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SP E CI A L I SSUE January 2011 / Volume 41 Number 1 c ha m . c o m . t w


TAIWAN BUSINESS TOPICS 中華郵政北台字第 號執照登記為雜誌交寄 5000 1_2011_CoverA.indd 1


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Serving up the Best Steak in Town The Sherwood Taipei’s TOSCANA Italian Restaurant


uests will immediately feel the warmth and Southern European charm as they walk into the TOSCANA Italian Restaurant located on the ground floor of The Sherwood Taipei. The walls of the restaurant are embellished with European paintings and art works from the hotel’s chairman, B.V. Riu. The room is further adorned with potted palms and octagonal floor tiles, and a refined wooden French door leads the guests to a garden area that provides an ample amount of sunlight and an excellent view of the yard outside. Despite its elegant Mediterranean ambience and the versatile menus that feature the freshest, highest quality ingredients, TOSCANA has also become a Mecca for steak lovers. Its pioneering U.S. dry-aged steak preparation techniques remain unmatched in the Asia-Pacific region. The legend began four years ago when Executive Chef C.K. Chen, embarking on a unique culinary journey, visited Smith & Wollensky, one of the top steakhouses in the U.S. Impressed by the succulent flavors and juicy tenderness of dry-aged beef served at Smith & Wollensky, he was reminded that over the years many of his patrons had expressed the wish to eat top-notch U.S. Prime dry-aged steak in Taipei. After numerous backand-forth e-mail exchanges, Chen got the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes and uncover the secrets of the steakhouse that has satisfied the palates appetites of the world’s toughest food critics. Even the lead character in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” (said to be modeled on Anna Wintour, Editor-

in-Chief of the American magazine Vogue) specifically requests a Smith & Wollensky dry-aged steak for her lunch. Chen’s determination to bring the ultimate steak-eating experience back to Taipei was eventually carried out in two ways. First, under the guidance of the well-known Chicago chef Hans A e s c h b a c h e r, C h e n w e n t t h r o u g h intensive training to learn the method of dry-aging, which many had considered a lost art. Second, a million-dollar dry-aging room was built within the Sherwood to ensure that the highest quality beef is well cared for, stored under strict humidity and temperature controls. But a dry-aging room that costs millions is just the start. The dryaging process (not to be confused with “wet-aging,” in which meat is aged in vacuum bags) itself entails considerable expense, as it requires use of only the highest grades of meat containing a large, evenly distributed marbling content. During the storing process, a crust that forms around the beef must be trimmed off after the desired aging time. The dry-aging process not only creates a greater concentration of beefy flavor, but also allows the beef’s natural enzymes to break down the connective tissues, creating an extremely tender texture that many beef connoisseurs regard as the ultimate steak experience. In addition, a special U.S.-made oven capable of producing up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit of searing heat is installed to create a charred and crispy deep brown caramelized outside crust. “At TOSCANA Italian Restaurant,” notes Chef Chen, “we use only the highest quality of corn-fed beef from

the State of Nebraska. We offer a wide selection of cuts – from the most popular T-bone to the marbled, extremely tender Rib-eye and the less marbled but more densely textured New York Strip.” It has been almost a year since the launch of TOSCANA’s dry-aged bonein steaks. Customers who have tried it, keep coming back for more, and many of them have recommended it to their friends because they enjoyed the food and the incredible ambience at TOSCANA so much. The Warren Buffet Set Menu, known as American billionaire Warren Buffet’s favorite, features a refreshing Cobb salad to whet your appetite, followed by a 24-oz. juicy dry-aged T-bone steak, and ends perfectly with the restaurant’s home-made vanilla ice cream and a cherry coke – just the way Mr. Buffet likes it. This special set menu has become one of the most requested on the restaurant’s menu and has received high commendations from local food critics, VIPs, and countless American expatriates in Taiwan. “We are very proud to be recognized as serving up the best dry-aged steaks in town, and our friendly and knowledgeable waitpersons are here to make our customers’ dining experience an even more enjoyable one,” says Vi c t o r C h o u , g e n e r a l m a n a g e r o f The Sherwood Taipei. Whether you are looking for a place for a business luncheon, a romantic candlelight dinner, or a relaxed family brunch, TOSCANA at The Sherwood Taipei always has something for everyone and is suitable for just about any occasion.


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CONTENTS photo : chris stowers

january 2011

volume 41, number 1



Andrea Wu


photo : mark caltonhill




Don Shapiro Art Director/ Production Coordinator

沙蕩 美術主任 / 後製統籌

Katia Chen Staff Writer

Jane Rickards

陳國梅 採訪編輯


8 Chinese New Year: Time for Indulgence

The whens, whys, hows, and wheres of Taiwan’s key “feastivities”

By Mark Caltonhill

19 Any Wednesday

A group of trenchermen – they wouldn’t deign to call themselves gourmets or patronize fancy, upscale restaurants – has been eating out weekly for more than 35 years.

By Don Shapiro

Manager, Publications Sales & Marketing 廣告行銷經理

Irene Tsao



Zep Hu



24 The Roots of Taiwanese Cuisine

Delving into the history and uses of taro, sweet potatoes, and their like.

