Summer isn’t the most comfortable of seasons in Taiwan. In urban areas, the mercury often hits 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) and these temperatures are usually accompanied by high humidity. But for travellers who enjoy the vibrant colours of the hot season—think lushly green foliage in the hills and maritime shades of blue at the seaside—the months of June, July and August can make for a gloriously memorable travel experience.
However, most indoor spaces in Taiwan are air-conditioned, so you needn’t endure the heat a minute longer than you wish to. Photographers always appreciate the extra daylight summertime brings. In north Taiwan, the days of July are about three hours longer than those of December. Even in the far south, the difference is nearly two hours.
It’s often said that delicious food is available 24/7 throughout Taiwan—and the same is true for cold drinks. Cans of ice-cold coffee can roll back fatigue, but fresh watermelon juice is healthier and more in keeping with the logic of ‘food miles’. Those driving inland during the long, dry spell before summer are likely to notice watermelon fields beside rivers, and farmers trucking holdall-sized watermelons to markets.
Taiwan’s semi-tropical climate and diverse topography are ideal for fruit cultivation, and delicious fresh fruit are available throughout the year. As far are many people are concerned, a highlight of early summer is the mango harvest.
Gorging on the juicy orange-yellow flesh of mangoes is merely the most obvious thing to do. Taiwan’s inventive culinarians have come up with a half dozen ways to enjoy this fruit, including cakes, yoghurts, and puddings. Consistently the most popular is ‘mango ice’, chunks of fruit on a bed of shaved ice, often topped with a scoop of ice cream.
Given the delectability of Taiwanese mangoes, it’s no surprise that in recent years they’ve been the island’s no. 1 fruit crop by planted area. However, few visitors know neither of the two main mango species is indigenous. The ones that turn a purplish shade of orange-red as they ripen are Irwin mangoes, grown in Taiwan since the 1950s. So-called ‘native mangoes’ are smaller, have yellowish-green skins, and have been farmed here since they were introduced from Indonesia by the Dutch back in the 17th century.
Coinciding with mango season is the pitaya harvest. The latter, the crimson fruit of a type of cactus, is sometimes called ‘dragon-fruit’. The purple-white flesh is full of small edible seeds and has a mild taste that many adore. June sees the start of the pineapple harvest begins in June. By the time it tapers off in late summer, wendan pomelos—many of them grown around Tainan—hit the market.
Summertime visitors should make an effort to try a couple of non-fruit treats. One is called aiyu jelly or fig jelly, made from pear-sized figs that grow wild in Taiwan’s mid-level mountains. The other is variously called grass jelly, Chinese mesona jelly, or xiancao. The former is a golden colour; the latter is black and often served with milk, mochi or in tea drinks. Both are exquisitely refreshing, and seldom seen in Western countries.