Thursday, June 10, 2010

Taiwanese food goes global

For decades, Taiwan has been famous for manufacturing computer chips and hardware. Now, the island is also cultivating its soft power over the Chinese world through its specialty foods.

At the Shi-lin Night Market in Taipei, you will see groups of tourists from Japan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia seeking out local Taiwanese food delicacies. Every day, a long queue of foreign visitors lines up outside of Ding Tai Fun Dumpling House to sample its famous soup dumplings. Advertised on travel web sites from Singapore and Malaysia, you will see tour options for groups to visit Taipei to sample Taiwanese snack food. Taiwanese specialties such as beef soup noodles, soup dumplings, pineapple cake and pearl milk tea have won the taste buds of 1.9 billion Chinese and Southeast Asians. And in major cities throughout California, bubble tea shops are as equally populated as Starbucks.

Instant noodles remain one of Taiwan’s favorite foods. Early success stories have included Master Kong, a brand name of Taiwan’s Tingyi Holding, now the largest instant noodle manufacturer in China. The company specializes in making instant noodles, baked goods and soft drinks. Another Taiwanese company in China is Want Want, which specializes in rice cakes and drinks. They have been in the Chinese market since the 1980s.

In Southeast Asia, where the consumer market numbers 600 million people, Namchow (Thailand) Limited, established by Namchow Group (Taiwan) in 1991, is a successful manufacturer and distributor of rice crackers, rice snacks and instant noodles. Also started in the same year, Vedan set up a company in Vietnam to make and market instant noodles, soft drinks, nutrition products and cosmetics.

Resurgence of home cooking

With a renewed interest in home cooking throughout the Taipei area, Taiwan's gourmet industry is taking another step toward maturity.

City’super, a supermarket originally from Hong Kong, arrived in Taiwan and started offering cooking lessons in 2004. Ever since, City’super has cultivated a customer base that is highly health conscious and inclined towards home cooked gourmet meals.

And it is not simply an elite population who are eager to learn the art of cooking. Cooking classes throughout Taipei are often packed to capacity. Even during a working Friday afternoon, between 50 and 70 eager students fill the cooking classroom of the Xinyi Eslite Bookstore.

Given Taiwan’s abundant snack food culture that provides an endless variety of inexpensive convenience foods, why would anyone want to study cooking? Taiwan’s growing health consciousness plays a part, according to the Commonwealth magazine. The magazine mentioned Yang Su-ling, who works in Taipei, and grabs a quick lunch before returning to work again. Like others who are becoming more health conscious, Yang enjoys cooking for herself.

Another reason behind the craze is the desire of Taiwanese people to cultivate closer familial bonds, and cooking together is one of the best opportunities to interact with one’s children. Founded more than 11 years ago, Choi's Home School of Culinary Arts started children's classes two years ago, after seeing a desire for parent-child interaction in the kitchen.

Promoting Taiwan’s gourmet foods

Parents who use cooking to further cement family ties can also plant a seed that will take culinary roots. This can be seen as more kids consider pursuing a career in the culinary arts. It is also a clear indication that the profession is gradually gaining social acceptance according to the magazine.

This March, Taiwanese pastry chef Wu Pao-chun won the title of Master de la Boulangerie in the bread category of the Bakery Masters Competition in Paris. Wu was able to beat 24 contestants from 17 countries. Within eight hours, Wu was required to bake bread such as baguettes and sandwich loaves and something typifying Taiwan. Among the ingredients of Wu’s winning bread were Taiwanese millet wine, dried lychees and organic roses.

Meanwhile, Taiwan will launch a project to promote Taiwanese gourmet food into the global market place, according to a report from the Economic Daily News. Funded by the National Development Fund and private investors, the project will form an “international Taiwanese gourmet food promotion company” to set up state-owned restaurants overseas.

Seeing the merits of promoting Taiwan through its specialty foods, the paper said a specialized government institution will standardize a variety of Taiwanese dishes and train chefs to further promote Taiwan through foods. Other collaborating institutes will be established to expand the business horizons of Taiwanese cuisine by opening chain restaurants, participating in business fairs and holding promotional activities for Taiwanese culinary arts.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.