2010年秋天，我接了一個 case，幫一家位於西雅圖叫做 Restauranteers 的 start-up 寫關於吃食的稿子，他們說，希望很快地這個工作可以從無給變成有給，不過寫了七篇稿子後，無給還是無給，連個餐廳打折卷也沒賺到。不過當初接下這個工作，主要是因為我愛吃，也愛煮菜，對於美食相當有興趣，也順便藉著這個機會強迫自己多用英文寫作。最後，無給的工作果然撐不長，我就悄悄地從作者群消失了。回頭看看寫的那些文章，大部分都蠻 cheesy 的，因為他們要求簡短和商業化，所以寫了像是「吃港式飲茶的秘技」、「好吃的豆腐菜」、「水果也可以煮來吃」、「Belluvue 的鼎泰豐」等等自己也不是很驕傲的稿子。不過其他的還可以，所以把那些還可以的轉過來我的個人網站，做個紀念。
“Chung chung fei,” an old peddler bawled as he carried his wares into our neighborhood. It was more than twenty years ago and the chant always rang in the streets around four o’clock in the afternoon. I could never match his bawl to any familiar words as his Mandarin had a thick accent, but the sound of sizzling deep-frying and especially the distinct smell of the food explained it well. It was the stinky tofu.
When people ask me what Taiwanese food is about, the first images that come to my mind are always those old veterans of the second World War, riding a three-wheeler that hauls their tools for making a living. It could be Shandong steamed buns which have the chewy texture like New York bagels. It could be stinky tofu puffed by deep-frying and then served with pickled Chinese cabbage and topped with mashed garlic. It could be a rice cake on a bamboo stick coming out of a huge wooden steamer.
“Spicy or not?” the vendor would ask.
He then soaks the rice cake in a special sauce consisting of garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil etc. and rolls it on a bed of chopped cilantro and sweetened coarse-grained peanuts.
Taiwanese food culture ties strongly with commoners’ diets. It started with vendors selling a small serving of food as a snack option for farmers, loggers, and other workers. After 1949, many veterans of WWII retreated to Taiwan with their leader Chiang Kai Shek who lost the Chinese Civil War to Mao. The veterans started to sell their hometown cuisines which not only made Taiwan an authentic place to sample Chinese regional cuisines, but stirred up a continuous food fusion movement. Together with the influences from Japanese colonization, Spanish and Dutch occupation and Native Taiwanese heritage, Taiwanese cuisine has become very diverse and international.
Nowadays, along with the improvement of the standard of living and the dedication of skilled local chefs, many Taiwanese dishes have been featured on upscale restaurant menus and gained international recognition. Among which Taiwanese beef noodle soup is listed as one of the “must-try specialities” by the just published Michelin Green Guide Taiwan, and the year 2010 was the 6th year of Taipei International Beef Noodle Soup Festival.
Immigration and globalization have also brought Taiwanese food to many corners of the world. For example, there are dozens of bakeries and drink shops selling bubble tea in Seattle such as Oasis in the University District and Gossip in the International District. Din Tai Fung’s grand opening in Bellevue last summer excited gourmet eaters who are particular about dumplings.
In a nutshell, Taiwanese food emphasizes the original flavors of the unique ingredients. After all Taiwan is an island with diverse landscape and there is no shortage of fresh ingredients. The seasoning is minimum and many dishes are cooked quickly and accompanied by dipping sauces. Chinese herbs are also commonly incorporated to make broth for noodle soups or hot pots.
If you have a chance to visit Taiwan to taste Taiwanese cuisine, don’t forget to visit the night markets as each night market has their signature dishes to offer. In Seattle, you can sample Taiwanese food in the following restaurants: Facing East, Rolling Wok, and Henry’s Taiwan. Taiwanese pork hamburgers, oyster omelet, three-cup chicken, braised pork rice, and deep fried chicken rolls are all authentic Taiwanese dishes. For desserts, try hot grass jelly in winter and shaved ice with condensed milk and beans in the summer. And of course, if you dare, stinky tofu is always there waiting for you.