[75]

Whisky

Main article: Taiwanese whisky

Taiwan has a young but thriving whisky industry buoyed by a massive domestic market for whisky, especially single malt scotch. Taiwan is the only whisky market which drinks more single malt whisky than blended whisky.[76]

Wine

Main article: Taiwanese wine

Independent winemaking was illegal in Taiwan for a long time due to the monopoly granted to the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation.[77] Independent winemakers became legal in 2002 and in 2014, a Taiwanese wine won its first gold medal at an international competition.[78] In 2019, a red wine from Taichung was awarded a gold medal at the 25th Vinalies Internationales in France.[79] Two of the most acclaimed wineries are Domaine Shu Sheng and Weightstone Vineyard Estate & Winery.[80] Although it was once largely lost, Taiwan's indigenous winemaking culture is staging a comeback.[81]

Sake

Sake consumption started during the Japanese colonial period. The first sake was made in Taiwan in 1914, the largest contemporary domestic brand is Yuchun produced by the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation. A number of smaller producers also exist with an emphasis placed on unique products made with local rice. Taiwan also imports large amounts of sake from Japan. Its proximity and the volume of the trade allows merchants in Taiwan to stock fresh and limited production sake which is not widely available elsewhere outside Japan.[82]

Fine dining

Further information: List of Michelin starred restaurants in Taiwan

Fine dining in Taiwan is often of a mixed identity. For example, wedding banquets in Taiwan typically feature Japanese sashimi as the first course with traditional Taiwanese and Chinese dishes following.[83] In the 21st century, indigenous ingredients, dishes, and techniques have made their way into high end restaurants.[84]

In 2018, La Liste listed 10 restaurants in Taiwan among the world's 1,000 best.[85]

The Michelin Guide began reviewing restaurants in Taipei in 2018 and Taichung in 2020. The 2020 Michelin awarded stars to 30 restaurants in Taiwan, four in Taichung and 26 in Taipei. With three stars, the Cantonese restaurant Le Palais is the country's highest rated restaurant. The 2020 list also bestowed the Bib Gourmand on 54 restaurants in Taipei[86] and 21 in Taichung.[87] The expansion of the Michelin Guide to Taiwan increased international recognition for Taiwanese restaurants.[88] In 2023, the Michelin Guide was expanded to Tainan and Kaohsiung.[89]

There are significant differences between the fine dining scenes in Taipei and Taichung. In Taichung, an emphasis is placed on ceremony with large tables and private rooms common, a premium is also placed on parking with restaurants having more than 100 parking spaces. This is due in part to Taichung's strong small and medium enterprises as well as a multitude of informal recreational and fraternal organizations. In Taipei, fine dining restaurants and tables are generally smaller with most customers being couples or small groups, in general, service is less formal than in Taichung. In Taipei, there is more international influence in the fine dining scene while Taichung retains a strong affinity with traditional dishes.[90] In the 2010s, fine dining restaurants which more closely followed international trends proliferated in Taichung. Lanshu Chen was particularly important in gaining Taichung international recognition.[91]

Foreign cuisine in Taiwan

Fusion

Fusion cuisine is very popular in Taiwan. Many Taiwanese dishes are a result of cultural fusion, such as the Taiwanese version of pastel de nata which are a legacy of Portuguese colonialism in neighboring Macao.[92]

Italian

Italian cuisine has been popular in Taiwan for a long time, but the country had few authentic Italian restaurants and even fewer Italian chefs until the late 1990s and early 2000s. Due to the financial crisis of 2007–08, a large number of Italians emigrated from Italy to healthier economies. This led to a rapid increase in both the number of Italian restaurants and the number of Italian expats in Taiwan. While most restaurants follow the traditional Italian course style, the meal proportions are influenced by Italian-American cuisine. Taiwanese diners have become increasingly passionate and discerning about Italian cuisine.[93] Michael de Prenda was one of the innovators of Italian cuisine in Taiwan, starting multiple restaurants, a market, and a farm.[94]

Pizza

Pizza is one of the most popular foods in Taiwan. The first pizza restaurant opened in the 1970s and the industry grew rapidly in the 2000s driven by an increasing demand for quality Italian and American style pizza from an affluent younger generation which had spent time abroad and brought back a taste for it.[95]

Chain pizza restaurants like Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza are known for running promotional pizzas with outrageous toppings like spicy hotpot, cilantro and century egg with pig's blood, beef and kiwi, glutinous rice, ramen, and stinky tofu in an attempt to get national and international publicity. Pizza Hut entered the Taiwanese market in 1986 and Domino's followed in the late 1980s. In 2022, each company had more than 150 stores in Taiwan.[95]

Indian

Historically overseas Chinese from India would travel to Taiwan to learn cooking. Indian restaurants existed in Taiwan, but overall the cuisine was slow to catch on.[96]

Indian food became popular in Taiwan in the 2000s. The number of Indian restaurants has grown along with the growth of the Indian and larger South Asian community in Taiwan, however, most customers in Indian restaurants are local with Indian food also being found in university cafeterias and other institutional settings.[97]

Russian

Along with the fleeing KMT came White Russian refugees who had sought shelter from the Russian Revolution in China. George Elsner founded the first Russian restaurant, The Café Astoria, in Taiwan in 1949. The Café Astoria was a center of Russian expat life in Taiwan during its early years. Chiang Ching-kuo and his Russian wife, Faina Vakhreva, often brought their children with them to eat there. Elsner died stateless in Taiwan.[98]

Nordic

Nordic haute cuisine is popular in Taiwan's major cities, with restaurants offering both authentic Nordic cuisine and Nordic cuisine adapted to local ingredients and tastes.[99][100]

