Taiwan has been in both China's and Japan's culinary shadows. Yet this vibrant country has its' own original fusion cuisine, full of colorful and flavorful dishes. It will definitely be the next big cuisine , thanks to Taiwanese chefs on both coasts, dedicated to bringing it into the American mainstream.
Julia Moskin interviewed several Taiwanese chefs in yesterday's New York Times Food section, visiting several restaurants on both the East and West coasts. The cuisine starts with this island's history. It will always have ties to China, having been settled by Chinese fishermen 6,000 years ago. The 1600's saw the Dutch , Portuguese, Scottish and English settle and lived among the indigenous peoples. The last 130 years saw rule by the Japanese until 1945 and then the Chinese. The cuisine reflects those different eras. There are the foods of the native Taiwanese - roots like taro and sweet potatoes, wild herbs and greens , along with seafood. Regional areas contribute dishes.In central Chiayi City, locals grow up with rice bowl topped with locally raised chicken. The meat is shredded and dressed with its' own juices and fat.Coastal Tainan cooks improvised slack season noodle bowls when the weather was too rough for fishing. These contained pork stock, garlic and noodles to stretch whatever fish they had.The Hakka, Chinese who arrived from the mainland in the 1600's brought rice dumplings and pickled vegetables. The Japanese gave them sashime, bento boxes and udon or stew. There are even dishes like pulled bread from the Muslim Hua people of Western China and Fujan province settlers gave the cuisine braising liquids and three cup chicken.
Now these dishes are being served in Taiwanese restaurants in the US. Years ago, Taiwanese cooking was lumped in with Chinese. Now it's emerging as one unto itself. We've been drinking and eating it for years. Bubble tea, mango shave ice,popcorn chicken with five spices and steamed buns with pork belly - gua bao. There is more to the cuisine though as Baohaus , the famed restaurant by the Renaissance person, Eddie Huang (who created the ABC series, "Fresh Off The Boat"). Some of the menu has a decidedly New York vibe, but there are traditional baos or rolls filled with pork, chicken and tofu, all spiced up with the Taiwanese holy trinity of cilantro, peanuts and pickled greens. An East Village Taiwanese restaurant, Ho Foods, offers the popular and much beloved beef noodle soup which draws not only "Chinese aunties" but advice on what to add to Taiwan's national dish. On the West Coast there is Vivian Ku's Los Angeles based Pine and Crane in the city's Silver Lake district and Joy in Highland Park. Hers centered on the vegetable tradition of Taiwan. Her menu has smaller plates of marinated eggplant, fresh mushroom salad and edamame with black pepper. Even a non Taiwanese chef such as Trigg Brown has created such dishes for Win Son in Brooklyn. He has even used the holy trinity in a dessert.
Taiwanese food is on the rise here in the States.It is delicious , full of flavor and history. A new generation of chefs is making sure those recipes are getting out to a public hungry for different yet traditional cuisines.