By Mark Caltonhill

American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei 129 MinSheng East Road, Section 3, 7F, Suite 706, Taipei 10596, Taiwan P.O. Box 17-277, Taipei, 10419 Taiwan Tel: 2718-8226 Fax: 2718-8182 e-mail: website: 名稱:台北市美國商會工商雜誌 發行所:台北市美國商會 臺北市10596民生東路三段129號七樓706室 電話:2718-8226 傳真:2718-8182

photo : elyse glickman

14 The Great Taiwan Treasure Hunt

TOPICS is a publication of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, ROC. Contents are independent of and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Officers, Board of Governors, Supervisors or members. © Copyright 2011 by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, ROC. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint original material must be requested in writing from AmCham. Production done in-house,

Armed with a savvy local guide and a carefully-planned itinerary, American journalists and food luminaries seek out Taiwan’s culinary jewels, from street food revelations to lavish creations by Asia’s most innovative chefs and mixologists.

29 East Meets West Over Breakfast

When confronted early in the morning with green tea butter on toast, diners may wonder whether this is an example of fusion or collision.

By Diana Tsai

By Elyse Glickman

Printing by Farn Mei Printing Co., Ltd. 登記字號:台誌第一零九六九號

photo : amber parcher


photo : courtesy tourism bureau

經銷商:台灣英文雜誌社 台北市105敦化北路222巷19之1號1樓 發行日期:中華民國一○○年一月 中華郵政北台字第5000號執照登記為雜誌交寄 ISSN 1818-1961

OFFICERS: Chairman/ Bill Wiseman Vice Chairmen/ William E. Bryson / David Pacey Treasurer: Carl Wegner Secretary/ William J. Farrell 2010-2011 Governors: Michael Chu, Alan Eusden, Douglas R. Klein, Cindy Shueh Lin, David Pacey, Stephen Y. Tan, Lee Wood. 2011-2012 Governors: William E. Bryson, Alexander Duncan, Christopher Fay, William Farrell, Steven Lee, Neal Stovicek, Carl Wegner, Bill Wiseman. 2011 Supervisors: George Chao, Varaporn Dhamcharee, Jenny Lin, Ashvin Subramanyam, Ken Wu. COMMITTEES: Agro-Chemical/ Mong Yang Tan; Asset Management/ Christine Jih, Derek Yung; Banking/ Carl Chien; Capital Markets/ William Bryson, Jane Hwang, Jimin Kao; Chemical Manufacturers/ David Price; CSR/ Lume Liao, Fupei Wang; Education & Training/ Robert Lin, William Zyzo; Greater China Business/ Helen Chou, Stephen Tan; Human Resources/ Richard Lin, Seraphim Mar; Infrastructure/ L.C. Chen, Paul Lee; Insurance/ Mark OÆDell, Dan Ting, Lee Wood; Intellectual Property & Licensing/ Jason Chen, Jeffrey Harris, Douglas Weinstein; Manufacturing/ George Chao, Albert Li; Marketing & Distribution/ Christopher Fay, Wei Hsiang, Gordon Stewart; Medical Devices/ Daniel Yu; Pharmaceutical/ David Lin, Jaime Robledo Cadavid; Real Estate/ Peter Crowhurst, Kristy Hwang; Retail/ Angela Chang, Prudence Jang, Douglas Klein; Sustainable Development/ Eng Leong Goh, Kenny Jeng; Tax/ May Lee, Cheli Liaw, Josephine Peng; Technology/ Revital Golan, R.C. Liang, Jeanne Wang, Deborah Yen; Telecommunications & Media/ Ben Way, June Su, Jason Wang; Transportation/ Gary Wu; Travel & Tourism/ Pauline Leung, David Pacey.

32 Dining Out in the Deep South

Kaohsiung restaurants may not be fancy, but the best offer a hospitable, relaxed atmosphere, plus good food at decent prices.

By Amber Parcher

36 Promoting Taiwan through its Food

Learning from the example of Korea and Thailand, the government is turning to “gastrodiplomacy” to raise Taiwan’s international prominence.

By Mark Caltonhill

photo : courtesy tourism bureau

40 Taiwan’s Single Malt Sensation

Scotch has overtaken cognac as the king of alcoholic beverages in Taiwan.

By Diana Tsai

cover Photo ( pick l ed cabbage) : courtesy of pa la i s d e chi n e


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ja nuary 2011 • Volume 40 n umbe r 1

43 Drinking Games at Champagne

Taipei’s first lounge bar is still the place to get introduced to some of Taiwan’s traditional hand and dice games to liven up an evening of imbibing.

By Diana Tsai photo : courtesy of shangri-la

c ove r s pons or

Fubon Financial Overview Committed to becoming one of Asia’s first-class financial institutions, Fubon Financial has built a strong lineup of financial service companies. Its major subsidiaries include Taipei Fubon Bank, Fubon Bank (Hong Kong), Fubon Insurance, Fubon Life and Fubon Securities. Fubon Financial had around NT$3.3 trillion in assets as of the end of September 2010, the second most among Taiwan’s publicly listed financial holding companies. Fubon Financial’s subsidiaries rank among the top performers in their respective sectors. Fubon Insurance has consistently led all P&C insurers with an over 20% market share. Taipei Fubon Bank is one of Taiwan’s biggest privately owned banks; Fubon Securities ranks among Taiwan’s top three securities houses; and following its merger with ING Antai Life, Fubon Life ranks second in both total premium and first year premium

46 Restaurant Update 2011

A selection of dining establishments in the Taipei area that are either new to the market or have recently been relaunched.

By Don Shapiro

Aside from strengthening its presence in Taiwan, Fubon Financial has also moved aggressively to extend its reach throughout Greater China. At the end of 2008, Fubon Financial acquired a stake in Xiamen City Commercial Bank through Fubon Bank (Hong Kong). With the acquisition, Fubon Financial became Taiwan’s first financial institution to gain a presence in China’s market and develop a complete financial platform in the Greater China region. Fubon Financial has stood as the benchmark in Asia for corporate governance and has been awarded for “Best Corporate Governance in Taiwan” among banks and financial institutions by Euromoney for six years in a row. Its subsidiaries’ outstanding performances have also continued to earn plaudits from the international financial media. Taipei Fubon Bank has been named by Euromoney, Asiamoney, and The Asset as Taiwan’s best bank, while Fubon Securities has been named “Best Domestic Equity House” by Asiamoney and “Best Equity House in Taiwan” by FinanceAsia three years running. Looking ahead, Fubon Financial’s subsidiaries will continue to strengthen their presence in Taiwan and pursue stable growth, while at the same time looking for suitable M&A opportunities in Greater China to develop a foothold in the regional market and move closer to the goal of becoming a first-class business group in Asia.

photo : Kenny Karst | DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.

52 Discovering America

Wining and Dining in Yosemite

58 AmCham Companies through the Years

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Chinese New Year: Time for Indulgence The whens, whys, hows, and wheres of Taiwan’s key “feastivities” TEXT AND PHOTOS BY MARK CALTONHILL

The annual pre-Chinese New Year buying frenzy on Taipei’s DiHua Street.


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New Year foods


f you think a week of over-indulgence between Christmas and New Year puts a strain on your waistline (and perhaps your wallet as well), take pity on Taiwan’s citizens for whom there are special snacks, traditional meals, and organized banquets for around two months between the Winter Solstice of December 21 and the Lantern Festival, which falls on the first full moon after Chinese New Year (February 17 in 2011). Things start fairly gently with a dumpling dish traditionally consumed on the “Winter’s Extreme” (冬至; the shortest day of the year), one of the 24 points on a solar calendar that runs in tandem with the “agricultural calendar” (農曆). On this day, chilly in Beijing if not always in Taipei, Han Chinese eat “soup circles” (tangyuan, 湯圓), small balls of glutinous rice flour, cooked and served in boiling water. Sometimes the tangyuan have sesame paste or other fillings. Three weeks later (January 11 this year) is the eighth day of the 12th lunar month – also known in Chinese as the La (臘; “end-of-year sacrifice”) month – when people eat “La 8th congee” (臘 八粥). Originally a Buddhist dish given by monastics to devotees to wish them a year’s spiritual protection, it is a watery

rice porridge flavored with dried fruit and nuts. Although the next event, the Weiya (尾牙; literally “tail tooth”), has part of its origins in traditional Han Chinese religion and another part in the pre-holiday “putting away of the seals” as government offices closed in the imperial Chinese capital, it is now unique to Taiwan. The original religious aspect is generally forgotten now, but that connection is clear from the name, as it is the “tail” (that is, last) of the year’s 24 twicemonthly ya-offerings (牙祭) made to the Lord of the Land (土地公) – most conspicuously by businessmen and shopkeepers outside their premises. The sacrifice is held on the 16th day of the 12th month (January 19, 2011), but the Weiya party, usually a multi-course dinner paid for by the boss of a company or head of a government department, may take place at any time on or around this date. Held to thank staff for their hard work over the previous year, there is often a lucky draw into which all attendees’ names are entered and to which a company’s clients, suppliers, and senior managers are asked to donate prizes. New Year bonuses will also be announced around this time, which

are normally figured in multiples of employees’ monthly salaries and may be given out in auspicious red envelopes. Underperforming workers would attend the banquet in fear, however, and anticipation mounted until the chicken course is served. Traditionally, if the head of the chicken pointed toward an employee, the boss is indicating his or her imminent dismissal; if no one was to be fired, the waiter was told to point the chicken toward the boss. Nowadays, arrival of this dish usually serves merely as an opportunity for teasing and revelry. The boss will usually initiate rounds of toasting; anyone wishing not to “drain [one’s] glass” according to the invitation to “gan-bei” (乾杯), may reply “sui-yi” (隨意; “as [one] wishes”) and just take a sip. Although primarily a secular event, New Year is also said to be the time at which deities dwelling among the living on earth journey to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝) about the year’s events. People are especially concerned about what the Kitchen God (竈 神 or 灶君) might say, since living in the heart of the home, he is privy to many of its secrets. On the evening of the 23rd

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New Year foods more likely to contain a wide range of meat, seafood, dumplings and vegetables as a result of Taiwan’s increased prosperity and the influence of cuisines from all over China. The circle of diners represents family unity, and an extra place is set to allow the spirits of deceased ancestors to join the celebrations. Dumplings, known for the rest of the year as jiao-zi (餃子), are nicknamed “money ingots” (元寶) for the duration of the New Year festivities. Other auspicious name changes include “fly a thousand miles” (飛越千里) for chicken wings and “peacefully walk the azure clouds” (平 步青雲), symbolic of a rapid rise in rank, for pork trotters.

Good fortune with puns

Pigs’ trotters, a New Year favorite, at a market in Hukou, Hsinchu County.

