This is a very personal entry.
I’m delighted to announce that this week sees the publication of A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai by Rowman & Littlefield. This book, which I co-wrote with Katy Hui-wen Hung, is the first English-language book that attempts to answer the questions: What do the Taiwanese eat, why do they eat those foods, and how do they perceive the foods around them?
The book’s ten chapters cover every facet of Taiwan’s food history, from the diet of the island’s neolithic inhabitants to how eating habits have evolved since 1945. The capital’s markets and landmark restaurants, as well as the farms that keep them supplied, are given in-depth coverage. The book also examines traditional vegetarianism and food taboos, as well as the ritual and religious function of certain food items. Detailed segments are devoted to the explosion of interest in organic agriculture and veganism.
Katy and I spent more than two years researching and writing the book, interviewing culinary heavyweights – among them Michelin-starred chef Andre Chiang and banquet master Lin Ming-tsan – visiting food artisans, and tasting everything we could find. We feel we uncovered a great deal of material which has never before been presented to English-language readers, and that is sure to fascinate the culinary adventurers who join Life of Taiwan food tours.
A lot of people has been asking us about the final word in the book’s title.
What is ponlai? Ponlai is in fact the name of a category of flavourful, high-yield rice varieties that were perfected in Taiwan by researchers during the Japanese colonial period. The word ‘ponlai’ is derived from a Chinese characters pronounced pénglái in Mandarin. In both Chinese and Japanese legend, Pénglái is a mythical paradise, and the name has been fondly applied to Taiwan by writers and poets who recognized how much this bountiful island could provide for its human inhabitants.
We are hoping that, through our book, readers will better understand how Mother Nature, human ingenuity, and overseas influences from every compass point have combined to create fantastic culinary diversity. If people appreciate that Taiwanese cuisine goes far beyond night markets and street food, and that it’s neither a subset of Chinese cuisine nor the ‘poor cousin’ of better-known Asian culinary traditions, we will feel we have accomplished what we set out to do.
A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai can be ordered from the publisher and from online booksellers including Amazon. Life of Taiwan clients (past or present) wishing to order this book can enjoy a 30% discount by requesting the special order code from email@example.com.