When invited to participate on a Food and Discovery tour in Taiwan I had no idea what to expect, and little did I know what gastronomic delights and breath-taking highlights were in store during my six-day journey of discovery. I had so many incredible experiences while in Taiwan and all were highlights, but here are just two.
It was exciting to receive an invitation to the official opening of the Taiwan Culinary Exhibition at the Taipei World Trade Centre. The exhibition is touted as a “gourmet cuisine carnival bringing out the essence of Taiwan’s food culture, with over 12 million attending during the four-day event.
The main pavilion houses dishes from all areas including China’s eight major cuisines, Taiwanese Cuisine, indigenous cuisine, Hakka-style cuisine and new immigrant dishes, there are two culinary classrooms where would-be chefs can learn how to make Taiwanese favourites such as salted egg yolk pumpkin and winter melon bubble tea.
I taste all kinds of delicacies, some I am familiar with and others that are way out of the norm, such as stinky tofu! I definitely won’t be revisiting this dish you but you can’t come to Taiwan without trying it.
After four hours I leave the exhibition with a an even greater appetite for Taiwan’s food offering.
The last day of my trip is at Yangmingshan National Park for lunch at the Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant, described as “enjoying the food with a peaceful mind”. Alighting from the car I head down the winding path, past the lake filled with koi and the mass of abundant lush greenery, a feeling of peace descends and I remember the description.
The majority of the restaurant staff are Zen Buddhists and I find myself speaking in hushed tones as I take my place at the (low) table.
Shi-Yang has one menu of thirteen mouth-watering courses consisting of Japanese and Taiwanese flavours. The dishes include peanut tofu and ground popcorn, mixed with a little olive oil. The seafood platter consists of sea urchins, abalone, prawns, squid, rice paper wrapped rolls with salmon roe and slices of yuzu citrus. Then, a fermenting cleanser of vinegar, pineapple and apple. The lotus flower soup was a favourite. On arrival it looked like a simple soup of chicken mushrooms and herbs, but when the waitress carefully placed a dried lotus flower on top of the soup it slowly opened into the beautiful lotus flower and took my breath away.
I am now ready for the private tea ceremony with “Tea Master”, Mei Chuan (pictured left). All is calm, all is quiet as I move unhurriedly and, it seems, in harmony to the ceremony. Buddhist music plays in the background.
Great care is taken in the preparation of the tea, everything seems to move in slow motion with the measuring and rinsing, pouring and serving. I feel that nothing is important at this moment except for the tea I am tasting, and the beautiful surroundings.
Walking back up the winding path I look back to see the tea master waving me goodbye. I immediately make a mental note to return here again one day.
Joy Clark was a guest of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau/Taiwan Visitors Association.