(January 26, 2011), the day before the gods are due to depart, people smear his mouth with honey, or since most Kitchen God altars have a plaque but no statue, make offerings to him of sesame, peanut, or other sticky “maltose candies” (麥芽 糖), so that when he arrives in heaven his lips are stuck together and he is unable to speak. Naturally, like all offerings to deities, the household’s human inhabitants may eat any “leftovers” the god does not finish. The Lunar New Year holiday is primarily a family-oriented event, and as soon as a company or department closes, usually on the last day before the New


Year itself (除夕; “Riddance Sunset”; February 2, 2011), its workers rush home. Home, in this sense, is often that of parents or grandparents, and so Taiwan witnesses an exodus from the cities to smaller towns and rural communities. The meal at this gathering of dispersed kin is known as “encircling the stove” (圍爐). With family members often arriving at varying times throughout the winter evening, a hotpot (火鍋) is convenient and warming. Cooked over a low flame, portions of food can be added as more diners join the meal. Originally a northern Chinese dish based on meat, bones, and root vegetables, it is now

Linguistic symbolism is widespread at many Taiwanese religious and secular occasions, and Lunar New Year – the most important of the “three major festivals” – is no exception. A fish will be cooked and eaten at some meal during the first few days to express the wish “[May you] have a surplus year after year” (年年有餘), since “surplus” (餘; yu) is homophonous with the word “fish” (魚). This also explains why much crockery is decorated with fish designs. Other oral, visual, and symbolic wordplays include eating oranges (橘; ju) because it sounds like “to offer good wishes” (祝; zhu), or small mandarin oranges (桔) because the character contains the word “good fortune” (吉); glutinous rice flour pastries (年糕; nian-gao) because they bring to mind the auspicious phrase “year after year promotion” (年 年高升; nian-nian gao sheng); bamboo shoots because they also grow tall and fast; eggs because their round shape symbolizes family reunion; kumquats (金柑) because their name includes the word “gold” (金); and edible seaweed called fa-cai (髮菜; “hair vegetable”) because it sounds “making money” (發財, also fa-cai but with different tones). During the customary New Year visit to a local temple, offerings include a p p l e s (蘋; p i n g ) w h i c h p u n w i t h “peace” (平; ping), and pineapples (鳳 梨; feng-li), which sound nothing like

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New Year foods

Preparing tangyuan dumplings to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner, along with offerings to the Kitchen God.

“prosperity has come” (旺來; wang-lai), except in Hoklo Taiwanese, when both are pronounced ong-lai. Many Taiwanese eschew meat for the first two meals of New Year’s Day (February 3, 2011), and since cooking is taboo all day, the leftovers from the previous evening are often picked at. Another superstition maintains that anyone drinking vegetable broth will encounter heavy rains on their travels throughout the year. After spending New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day at the husband’s home, the whole family decamps to the wife’s parents’ home on the second day of the lunar year (初二). This is occasion for more eating; in particular, pastries flavored with jujube dates (棗子; zao-zi) are eaten because this sounds like “quickly [give birth to] sons” (早子), and trays of lotus seeds symbolizing “many children” are served. After the family reunion is finished and workers return to the office, the boss often welcomes them back with an invitation to “drink spring wine” (喝春酒), though this meal tends to be less sumptuous than the Weiya, does not include red envelopes of cash or a lucky draw, and usually will not even include the eponymous “wine.” The final fling of the winter and New Year festivities is Lantern Festival (元 宵節) on the first full moon of the new

lunar year. The Winter Solstice dish of rice-flour doughballs, previously called “soup circles,” now reappears under the name yuan-xiao (元宵). A word of warning comes from Taiwan’s Department of Health, which annually issues reminders that many of these seasonal foods are high-fat, high-carbohydrate, or simply have poor nutritional quality. Gifts of food items are gratefully received – or expected – when visiting during the holiday season. Supermarkets and departments stores selling specially packaged gift boxes or giving customized free glasses with bottles of wine and whisky are making inroads into the huge market for goods at this time of year. But most people, even if they normally buy their groceries at supermarkets, like to go to a traditional market in the days or weeks before New Year. And in Taipei, this means a trip to DiHua Street (迪化 街) in the Dadaocheng (大稻埕) district north of the city’s main railway station. One of the oldest areas of the city, this district dates from a mid-19th-century migration of people from the even older district of Wanhua (萬華), previously called Mangka (艋舺), to the south. This was perhaps the result of fighting between rival Fujianese immigrants, or was perhaps due to the silting up of the Danshui River. Whatever the reason, Dadaocheng’s wharf became a key northern Taiwan center of import/

export, and the local streets boasted many of the island’s finest houses and company buildings. A few of these buildings still stand, and the streets, particularly DiHua, still sell tea, medicines, and imported foodstuffs. For two weeks before New Year (January 15 to February 1, 2011), the usually tranquil atmosphere explodes into a buying frenzy with the annual fair of “southern-and-northern goods” (南北 貨), that is, of commodities representing the best from all over the country. These include the same dried fruit, nuts, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, and herbs on sale throughout the year, as well as flavored pumpkin seeds, which everyone will soon be nibbling while chatting with relatives back in rural hometowns. There are also great quantities of higher-value processed goods such as cookies, cakes, pastries, and piles and piles of candies, as well as heaps of cooked and preserved meats such as pork trotters and dried squid, and acres of fish – for that must-eat dish – such as eel and mullet roe. Free samples of just about everything are offered by eager young sales staff, so going there on an empty stomach is a good idea for those simply curious about traditional local dishes – if you ever have an empty stomach during these two months of almost continual over-indulgence, that is.

