I won't deny that there's a cultural disposition. My parents are from Taiwan. It only takes a few days of wandering around Taiwan to realize that food is a creative outlet in Taiwan. Food here is an evolving organism. It's constantly reinventing and perfecting classics. It's constantly experimenting with techniques and recipes from other cultures. It's so far outside of the box that the box is a piece of dust that Wu Pao-chun swept off his kitchen counter as he got ready to beat the French at the international Bakery Masters competition.
Even CNN recognizes how much Taiwan loves its food.
Members of my family have been known to bring an empty suitcase with them when they go back to Taiwan, just so they can fill it with food to bring back to the US. But for me, it's not just about getting to eat food that we can't get in the United States. My bond with food goes deeper than a cultural indoctrination. It's also about finally being in a place where things that I love are not seen as weird and I'm not seen as strange.
Like many children of immigrants, food, something that was so important at home, became a source of alienation outside of the home. I have a vivid memory of bringing in some lychee jellies to school one day to share with my friends. They were not only delicious, but also a rare commodity. The local Asian market only carried an inferior kind of lychee jelly that didn't have a piece of firmer fruit in the center. I excitedly passed them around at the lunch table and was crestfallen to hear everyone's responses. "Why does it have this thing in the middle?" "This doesn't taste like anything." "This is weird." "I don't like it."
My friends weren't trying to hurt me, but it's certainly one of the most vivid memories I have of learning the power of microaggressions. How does one explain to another person that their seemingly small and personal comment about a food made me feel weird, alone, isolated, and foreign? Unlike the need that many second generation children feel to fit in, I felt the need to be understood. I wanted my identity to be seen and celebrated in the same way that everyone else's was. I wanted to be recognized as a person regardless of how different I may have been.
Additionally, like many cultures, giving food is a way to show love in Chinese culture.
To this day, it's really hard for me to not interpret the dislike of food that I try to share with others as a rejection of my love. And despite knowing that taste is also a matter of personal preference, it's impossible for me to see the rejection of Chinese food as a manifestation of a self-centered system of evaluating the world. When my friend told me that my lychee jellies had no taste, it was clear to me that it wasn't the lychee jelly that was bland. The issue was that she was judging it based on a Western palate and simply assuming that her way of viewing the world and judging food was the accepted norm.
So while there are incredible non-edible experiences in Taiwan, food and family are my primary concerns when I come to Taiwan.
As you might expect, such a vibrant food culture means that you can't always expect the same restaurants or food carts to be where you last saw them. It's sad to discover that a place that you discovered has closed or moved on. As a vegetarian, this can be particularly heartbreaking. It might have been the only place that made a vegetarian version of a special dish.
However, with a large population of buddhists and a focus on health in the past decade that includes eating vegetarian, you can always count on finding new vegetarian favorites. Here's the highlight for the past week: