Want to learn about Taiwanese cuisine? Take a virtual trip to this East Asian country with Erchen Chang, co-founder of BAO restaurants in London.
Erchen Chang is creative director and co-creator of cult London restaurants BAO. Born in Taiwan, she moved to the UK as a teenager and now celebrates Taiwanese cuisine in her cooking, and many credit her with popularising bao buns in the UK.
1) Hot pot
I always look forward to hot pot – sitting around a table with friends with a pot of simmering broth in the middle. Food comes to the table – marbled meat slices, freshly made prawn balls, double-fried breadsticks – ready to be cooked in the broth, then dipped in your own sauce. It’s super fun.
2) Convenience stores
I love a convenience store – 7-Elevens and Family Marts are everywhere. Imagine an off-licence in the UK but with more connectivity. Not only can you buy food, snacks, drinks and your daily necessities but you can also pay bills, receive parcels and even buy concert tickets. It’s crazy how convenient it is. Every time I go home, I go to different convenience stores to check out the latest snacks. They’re full of surprises and crazy new stuff.
3) Beef noodles
Considered a national dish in Taiwan, beef noodle soup is so popular that there are annual competitions dedicated to it. A traditional beef noodle is a wheat noodle, either in a light or heavily spiced broth, with beef shin, fermented greens and coriander. Everyone has their idea of the best beef noodles – ask any taxi driver and they will take you to their favourites.
4) Taiwanese breakfast
Taiwan is famous for oolong tea, as it has the perfect growing conditions to produce exceptional quality tea. High mountain tea is delicate and delicious, and often some of the best teas are snapped up as soon as they’re released in spring or autumn. Our love of tea ranges from bubble tea to traditional tea ceremonies. I love the seriousness with which we approach tea, in order to enjoy it in every way possible.
6) Family meals
One of my biggest food inspirations is my grandma’s cooking. She’s amazing at whipping up dish after dish for my family. We’d never start eating until our grandpa had sat down. There would be Taiwanese sausage, cold-cut goose, turia gourd braised with ginger, wild chicken with clam soup, stir-fried vermicelli chao mi fen, and more. I love having a meal with my family, as well as going to visit friends and eating home-cooked food with other families.
7) Shaved ice
In my opinion, you just can’t live without shaved ice in Taiwan. It’s a gloriously cold saviour during the hot, humid summers. Shaved ice comes with a variety of toppings, from fresh tropical fruits and condensed milk, to braised beans, bubbles and various syrups. My all-time favourite has to be mango shaved ice when it’s in season. Mango is the king of all fruits.
8) Quick-fry restaurants
Recently, I’ve fallen in love with Taiwan’s quick-fry restaurants. Taiwan is an island surrounded by sea, so there’s plenty of great seafood available. Quick-fry restaurants usually have a display of fresh fish on ice, and you can point to what you want and ask the chef to prepare it for you. It’s very seasonal, and the chefs recommend different ways to eat the daily catch.
9) Street food
Taiwan is famous for its street food culture. I have fond memories of going to the night markets with friends and family, popping out for a quick xiao chi (small eats), and making a whole night of going from one street food vendor to the next. Some of my favourites are oyster noodles, stinky tofu, Taiwanese fried chicken – there are so many choices.
A kissaten is a tea-drinking shop and coffee house. They’re a mid-century relic, and were popular up until the 1980s – kissaten are distinct from cafés, in that they don’t serve alcohol and are a quiet place to drink tea and chat. It’s the type of place that’s disappearing fast, but a new wave of nostalgia is growing. Bolero, the first (and now oldest) Western-style coffee house in Taiwan, has so much history to it. There, it feels as though time has been frozen. I love the décor, waiters and old-fashioned menu.