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Experience the Lunar New Year’s Ambience in Macau


hat better time to take a vacation abroad than to celebrate the upcoming 2011 Lunar New Year! Only a 90-minute flight from Taiwan, Macau is the ideal destination for that family reunion over the Chinese New Year. With its mixture of Portuguese and Chinese backgrounds, Macau is a place to experience European culture while also attending traditional Chinese events such as dragon and lion dances. It also offers unique and delectable Macanese cuisine, a wide choice of luxury hotels, and numerous children-friendly museums and facilities. Want to celebrate Chinese New Year and create some indelible memories? Macau is definitely the travel destination for you and your family.

at official public zones in Macau and Taipa. But first consult the fates on New Year's Eve (February 2) at A-Ma Temple, where pinwheels from stalls outside the temple are said to bring good fortune. Or enjoy the fireworks display on the Macau Tower waterfront on the same evening.

Enjoy the Jubilant Festival During the Chinese Lunar New Year, you can enjoy the crackle, pop and flash of firecrackers and fireworks


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and other unique dishes such as Crab Congee (水蟹粥) and Fried Fish Balls (米通綾魚球), are all beloved foods for gourmets. For dessert, custard tarts (葡式蛋撻) and pork chop buns (豬扒包) are definitely the best choice – especially for children!

Feel the difference with exciting, luxurious facilities

On February 3 and 4, a parade of dragon and lion dances will wend its way through the Ruins of St. Paul's, Senado Square, A-Ma Temple, Macau Fisherman's Wharf, Rua da Cunha and Av. da Praia in Taipa. Join the parade of the 238-meter-long golden dragon and 18 lions on February 3. And watch out for the 12 Chinese Zodiac mascots and the Gods of Fortune, Happiness, Prosperity and Longevity, dispensing lucky Lai Si (red packets) to passers-by. Visitors are also fond of various local Lunar New Year delicacies such as dumplings, puddings, steamed turnip cake and other festive foods, while Portuguese restaurants near A-Ma Temple offer Macanese favorites like Tacho, a dish cooked Portuguese-style with pig's skin, chicken, Portuguese dried meat and Chinese ham, in a succulent mixture of East and West.

Taste the Difference with Diverse Cuisines On Chinese New Year’s Eve, it’s time for families to gather for dinner and dessert. Macau has various kinds of cuisines, including Macanese, Cantonese, and other Chinese foods. According to the latest “Hong Kong Macau Michelin Guide 2011”, nine restaurants, including Robuchon a Galera, The Eight (8餐廳), Tim’s Kitchen (桃花源小廚), Zi Yat Heen (紫逸軒), Aurora (奧羅拉), II Teatro (帝雅廷), Jade Garden (蘇浙匯), Lei Garden (利苑), and Wing Li (永利軒) have been honored with Michelin stars. All of them provide top-quality food and service. For your family reunion, why not indulge in a Michelin-starred feast? Other distinctive foods are also highly recommended. Typical Macanese foods, including Bacalhau (馬介休球), Baked Duck Rice (焗鴨飯), African Chicken (非洲雞)

Since more and more luxury hotels have opened in Macau, you shouldn’t miss the chance to take advantage of these high-quality facilities. MGM Macau, Wynn Macau, Mandarin Oriental Macau, and the City of Dreams encompassing the Grand Hyatt, Hard Rock, and Crown Towers are all five-star hotels that provide wonderful views and top-quality facilities. At Wynn Macau, visitors can savor the amazing “Fortune Tree” show in the entertainment hall. Many visitors, especially during the Chinese New Year season, love to throw coins into the Fortune Tree, hoping to bring good fortune and wealth for a whole new year. At the City of Dreams, an exciting new feature is the leisure and entertainment destination “Kids City” (童夢天 地), offering a wide variety of activities to give every child to explore an opportunity to discover their own path of enjoyment and creativity under professional supervision. While the children are enjoying “Kids City,” the parents can explore the other facilities in City of Dreams without worry. The Macau Science Center is another good attraction for kids and family. It includes 12 exhibition centers with different themes, giving children the change to expand their knowledge and understanding of science. Both the City of Dreams and Macau Science Center are superb choices for you and family to visit. Grab the opportunity of the six consecutive days off for the 2011 Lunar New Year by celebrating with incredible memories. Macau, only a 90-minute flight away, without visa or language barrier, is the best destination to indulge yourself and your family. For more details, please visit the MGTO website at: www.

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The Great Taiwan Treasure Hunt Armed with a savvy local guide and a carefully-planned itinerary, American journalists and food luminaries seek out Taiwan’s culinary jewels, from street food revelations to lavish creations by Asia’s most innovative chefs and mixologists. text and photos BY ELYSE GLICKMAN

At the Shi-Yang Culture restaurant, presentation is as impressive as the taste.


