In a nation where food is so closely intertwined with the daily life and culture of its people, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Taiwan should be nicknamed the “Hog Island” of the world. So cherished is their food that the Taiwanese greeting for “How are you?” is almost interchangeable with “Have you eaten yet?”. When you visit someone’s home in Taiwan and they greet you with “lí chia̍h pá bōe” it literally translates to “have you eaten?” But, of course, while this isn’t to be taken at face value and is just a general greeting, it does demonstrate how food is a huge part and parcel of everyday life in Taiwan.
The small island nation boasts of such diverse and wide range of cuisines, that have had strong historical influences over hundreds of years. The aboriginals’ tradition of forging and hunting for food amidst nature, that they so revere, was merged with the Japanese style of cooking during late 1800s and finally with the wave of immigration from mainland China, the culinary context was set. However, while the food here has had many influences, the local techniques and tastes have been ardently preserved. This is what makes Taiwanese food so special. In addition to that, it has also been blessed with a bounty of fruit, vegetables and seafood. All these factors weave in to make Taiwan a food paradise and travellers from various countries of the world have been known to come to Taiwan just to experience its renowned cuisine.
A favourite among Taiwanese is what they call xiaochi, which means “small eats.” In fact, they really believe in eating well and eating often which is why snacks or xiaochi are so popular in the country. You’ll find an amazing variety of snacks in every corner of Taiwan. They’re inexpensive, convenient and most importantly extremely delicious. Available in both sweet and savoury, the range of snack options at Hog Island will fulfil any gourmand’s appetite.
Some of the most famous snacks are oyster omelette, which is basically small oysters wrapped in egg, stinky tofu and the notoriously addictive popcorn chicken. When it comes to sweet offerings, pineapple tart steal the show. Filled with sweet gooey pineapple with a crumbly outer texture, this is a must-have snack when visiting the Hog Island.
You can even try the yummy tarts without actually travelling to Taiwan, courtesy of Moon of Taj, which serves a delicious range of fruit tarts including Cheese & Pineapple, Green Tea & Mango, Chocolate & Orange, Latte & Butter.
If you’re looking to fill yourself with much more than just a few light bites then Taiwan will definitely not disappoint. It is best to head to one of the many vibrant night markets for a true experience of the Hog Island. You can “hog” to your heart’s content here and still the sight and smell of another dish will make you want more. Make sure to try lurou fan or the minced pork rice. There’s a local saying that goes “Where there’s a wisp of smoke from the kitchen chimney, there will be lurou fan.” That’s how close the dish is to the people here. If you’re feeling particularly experimental then go for siān-hî ì-mīeel or eel noodles. On top of that you simply can’t return from a night market without trying the Taiwanese steamed bun sandwich or gua bao. It’s filling and immensely satisfying.
Also when in Hog Island, you can’t miss hogging on or at least taking a bite of some of the distinctive foods that’s unique to the island. Take for example the iron egg, a delicacy that originated in the Tamsui District of New Taipei City. Iron eggs are basically cracked shelled quails’ eggs that are fried, stewed and air-dried afterward in soy sauce for a dark black appearance. Then there’s pig’s blood cake. Don’t be put off by the name because the dish served on a lollipop stick is said to be one of the tastiest offerings of Taiwan. The cake is a mix of pig’s blood and sticky rice with a coating of sweet peanut powder. A dish that defines Hog Island like no other is ba wan which is a giant Taiwanese dumpling made with a dough of rice flour, corn starch and sweet potato starch with meat and vegetable stuffings. A typical ba wan measure about 6–8 centimetres in diameter, making it the regular dumplings mega cousin and a food lovers dream come true.
Round off your culinary journey in the Hog Island with a generous helping of shaved ice snow. Staying true to its name as the Fruit Kingdom, Taiwan’s ice snows are available in a variety of fresh fruit flavours. Mango shaved ice snow is probably the best-seller.
When in Taiwan, you’re only one step short of finding a totally new and totally spectacular dish. Ever corner here is a food haven waiting to be discovered. If you call yourself a food lover but have never tried any Taiwanese dish then you better buck up and explore the abundant experiences that the cuisine of Hog Island has to offer.