Though the body of Taiwan is petite, it’s heart is huge. The country is roughly the size of Delaware and Maryland combined and still home to 16 recognized indigenous tribes - each with their own specific culinary story to tell. With additional influences from Chinese immigrants, it makes for an extremely unique country in terms of food. I was mostly looking forward to a dinner of Peking Duck, hoping it wouldn't wait too long to find me.
With fellow food media personalities, my friend GiGi Dubois (GiGi Eats Celebrities), Lynn Chen (The Actor’s Diet), her husband Abe Forman-Greenwald (Buzzfeed), Ronnie Chen (Taiwanese Media) and her husband George, I experienced lush green landscapes, accommodating people, sky high views and meals that I will never forget. Many thanks to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, our five day culinary tour of Taiwan left me surprised, appreciative and mostly full.
Suddenly an older, silver-haired, nicely suited man entered the exhibition dining room where Hualien artist, Wu Yi-sheng, lent his hand carved jade utensils to 40 of Taiwan’s most well-known chefs for the display of 40 equally unique dishes. This man was Prime Minister Mao Chi-kuo. His presence before me at the Taiwan Culinary Exhibition in Taipei’s World Trade Center, told me everything I needed to know about this country’s relationship with food. He circled the giant illuminated table with digital bulbs blinking at him, calmly admiring each culinary creation and addressing each chef personally. I knew nothing about him or his politics, but instantly saw that his respect for his culture, his people, and the variations of his home-land cuisine was huge. Day #1 of my fascinating culinary journey through Taiwan had a significant highlight and it wasn’t even noon
Taipei sits at the head of the table. It's Taiwan's largest city and also home to the landmark dining phenomenon, Din Tai Fung. I'm aware you don’t have to leave Los Angeles or the U.S. even, to taste their famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings), but they just taste better in their home country.
At our table were plenty of xiao long bao: pork, pork & crab, and the most spectacular -- pork & truffle. There was also the cucumber salad, shao mai (steamed dumplings) stuffed individually some with fish, vegetable, shrimp and pork. There was also vegetarian fried rice, sautéed spinach with garlic, hot and sour soup and the red bean rice cake with flecks of rainbow sprinkles for dessert. It looked much sweeter than it tasted.
If you visit Din Tai Fung, in Taipei or any other worldwide location, the only things you need to order are the traditional pork xiao long bao, the pork and truffle xiao long boa and the cucumber salad. I say the simpler the better. All of these things are incredibly delicious and will fill you up to completeness. If you still have room I would try a red bean bun for dessert. (Sugar addicts beware, Taiwan is not a culture of refined sugary sweets. Eventually you will appreciate the mild sweetness of the traditional pineapple cake or red bean steamed buns.) Before or after dining specifically at the Taipei 101 location, as our troupe did, be sure to ride the world's fastest elevatorto the top for incredible views of the city (ground to 89th floor in 37 seconds).