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Ta i w a n T r i p


ack in August, I had the good fortune to spend 10 days in Taiwan at the invitation of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, together with a number of top-flight U.S. food writers and an internationally renowned New York restaurateur. The visit was timed to enable us to attend the 2010 Taiwan Culinary Exhibition, an event that offered pomp, circumstance, and plenty of showbiz glitz – down to an impeccably choreographed chef parade, a keynote speech from an American professor, and aisles of elaborate displays of foods from top hotels and restaurants. H o w e v e r, w h a t m a d e t h e t r i p a resounding success for us was not the Exhibition – not even its Hollywoodmovie-set version of a Taiwan night market – but rather the superb meals and savory snacks we were able to enjoy, day after day, both in Taipei and during our time being escorted around the island by our witty, savvy, and outspoken tour guide, Helen Wong. If any country can be described as a culinary melting pot, it is Taiwan. With their vast assortment of fancy establishments, casual eateries, and night market stalls, its major cities are a moving feast that bring together the best of China’s different regional cuisines, as well as interesting spins on Western and Pan-Asian fare. Uniquely Taiwanese dishes are executed in just as loving a fashion in small

villages and towns dotting the country. Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago have some excellent Chinese restaurants, but they don’t come close to equaling the variety and originality displayed in the bustling food scene in Taiwan, where innovation in preparation, presentation, and dining ambiance are fundamental to the exercise, rather than an afterthought. Our experience in Taiwan came as a revelation even to those among us who cover culinary hotspots for a living. But without the assistance of long-time residents such as this publication’s Don Shapiro (who squired me to my first and last meals in town) or seasoned guides like Helen Wong, finding these gems could be a challenge even for dedicated foodies who scour the food sections of tomes like Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or Fodor’s. To make Taiwan’s gastronomic adventures more accessible to foreign tourists, the Tourism Bureau might wish to consider devoting some resources to the preparation of extensive foreign-language dining guides. Restaurants at all price levels should also offer English versions of the menus and work more closely with hotel concierge desks. Given Taiwan’s hearty business traffic and the potential for the country to develop into a stellar travel destination, that investment would surely pay off immensely. Prior to meeting up with Helen and during free time allocated on the itin-

erary, I personally took culinary matters into my own hands, as did veteran food journalist David Rosengarten and restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld. After a dinner at the cult-favorite dumpling joint Din Tai Fong, the three of us headed to the Raohe Street Night Market in pursuit of the perfect black pepper bun. Later in the week, Ed and I joined Frommer’s editor Jamie Ehrlich and Inside Food & Beverage publisher Francine Cohen to sip some of Taipei’s most inspired cocktails at Marquee and Indulge. The only way to do justice to Taiwan’s culinary bounty is to keep an open mind that allows for plenty of spontaneity, even when facing an agenda full of “must-do” restaurants such as the Silks Palace at the National Palace Museum. Though Silks’ “Imperial Treasures” rendering of the family-style Cantonese banquet is appropriately luxurious, the twist of reproducing in food form some of the Museum’s best-known items, such as the carved jadeite cabbage with insects, is unforgettable. Helen pointed out specific local touches in that meal, noting for example that the pork belly dish (dongporou, 東坡肉) is less sweet than the original version. On the second day, the group joined up with Lulu Han, a noted food-focused tour guide to visit some Taipei neighborhoods that blend traditional Chinese food culture with hip, edgy spots

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The fellow travelers, right, and some of the dishes they enjoyed.

that would fit right into New York City’s SoHo. From our starting point at Longshan Temple, Lulu walked us through the Sanshui Street wet market packed with picky shoppers selecting their produce and seafood, and then into the Wanhua District, where we had a pre-lunch snack on everything from exotic boba and jelly teas to bowls of pork rice, fresh guava, and a particularly wonderful spicy eggplant dish. Though we were quite full by the time we sat down for lunch at a humble lunch-spot selected by Lulu, we had no choice but to sample shark fins, duck blood cubes, spicy pasta dishes, and other delicacies. Lulu, however, was not finished with us yet. After another quick culture break


down the arty-hip Bopiliao Old Street (剝 皮寮老街), we managed to find room for the stupendous desserts at Yong Kang 15, consisting of velvety shaved (snowflake) ice piled high with mango and other local fruits. From there, we spent the rest of the day focused on tea – first at the venerable Wisteria Teahouse, where we enjoyed fine oolong along with live music, and then the Hui Liu Teahouse. Hui Liu’s owner delivered a tea connoisseurs’ experience, with Dong Ding Oolong and rare Red Mark Puerh prepared with Wulai mountain spring water. Though our guides were committed to helping Rosengarten with a television taping that paired an upscale dinner with a must-do night market, Helen – the perennial mother hen – wanted to be absolutely sure that all members of her brood got to be in on the fun. After a deliciously garlic-heavy Hong Kong-style dinner at the Fu-Ann Seafood Restaurant (whimsical children’s drawings serve as the menu) and delicate Asian-accented European pastries at nearby Boite-deBijoux, we were off to the Shida Night Market for exposure to J-Pop music and trendy clothing. After David peeled off to finish taping his segment, we simply feasted our eyes on the street foods and displays of goods catering to students from the nearby universities. The next day, Japan’s culinary influences, hitting all five senses, were fully

demonstrated during lunch at the elegant Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant in the hills of Xizhi. Against a spare, romantic backdrop, we enjoyed painstakingly rendered small-plate dishes, artisanal teas, and locally grown fruits gorgeous enough for display in the National Palace Museum’s galleries. That evening, Helen, who intuited by now that her charges liked the element of surprise, threw out the original plans for a fancy modern dinner in favor of another spontaneous trek through Taipei’s “real food scene.” She squired us to a dumpling cart said to be the favorite of Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou. Though the dumplings run to about five for a U.S. dollar, the surgeon-like precision of the crew manning the cart suggests that the dumplings are culinary gold. They are indeed, with a melt-in-your-mouth exterior giving way to subtly spiced meat on the inside, perfectly soaking up the soy sauce, chili, and other condiments. Following that appetizer course, the diners progressed to the Chu-Ji SenBing Cho Restaurant in the DaAn District. What makes this family restaurant appealing is its hearty, rough-hewn slant on savory finger foods served with rice congee. Next on the agenda was one of the restaurants in the Peng Yuan chain, a long-standing institution whose founder, Chef Peng Chang-kuei, played a major

