KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – The smell of fried chicken wafted over downtown Kaohsiung recently during a popcorn chicken event that proved to be a standout success.
The two-day event was reported to have drawn around 70,000 people, all keen to try food from the 100+ popcorn chicken stands offering countless varieties of Taiwanese popcorn chicken cooked by vendors from across the country.
The Kaohsiung Tourism Bureau was at pains to stress the success of the festival. Its press releases referenced one Taipei-based vendor “worked non-stop until his hands trembled from exhaustion,” while another sold out within two hours.
There was probably no need for such melodramatic imagery. Attracting tens of thousands of people to a food festival focused on just one specific version of Taiwanese fried chicken tells its own story really.
As anyone who has lived and worked in Taiwan will tell you, food, and particularly street food, is a big deal here. Food is at the heart of Taiwanese culture, at the center of everyone’s social agenda, and something everyone in Taiwan, bar none, values highly.
Which rather begs the question, why does Taiwan not do more to promote itself as a foodie destination?
Taiwanese food has made waves around the world. Big cities in the U.S. and Europe are now awash with bubble tea shops, and it’s not just Taiwanese ex-pats queuing up to sample the latest variety; locals have got a taste for it too.
Gua bao is also big in the western world too. As a keen reader of acerbic Times of London restaurant critic Giles Coren, I counted six consecutive weeks last year where his reviews, mostly of establishments in London and the Cotswold, referenced gua bao of one kind or another.
Yet, despite this popularity, references to the origin of gua bao and bubble tea are an exception rather than the rule. This strikes me as a massive missed opportunity for Taiwan.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, food tourism was a huge business and was growing in popularity year on year. There is no reason to think that is going to change.
Data shows that in 2018, the food tourism market was worth US$82 billion and was growing at more than 8% a year. It is estimated that travelers spend 33% of their money on food and another study found that 73% of people stated that a variety of cuisines makes somewhere a good food destination.
This is where Taiwan has the potential to excel, because while people might be lured here by gua bao and bubble tea, this country has so much more to offer. Taiwan’s culinary heritage has something for everyone, from some of the best street food in the world to no fewer than 39 Michelin-starred restaurants spread from Taipei in the north to Kaohsiung in the south.
While in the U.K., I have always been impressed by the number of Taiwan tourism adverts I see around, despite the relatively modest number of U.K. visitors that come to Taiwan each year. These low numbers might be due to too much advertising for niche markets like cycling tourists.
Taiwan is a long way to travel from the U.K. on a cycling holiday, with or without all your equipment, when there are so many great cycling destinations in mainland Europe. The number of tourists who travel for the main purpose of cycling is also relatively small as well.
Food tourism, on the other hand, is a mass market and one that anyone can do, needing little more than money in your pocket, and a phone to document your culinary adventures.
Taiwan is the perfect culinary tourism destination and, as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are finally lifted, and tourists are able to return, it is an area that the tourism sector should focus on far more than it has to date.
Taiwan’s tourism sector has taken a huge hit these past couple of years and while domestic tourism, necessitated by the restrictions on overseas travel, has partially filled the gap, the government could take more steps to support the sector’s recovery.
Food tourism is an area where Taiwan has a lot to offer, and minimal effort will be needed to bring tourists in. It’s an easy economic and soft-power win for Taiwan.
Taiwan has the cuisine; the world has the appetite. Let’s go to town and sell Taiwan's food culture to them!
Updated : 2022-09-07 14:08 GMT+08:00
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