For the people of Taiwan, food isn't just a necessity; it's a national obsession. While some might liken Italy's outline to a high-heeled boot, when we Taiwanese look at our map, we see a sweet potato. Positioned squarely across the Tropic of Cancer, the diverse terrain of this tuber-shaped island encompasses lush rolling hills, expansive plains, and a rugged mountain range where more than 100 peaks rise over three thousand meters in elevation. This varied landscape and the weather it produces gift the island with an array of natural treasures: succulent seafood, vibrant fruits, and hearty vegetables, all contributing to the rich palette of Taiwanese cuisine.
Here in Taiwan, a dazzling mosaic of food echoes the island's unique past — a history adorned with the threads of Austronesian Indigenous culture spanning millennia, the footprints of European explorers, and the embrace of Han Chinese migrants escaping to its shores. This is a land that experienced fifty years of Japanese occupation, followed shortly thereafter by the sudden influx of more than a million military personnel and civilians retreating in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War. The turbulent winds of history have shaped Taiwan into a lively crossroad of culinary influences from China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and beyond.
Against this vivid backdrop, ancient traditions frequently take center stage. The Lunar New Year gathers families for a feast, each household laying out a lavish spread that symbolizes reunion and good fortune. Dishes such as steamed fish, poached chicken, and sticky rice cake carry meanings that extend beyond their flavors. Even in reverence to the departed, food finds its place: Ceremonial offerings to calm wandering ghosts illustrate profound ties between sustenance and the spiritual realm.
In Taiwan, food serves as a conversation starter, a source of comfort, and a reflection of the island’s warm hospitality. When we bump into a friend, instead of the usual "How are you?" greeting, it is customary to ask, "Have you eaten yet?" Whether sharing a hearty pot of hot soup with family or exploring uncharted restaurants with friends, every meal becomes an opportunity to connect, build relationships, and revel in the shared pleasure of eating.
This book is more than just a reliable cookbook; it's an invitation to explore and embrace the distinctive flavors of Taiwanese food culture. So, grab your spatula and chopsticks, and get ready for a gastronomic journey across the enchanting island of Taiwan!