Sunday, November 6, 2011

In Defense of Taiwanese Food

I know, I haven't updated in awhile - at least, awhile for me.

First, the jetlag.

Then, getting thrown right back into work.

Then, I came down with a migraine followed immediately by very quick and dirty virus - some kind of 24-hour flu.

I can say that since I've been back in Taiwan, I've been diving in - not quite literally, but if I could don a bathing suit and do so literally, I probably would - to eating all of my favorite foods. I realize there are Taiwan bloggers out there who don't like the food here ("bland" and "greasy" are two adjectives I've heard to describe it) but I simply think they're wrong. I started dreaming about wontons in chili oil (紅油抄手) within weeks of landing in Turkey - even though Turkish food is spectacular - and I relish the smell of stinky tofu as one would a smelly gourmet French cheese.

So far I've crammed my gullet and fattened my gut with:

Korean flavor pot stickers (韓式鍋貼)

Wontons in chili oil (紅油抄手)

Oyster vermicelli (蚵仔麵線)

Thai-style fried chicken (泰式幾塊)

Octopus Balls (章魚球)   

"Stuff on Sticks" (肉串- but not necessarily always meat)

Zhanghua-style "rice gluten" meatballs (彰化肉圓)

Cheap sushi on a conveyer belt

North Chinese style pork roll (大餅豬捲)

Burmese style noodles (緬甸何粉 - not an exact translation)

Stinky tofu (臭豆腐)

...and plenty of Chinese-based Taiwanese food that I got for free from the buffet at the long-term seminar thing I just finished for work.

Not bad considering that I've been sick and had next to no appetite!

I'm still excited to enjoy, in the near future, oyster omelets, Tainan-style shrimp roll rice, dry noodles, tea eggs, stewed meat rice (魯肉飯), BBQ squid on a stick, clams stir fried with basil, 1oo-yuan seafood, lumpia (the thin crepe wraps with red-cooked pork and vegetables) and many other favorites.

This is why I get annoyed when I read posts like "Taiwanese food is bland" or "Everybody says Taiwanese food is good, but it isn't, because all those foreigners who claim to like Taiwanese food regularly eat foreign food". I call bullshit.

Well, on the first one, that's really a matter of taste: yes, Mr. Blogger, Taiwanese food may well be bland to you, but it isn't to me. I can taste many delicate layers of flavor in simple dishes and appreciate the flavors and textures in dishes that might seem gloopy and pointless to some (it helps that I like that gooey texture that is so popular in Taiwanese food).

On the second, well, yes, it's often greasy, usually unhealthy and frighteningly easy to fatten up on - but the idea that in order to properly "like" Taiwanese food, you can't eat non-Taiwanese food (and if you do, even occasionally, it's somehow evidence that you "don't like" Taiwanese food) is thoroughly ridiculous. It's OK to like many different kinds of food, among them the culinary delights of Taiwan.

What I'll say is this: criticize it all you want, if that's you're opinion, but don't pretend that your opinion is fact. I happen to think Taiwanese food is fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that while in the culinary mecca of Turkey I was thinking about how much I'd like some of my various favorites from Taiwan. The first thing we did when we got back wasn't to go to some famous spot or even see friends (waited for the weekend for that) - we went out to eat, and very consciously so. To deliberately eat some of the food we'd missed so much: chili oil wontons, green papaya in passionfruit sauce and cold coriander chicken.


Brendan said...

"Everybody says Taiwanese food is good, but it isn't, because all those foreigners who claim to like Taiwanese food regularly eat foreign food"

Wow. It's as if he said some people claim to like ice cream sundaes, but you can tell they're lying, because sometimes they eat desserts which aren't ice cream sundaes.

I wonder how he (I know who you're talking about but won't speak his name here) processes the fact that there are people who claim to like more than one country's cuisine.

Kathmeista said...

Who in the heck thinks that TW food is BLAND?! Where have they been eating?! That's just plain wrong. Kind of akin to saying "Taiwan is landlocked". I mean, you don't have to like it - I accept variations in taste of course, but bland is a label that just cannot be applied to TW food. Ever.

黃愛玲 said...

(sigh) Thank you for this. My favourite Taiwanse cuisine is pickle bun/割包. I actually love stinky tofu but then again, I love European cheese. Maybe that's why? I don't know.

I was quite sad when I read comments like, "I've been to the Shilin night market and I was not impressed with Taiwanese cuisine. A friend of mine said that the oyster omelette isn't as good as Singapore's so I didn't bother to try it. I don't think dim sum is as great as Hong Kong's. If you're all about the food, do't bother going to Taiwan. Go to Thailand, Hong Kong, or Singapore instead."

My heart broke. Going to Shilin night market for Taiwanese cuisine is like getting lobster at Red Lobster in Maine. I understand that we all have different opinions, but it just bothers me that the person thinks he or she is such an expert in Taiwanese food due to going to the Shilin night market; a very very touristic place. She or he wouldn't even give oyster omellette a try due to someone's comment. It saddens me, really. It saddens me even more how many people she is misinforming.

I was hesitating to post this comment but it's something that has been on my mind.

I love reading your blog and what you have to say. :) I hope I make friends like you when I go to Taiwan.