Tasting Taiwanese cuisine
I was lucky to be invited a few days ago to a cuisine table set by Taiwanese twin-brother chefs.
Regrettably it was just a try-a-sample occasion, not for eating our bellyful. The hard-to-miss brief feast was arranged at a Chinese restaurant in downtown Seoul.
It was a special event prepared for gourmets who love Chinese, or more exactly, Taiwanese food. At the event, nine different dishes of most unusual kinds were presented by the twin chefs of Liajin and Lialu, who are famous among the culinary crowd in Taipei.
They were staying here after participating in the World Association of Chef's Societies held earlier this month in Daejeon, a city about two hour's drive south of Seoul.
All of the dishes served that day boasted distinctive tastes, although they were made of ordinary ingredients, including vegetables, pork and shrimp. Invited guests were busy not only trying the food but also taking pictures of the dishes on the menu.
Especially memorable for me was a modified dish with kimchi and rice cake doused with red pepper paste, which were served as a fusion item, showing Korea’s traditional cuisine can be globalized.
Taiwanese cuisine has come to have unique characteristics by blending itself with various culinary cultures and developing the gustatory diversity it boasts now. It was, of course, developed primarily on the basis of the Chinese mainland cuisine, but later mixed the native style and even Japanese cooking throughout the island country’s tumultuous history.
Even the mainland’s influence has come from various regions and their respective cuisines. Ranging from the taste of Fujian cuisine to that of Guangdong, Shandong and other provinces, diverse mainland cuisines have landed on this subtropical island along with the arrival of their residents.
It can be said that Taiwanese food has built a castle on the foundation of mainland Chinese food, which itself has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the world’s most sumptuous cuisines.
There are many seafood dishes on a Taiwanese menu like Shanghai or Hong Kong cuisine. It is mainly because the country is surrounded by the sea that provides all kinds of fish and sea plants. A variety of dumplings and noodles also embellishes the Taiwanese culinary table.
``In any case," Liajin, the elder twin said, ``Taiwanese food always puts emphasis on offering good quality by preserving natural taste and the nutrients the ingredients have in themselves." He explained the cooking method, for example, rapid-roasting on a strong flame, is important to preserve food‘s freshness.
When we think about Taiwanese food, we may think of the boisterous scenery of night markets in Taipei, where one can enjoy many kinds of food and drink. The lively atmosphere shows the ethnical traits, not to mention of food delicacies.
We can come across Taiwanese ``shaots," or light snacks, in the streets and alleys. They also constitute an important part of Taiwanese food culture.
One thing that disappoints Korean visitors is they do not serve "jjajangmyeon," or noodles in black bean sauce at night markets or at authentic restaurants. It didn't appear at the day's tasting either.
Although most Koreans know the dish from childhood and are likely to misunderstand it as typical Chinese or Taiwanese food, jjajangmyeon doesn't exist on their menus. In that sense, it is Korean food, not that of China or Taiwan.
I wondered how it would be to develop jjajangmyeon into a Taiwanese style. I am sure Taiwanese people would also like it very much. And when another food tasting occurs here, I hope a Taiwanese-style jjajangmyeon will be on the menu.
The writer is a freelance columnist. As a member of the Seoul-Taipei Forum, he wrote a book titled ``Taiwan, Where Is It?" last year. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.