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Silks Palace pork belly, left; Amis food, center; and a YongKang15 dessert, below.

role in America’s adoption of highend Hunan fare in the 1970s.Though we were full by the time we got to The Peng’s Gourmet & Banquet, the General Tso’s Chicken (credited to Chef Peng, who created the dish in the fifties and brought it to New York in the seventies) fulfilled its promise. The tone of our journey shifted from an urban food adventure to a full-scale food safari once we hit the road to other corners of Taiwan. On arrival in Hualien, Helen had us nibbling along the street opposite the train station, from luscious sweets at Tzen-Ji Mochi Shop (adorned with life-size cutouts of its cultural icon chef) to savory bites at the Hualien Traditional Railroad Bento Store. Two hours later, once inside Taroko National Park, we stopped for our second lunch of the day at Leader Village, whose restaurant features a multi-course meal dominated by indigenous tribal fare, artwork, and produce that bear a striking resemblance to Pacific Northwest tribal culture in the United States and Canada. Everything came with a side of zhu tong fan (竹筒飯), sticky rice steamed in a bamboo tube. Helen was eager to take us back to Hualien for more street food, but the group voted instead to enjoy the serene trappings of the Silks Place Taroko (the area’s only five-star resort). Our decidedly late, light multi-course dinner at its

Mei Yuan Restaurant, prepared by Indiaborn chef Ashish Deva, was emblematic of how modern Taiwan cuisine continues to be shaped by Asian and global influences outside of China. Though Deva’s dishes were recognizably Chinese, there was a defined intermingling among regional influences, as well as a much lighter and delicate use of sauce and spice. Following the visit to the mountains was a trip to the beach in Kending, Taiwan’s southernmost point. Our representative meal was at Lu Nan Seafood, where we had the opportunity to pick our lunch from the tanks and find out what a US$100 grouper dish tastes like. It was sweet, delicate, and a garlic lover’s dream without being overpowering. The biggest surprise at Lu Nan, however, was that their version of Mongolian Beef was perfect. Next came a side-trip into Taiwan’s wetlands, dropping into various indoor roadside farmers’ emporiums as well as patronizing a roadside café/craft shop known for its dragonfruit smoothie (the hot pink color belying the beverage’s extremely soft flavor). From there, we experienced another indigenous meal of Amis cuisine, served family style at Hung Wa Wu (Cifadahan) Restaurant in Guangfu Township. Though the restaurant’s most memorable aspect was watching the chef/owner transform a log into a giant owl with a chainsaw, some

of the dishes were sheer genius, including an addictive purple sticky rice and crispy pork that Cohen described as “the lovechild of bacon and New York steak.” In the southern port city of Kaohsiung, we were back on the street food trail, and picked out our dinner from the stalls at Liuhe Night Market. Hao Da Ji Pa (flattened fried chicken that would put Col. Sanders out of business), orh lua (huge oyster omelets soaked in savory gravy), fried local mushrooms, and papaya milkshakes (another purported favorite of the current Taiwanese president) were joyfully consumed in generous quantities. In Tainan, shrimp and oysters were presented to us as the pearls of the local street food scene. We saw them again in a more upscale context at Chou's Shrimp Roll, which specializes in beautifully arranged versions of these tasty deep-fried morsels, along with excellent soups, simple fresh vegetable side dishes, and dried plums. The group’s food odyssey came to a close with dinners at two trendy Taipei restaurants – Chili House (upscale Szechuan food) and the Yuan Pot Restau-

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Ta i w a n T r i p

rant. While we saw a slightly lighter touch on spices and sauce, presentation played a strong co-starring role, though thankfully not at the expense of the flavor. The press trip’s “after party” included myself, TOPICS editor-in-chief Don Shapiro, Ed Schoenfeld, and noted author A n n e M e n d e l s o n . We b r o k e b r e a d together (or noodles, in this case) at the

Taipei City AoBa 青菜台灣料理 39 FuXing South Road, Section 1, Taipei 105 台北市松山區復興南路1段39號 Tel: 886-2-8772-1109 Chili House 四川吳抄手 250-3 ZhongXiao East Road, Section 4, Taipei 106 台北市大安區忠孝東路4段250之3 號

Tel: 886-2-2772-1707 Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 One of Multiple Locations: 218 ZhongXiao East Road, Section. 4, Taipei 106 台北市大安區忠孝東路4段218號 Tel: 886-2-2721-7890 Fu-Ann Seafood Restaurant 府岸海產城

No.7, Lane 8, YongKang Street, Taipei 106 台北市大安區忠孝東路4段218號 Tel: 886-2-2393-5901 Pearl Liang Chinese Seafood Restaurant (in Grand Hyatt Taipei) 2F, 2 SongShou Road, Taipei 11051 台北市信義區松壽路2號2F Tel: 886-2-2720-1200/886-22720 1234

stylish and excellent AoBa, where dessert was a lovely, eggy dessert reminiscent of Mexican flan, and then said goodbye to Taiwan the next afternoon with a dimsum and then-some feast at Pearl Liang. The dinner-table conversation touched on what Taiwan can do to attract more gourmets (and gourmands) from around the world to visit the island as tourists.

