Taiwan offers gourmands a remarkable range of mouth-watering gems from exquisite feasts to street snacks – and a whole lot of sightseeing options to work up an appetite for your next meal, as our perpetually hungry writer discovers.
If one had to choose a kitchen item to symbolise Taiwan’s food scene, it would be the hot pot. It epitomises this East Asian destination’s standing as an epicurean steamboat, bubbling with delicious regional flavours. Like in many Chinese societies, so ingrained is Taiwan’s love for food, greeting somebody not with a “Hello”, but “Have you eaten?” is perfectly acceptable.
Taiwan’s cuisine, enjoyed by a population of over 23 million, is predominantly Chinese. Its long and complex history has spiced up its culinary landscape. There’s the strong influence from mainland China as their histories intertwined over the centuries. The period of Japanese rule, from 1895 to 1945, left a legacy of advanced farming techniques as well as an indelible stamp on the local cuisine. And let’s not forget local aboriginal food, with taro, millet and ye chai (wild vegetables) as key ingredients.
So it’s not surprising that in Taiwan you can literally eat your way through Sichuanese, Japanese, Taiwanese aboriginal and Western cuisines in a single day.
Taiwan offers many options for you to improve your stamina and whet your appetite; you will need both to fully experience its extensive food gems.
Art to savour
Start at Taipei’s National Palace Museum (above), said to house the world’s largest and finest collection of Chinese art. Its more than 690,000 treasures, which once formed part of the imperial art collection in Beijing, are rotated for display regularly.
It is best to visit this hugely popular museum as early (or late) in the day as possible. Along with my fellow foodies, I had to jostle with massive crowds just to get in line for a glimpse of the Carved Olive-stone Boat, one of the museum’s tiniest works – and one of its biggest attractions. On a teeny olive pit 1.6cm in height and 3.4cm in length, master craftsman and artist Ch’en Tsu-chang had carved an entire boat scene, complete with eight human figures all with different expressions. And just for good measure, he’d engraved onto the bottom of the pit the 300-word poem “Latter Ode on the Red Cliff” because… well, he could.
After the cultural jaunt, we strolled over to the adjacent Silks Palace restaurant, where our appreciation of Taiwan’s cultural gems continued alongside its edible counterparts over a nine-course Imperial Treasures feast.