This week I attended a press conference for Taste of Taiwan Cuisine 2012. The event, organised by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA), was to promote a month of food-related events happening in Taiwan in June. Taiwan is keen to promote internationalization of its cuisine, and the Taiwan month of food is timed to coincide with other major trade shows such as Computex. The peak event will be Food Taipei, a large-scale food exhibition to be held in two separate locations in Taipei from 27-30 June.
At the press conference, TAITRA talked about how Taiwanese foods (and brands) are establishing themselves overseas. Referring particularly to Australia, they talked about how bubble tea shops are growing exponentially in popularity. Other beverages such as those offered by the Ten Ren Cha tea house are also represented overseas, and there are now several branches of the legendary Din Tai Fung, including in Sydney. Many of my Australian friends enjoy these foods but have no idea that they hail from Taiwan.
A key part of the event was unveiling the five most popular foods that foreigners like — presented by a team of high-split qipao wearing models. I am not exactly sure how the voting was decided, but my impression was that the list came largely from a CNN report that detailed Taipei as being one of the ten best street food capitals of the world. Certainly, TAITRA was impressed that Taipei made it into the top 10 list of cities with a street food culture and the report was a key theme they referred to several times at the press conference.
So, drumroll please, the following are (according to TAITRA) the Taiwanese foods that foreigners most enjoy:
- Guo bao (刮包). Also known as ‘Taiwanese burger’, this steamed bread and pork-belly combination has an almost cult-like following amongst some in the United States. I first tried it at a venerable snack shop in Tainan (sampled before my blogging days). It is surprisingly hard to find good specimens in Taipei, although there are some relatively good night market versions.
- Rouyuan (肉圓). Also known as ‘Taiwanese meatballs’, these are very different from the Scandinavian kind. Covered with a semi-transparent pastry film, they are then usually topped with a thick, slightly sweet sauce. The result is more shapeless than the name ‘meat ball’ might suggest. But don’t let this description put you off; a good rouyuan is real comfort food. My favourite is a made by a shop that sells a fresh pork/prawn combination in Minquan Road, Tainan.
- Shengjianbao (生煎包). Usually made of pork, these are steamed dumplings that have been half-panned fried. The buns combine fluffy, fresh white steamed bread with the fried flavour of their fried ‘bottom’. While technically a mainland import from Shanghai, they are now a popular snack food in northern Taiwan. They are fairly easy to find, but my favourite is a small outlet just outside Exit 3 of the Yongchun MRT station. My mother-in-law also makes a fairly mean version.
- Zhuxuegao (豬血糕). Made from pigs blood and rice, this is a local delicacy and an acquired taste. Even at the press conference, TAITRA acknowledged that is was something that ‘may give foreigners a bit of a fright at first’. From time to time there is discussion about how best to translate the name into English. It is usually rendered literally as ‘pigs blood cake’, which unsurprisingly does not sound too appealing. I have tried it several times and don’t mind it. My favourite version is on-the-stick grilled pigs blood cake served at a shop in the historic area of Sanxia, where it is dusted with a chilli/peanut powder mixture that makes it taste almost like satay.
- O-ah-jien (蚵仔煎). This is a type of omelette that features Taiwan harvested oysters. It is one of the top things to snack on when visiting the Tainan historical suburb of Anping, which uses produce from the local oyster industry. But it is so famous that it has become a staple at most night markets throughout Taiwan. Taiwan oysters are generally small and sweet, and rarely eaten in the shell. The omelette is made from an egg/potato starch and tapioca flower combination with lettuce and oysters. There is an art to the frying, so it is worth waiting around to watch the omelette cook.
So do you agree with the chosen top five favourite foreigner foods? What are your favourite snack foods? Do you like pigs blood cake, and if so where is the best place to try it?