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Taiwan – Cooking and Food
Overview of Taiwanese Cuisine History
The region of Fukien, located in the South of China is the place where Taiwanese cuisine finds its roots, back in the beginning of the 12th century. The Yangtse River was situated here and this was full with fish and surrounded by rice plantations. The traders were using these aliments and so, an exchange of traditions took place between the port cities and Fukien. The Chinese immigrants located in Taiwan came mostly from this region, so the Taiwanese cuisine is based nowadays on the old Fukienese one. Taiwanese cuisine is very much influenced by the most significant Asian recipes: Japan occupied Taiwan in the first half of the 20th century, a fact which led traces and cultural changes.
Creativity is the basic ingredient for the Taiwanese cooking. During hard times, people used to eat rice, with added root vegetables, such as the potatoes or the taro and even now, the innovations continue with: Pork soup with bones, pineapple and bitter melon – all economic meals.
Because of its high population density and geographical facts, Taiwan’s agricultural potential is limited: there are numerous mountain areas and too few fields. That is the main reason why seafood became so vital for the Taiwanese nutrition. Seafood and fish are found in a wide rage, both regarding the cooking styles: grilled, fried stew and regarding the consumed species: Tuna, shrimps, Grouper, sardines, squird or Cuttlefish. Besides seafood, Chicken is the second most consumed meat.
Some of the meat dishes, especially the Chicken and seafood ones are original from the Pingtung county. In here, the Chicken is made in the teapot style, meaning it is cooked in a fake teapot, which makes its meat tender. Another dish from Pingtung is the shrimp bamboo: crunchy dried and fried shrimp with spices, bamboo and Pork intestine. The combination of different meats within the same meal is very much used: shrimp and Pork, Chicken and Beef or different seafood mixtures.
In the region of Alishan, which is situated high in the mountains, the bamboo is highly used for the soups: Pork bamboo soup, Beef bamboo soup or the Chicken bamboo. These are very popular during the cold winters and in the mountain resorts. In Ilan, the mochi is the specialty (rice with sesame or peanuts), in the Taipei suburb of Yonghe, the soy milk and the breakfast dishes are very popular and in Jiayi, there are the square cookies with seeds. In Changhua, which is in the west central Taiwan, the great agriculture lead to a rustic way of cooking and flavors: rou-yuan (meatballs in a large dumpling), and o-a-mi-sua (noodles with oysters). In the northern county of Taoyuan, the situation is different: because of the many immigrants on this territory, the spicy noodles and the Southeast Asian restaurants have prospered and brought a more modern way of cooking.
Preparation Methods for Taiwanese Cooking
There are some aliments that can not miss when cooking a traditional Taiwanese meal: seafood, fish and rice are the most popular bases. Added to these, soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil give the meals that specific and traditional Taiwanese taste. Other highly consumed aliments are: chili peppers, beans, pickled radishes, parsley and peanuts. If all the ingredients are available, including the exotic seeds and spices (all colors of pepper, ginseng for the Duck meals, peanut oil), the cooking methods are not complicated, as the Taiwanese cooking mostly bases on fried meat and stewed veggies.
The traditional Taiwanese restaurants use plates of raw, sliced meat and fresh fish or seafood, which are brought to the table in a pot and cooked there, turned over, fried, so that the customer can see the whole procedure. The spicing up of a traditional meal is complex and elaborated, as it is considered in this consists the main flavor and health of the meal. Another important “method” if wanting to cook a Taiwanese meal is the creative work. Almost anything can be combined with anything, as long as the right spices are selected. The number of ingredients in the Taiwanese meals is rather wide and sometimes meats are combined within the same dish.
Taiwanese Food Traditions and Festivals
The most important celebrations and events of Taiwan are the: Chinese New Year on the 5th of February, Lantern Festival in February, Tomb Sweeping day in April, The famous Dragon boat festival in June, the Ghost Festival in August, The Mid-Autumn Festival and the Double Ninth day, in October. The Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is the most important celebration in Taiwan, when there are sumptuous family feasts that take place for hours and various rounds of foods are served. The guonian dinner is eaten on New Year’s Eve, but not all at once, as the tradition says this should be eaten for hours. The Dragon Boat Festival takes place in Taipei and unites teams coming from the entire world. The boat competition is commemorating the rescue attempt of the poet Chu Yuan, who died through drowning. The legend says that because his rescue failed, the people started to throw bamboo stuffed with cooked rice into water, so that the fish wouldn’t eat him and start eating the foods. That is why nowadays, the Taiwanese people are eating tzungtzu on the Dragon Boat festival days. This is made of rice dumplings, stuffed with bean or Ham and wrapped into bamboo leaves. On Ghost festival, the tradition says that the ghosts are coming back to the world of the living ones, and so, they are allowed to feast a whole month, which explains the laborious cooking preparations during this time. During the Mid-Autumn festival, considered a time of happiness, the family reunions are very often and the traditional Taiwanese meals are served. On the double Ninth Day or the Chung Yang, the number 9 is celebrated, which belongs to the principle of yang, so the traditional Chrysanthemum wine is drunk, people are hill climbing, hanging dogwood sprays and other customs dating from the Han Dynasty.
People in Taiwanese Food
Because of the many inspirations from the Asian courtiers, but mainly Chinese and Japanese, the Taiwanese cuisine tried to unite all the techniques, styles and general rules of the cooking, add a lot of creativity to the foods and create a special and famous cuisine, now recognized and valued in the whole world. The Taiwanese people carried on the traditions through their cooking and all participated to the cultural Tahitian cuisine, which is unique, exotic, fresh and spiced and for the Tahitian chefs, the most important aspect is that their food tastes original and natural. The Taiwanese chefs won numerous prices at the Asian cooking competitions, such as the one held annually in Singapore. In 2004, a 130 members team from Taiwan impressed a lot at the 4 days competition, which was visited by around 10 000 buyers coming from all parts of the world. Besides achieving to make great tasty foods, the Taiwanese chefs have all something in common: they are very fast. This is a feature found at most of the Asian chefs and their cooking abilities impress when it comes to the short period of time when they make complex foods.