National Taiwan Normal University professor Chen Yu-chen (陳玉箴) yesterday unveiled her research on the history of Taiwanese cuisine, which showed that cultural and sociopolitical factors have had a profound influence on the evolution of national dishes.
Categorizing Taiwanese dishes according to three historical periods: the colonial era (1895 to 1945), the post-World War II era (1945 to the 1980s) and the 1990s until present day, Chen said that Taiwanese cuisine during the Japanese colonial era was introduced from China and was usually served at wine houses — high-end restaurants — to members of high society, such as Japanese officials.
According to the research, typical dishes at the time included Peking duck, shark fin with bird’s nest soup and braised turtle.
In contrast, civilians under Japanese colonial rule ate mainly rice, porridge, pickled vegetables and sweet potato leaves, she said.
This lack of diversity could probably be linked to the inaccessibility of cooking oils, which were considered a luxury at the time and were only used for special occasions, for example at banquets, she said.
With millions of settlers moving from China to Taiwan after World War II, the second period saw more Chinese dishes — originating from China’s Sichuan, Zherjiang and Hunan provinces — mixed with dishes that existed before Taiwan was annexed to Japan, which were predominantly introduced by trail blazers from Fujian Province in China.
Geographic location also influenced the introduction and development of various cuisines in certain areas, the research showed.
Citing Yilan County as an example, Chen said the area is known for idiosyncratic cuisines such as gaojha (糕渣) — ground shrimp, chicken and beef that are stewed to a pulp with broth and then fried — and “bu meat” (卜肉), fried pork fillet strips served with pepper or sesame.
With the help of advancements in culinary skills, and national banquets being held at public-sector restaurants since the early 1990s, the third phase saw the improvement of existing dishes, such as sauted sweet potato leaves, rice puddings and fried egg with preserved turnip, the flavors of which changed drastically over time, Chen said.
It was also around this time that the term “Taiwanese cuisine” (台式料理) gradually became prevalent and local restaurants with signs reading “Taiwanese cuisine” began to emerge, she said.
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