Hong Kong

The increase in immigration from Hong Kong following the pro-democracy protests brought an increased focus on Hong Kong cuisine, along with a fusion between Hong Kong and Taiwan cuisines. Taiwan is considered a safe haven for Hongkongers, with many opening shops and restaurants to serve food they were unable to find in Taiwan, or which they did not feel was up to Hong Kong standards.[101]

Japanese

Taiwan, in particularly Taipei, is regarded as having some of the best Japanese food outside of Japan. This is due to the legacy of Japanese colonialism as well as ongoing cultural and commercial exchange.[102]

Ramen

Ramen restaurants in Taiwan often create unique and outlandish ramen dishes including durian,[103] whole giant isopod,[104][105] crocodile leg,[106] and whole frog.[107]

Burmese

Burmese and Chinese Burmese restaurants are primarily located in the Little Burma section of Taipei. Chinese Burmese immigration to Taiwan began in the 1950s.[108]

Chinese

In the decades since the KMT's retreat, these regional dishes have evolved and become part of Taiwanese cuisine.[4]

According to Taiwanese chef Fu Pei-mei, authentic Chinese culinary traditions were properly preserved in Taiwan. This claim to authenticity, common among Fu's generation, was in part due to the Kuomintang's Chinese nationalist political messaging which extended well beyond cuisine.[9] The authenticity of regional Chinese cuisine in Taiwan has been challenged.[6]

Singaporean

Taiwan has a significant Singaporean community. In 2020, the Taichung-based JL Studio from Singaporean chef Jimmy Lim Tyan Yaw was awarded a second Michelin star, becoming the highest rated Singaporean restaurant in the world.[109]

Taiwanese cuisine abroad

A pork keⁿ, a thick soup with tofu and surimi-coated pork

Taiwanese cuisine has a global presence.[110] Taiwanese chefs have been extremely successful abroad cooking both Taiwanese and international cuisine. Well known chefs include André Chiang.[111]

Culinary diplomacy

Along with its semiconductor industry, Taiwan's cuisine is one of its most prominent aspects internationally.[6] Taiwan has used culinary diplomacy to bolster its tourism sector and to conduct diplomacy in countries with which it has limited official ties.[112] In 2010, Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs launched a £20-million culinary diplomacy campaign called "All in Good Taste: Savor the Flavors of Taiwan".[113] It promoted Taiwanese venues internationally, sponsored chefs, hosted food festivals and competitions, and emphasized elements such as bubble tea, oyster omelette, and Taiwan's night markets.[114] Since 2010, the ministry has sent chefs abroad to promote Taiwanese cuisine.[115]

Banquets

State banquets have formed an important part of Taiwanese diplomacy since the era of one-party rule by the KMT. General Tso's chicken was invented by the KMT's head chef Peng Chang-kuei in the 1950s to feed visiting American military dignitaries.[116]

The banquets are meant to present a message to guests and as such dishes and styles have varied over the years under different administrations. There has been an increasing emphasis on serving Taiwanese ingredients cooked in a distinctly Taiwanese style.[117]

United States

Taiwanese immigrant restaurateurs were largely responsible for the shift of American Chinese food from Cantonese-focused cuisine to diverse cuisine featuring dishes from many regions in China. The immigration of Taiwanese chefs to the United States began in the 1950s. At the time, cooks in Taiwan were trained in traditional Chinese regional cooking as this fit the chosen identity of the KMT. Taiwanese restaurateurs changed the food landscape of many American cities, including New York City, and pioneered innovations such as picture menus and food delivery. Many of the immigrants to the United States during this period had been born in mainland China and fled to Taiwan with the retreating KMT, particularly former residents of the Dachen Islands who had been evacuated in 1955.[118]

Traditionally, Taiwanese food has been hard to differentiate from Chinese and Japanese food abroad, since many Taiwanese chefs cooked simplified or westernized versions of traditional Taiwanese, Japanese, or Chinese dishes. In 2018, there was a rapid growth in the number of authentic Taiwanese restaurants in New York City[119][120][121] and across the country, which coincided with an increased interest in regional Chinese food and in Taiwan itself.[122] Some object to the politically fraught inclusion of Taiwanese cuisine under the banner of regional Chinese food and point out that it is inaccurate.[123]

Taiwanese American cuisine is emerging as a full cuisine in its own right. Myers + Chang in Boston was one of the first restaurants to explicitly describe their food as such. In 2018, James Beard Award-winning chef Stephanie Izard opened a Taiwanese snack/dessert shop in Chicago.[124] Taiwanese cuisine has a significant presence in the San Francisco Bay Area.[123] Most Taiwanese restaurants in the Bay Area are located in the suburbs.[125] Increasing interest in authentic Taiwanese food is coming from ex-pats and second generation Taiwanese Americans.[126]

A Taiwanese American cookbook, First Generation, was published by Frankie Gaw in 2022.[127][128][129] In 2023, Cathy Erway published Win Son Presents: A Taiwanese American Cookbook.[130]

Kato by Chef Jon Yao is a Michelin starred restaurant serving Taiwanese food in Los Angeles.[131]

Culinary education

Historically, culinary education was informal with apprentices learning from a master for many years before they practice the craft on their own. The first college level course in cooking was implemented in 1986 at Danshui Technical College.[110]

Culinary schools

Events

The main cooking show in Taiwan is the Taiwan Culinary Exhibition (TCE).[132][133] In 2023, the TCE was held at the Taipei World Trade Center the and featured four areas "Gourmet Tastes, Culinary Exploration, Government Pavilion, and Exotic Foods."[12]

See also

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Further reading