– Elyse Glickman is a Californiabased freelance writer on food and travel subjects, and Editor-in-Chief of Liquid Living magazine about the cocktail scene.

Tel: 886-2-2551-9157

Tel: 886-2-2363-7375

Silks Palace at the National Palace Museum 故宮晶華 221 ZhiShan Road, Section 2, Shilin, Taipei 台北市士林區至善路2段221號 Tel: 886-2-2882-9393 english/index.htm

Yong Kang 15 永康15 15 Yongkang Street, Taipei 106 台北市大安區永康街15號 Tel: 886-2-2321-336

Yuan Pot Restaurant 元鍋涮涮鍋 No. 6, Lane 178, ZhuangJing Road, Taipei 110 110台北市信義區莊敬路178巷6號 Tel: 886-2-2723-2111

Tea and Desserts Boite de Bijou 寶貝盒法式店心坊 No. 19-1, Lane 33, LiShui Street, Taipei 106 台北市大安區麗水街33巷19號之1 Tel: 886-2- 3322-2461 Chu-Ji Sen-Bing Cho Restaurant 朱記餡餅粥

106 RenAi Road, Section 3, Taipei 106 台北市大安區仁愛路3段106號 Tel: 886-2-2702-7411 Hui Liu Teahouse 回留素食茶藝館 No. 9, Lane 31, YongKang Street, Taipei 106 台北市大安區永康街31巷9號 Tel: 886-2-2392-6707

Peng’s Gourmet & Banquet

Wistaria Teahouse



2/3F, 380 Linsen North Road, Taipei 100 台北市中山區林森北路380號2樓

No. 1, Lane 16, XinSheng South Road, Sec. 3, Taipei 106 台北市大安區新生南路3段16巷1號


But in fact the answer to that question was right in front of me – on my plate and all around the surrounding streets.

Cocktails Marquee Restaurant and Lounge 16-1 XinYi Road, Section 5, Taipei 110 台北市信義區信義路5段16號之1 Tel: 886-2-2729-5409 Indulge Experimental Bistro and Lounge 實驗創新餐酒館 No. 11, Lane 219, Fuxing S. Road, Section 1, D a ’ a n D i s t r i c t , Ta i p e i C i t y, Taiwan 台北市大安區復興南路1段219巷11 號

Tel: 886-2-2773-0080

Outside Taipei

Hualien Traditional Railroad Bento Store 花蓮鐵路懷舊便當 No.57, Guolian 1st Rd, Hualien City, Hualien County 花蓮縣花蓮市國聯一路57號 Tel: 886-3-833-3538 The Mei Yuan Restaurant in Silk Place Taroko 太魯閣晶英酒店梅園中餐廳

No.18 Tian Hsyang Road Hsiulin.Village, Hualien, Taiwan 花蓮縣秀林鄉天祥路18號 Tel: 886-3-869-1155 en.html Leader Village Taroko 立得布洛灣山月村

No.231-1 Fushih Villa Sioulin Township Hualien 972, Taiwan 花蓮縣秀林鄉富世村231-1號 Tel: 886-3-861-0111 leadervillage/e-homepage.html

Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant

Hung Wa Wu (Cifadahan Restaurant)/Amis Cuisine



No. 7, Ln.350, Sec.3, XiWan Rd XiZhi City, Taipei County 台北縣汐止市汐萬路3段350巷7號 Tel: 886-2-2646-2266, menu.html

No. 16, Lane 62, Daquan St., Daquan Village, Guangfu Township (Mataian), Hualien 花蓮縣光復鄉976大全村大全街62 巷16號 Tel: 886-3-870-4601

Tzen-Ji Mochi Shop 曾記麻糬 No.35, Guoxing 1st St., Hualien City, Hualien County 970, Taiwan 花蓮市國興一街35號 Tel: 886-3-8335663

Chou's Shrimp Roll 周氏蝦卷 No.408-1 Anping Road Anping District, Tainan, Taiwan 台南市安平區安平路408-1號 Tel: 886-6-2801304

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Any Wednesday A group of trenchermen – they wouldn’t think to call themselves gourmets or patronize fancy, upscale restaurants – has been eating out weekly for more than 35 years. BY DON SHAPIRO

photo : chris stowers

photo : shin Yeh

photo : chris stowers

photo : shao shao ke

A longstanding eating-out group compiles a list of favorite restaurants.

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W e d n e s d ay n i g h t g r o u p The participants have aged, and the composition of the group has changed, but the eating in Taipei remains as good as ever.


ne Wednesday night in 1974 (or was it 1975? – the exact date has been lost to history), a group of six resident foreigners in Taipei, including this writer, decided to get together for an evening out. They first assembled for drinks at the apartment of one member of the group, and by the time they ventured out in search of a restaurant, it was past closing time for most of Taipei’s eating establishments. After finding the chairs already being piled atop the tables at the first few places they tried, they headed for Qing Yeh (“Green Leaf,” 青葉)) on an alley off of ZhongShan North Road – a restaurant that stays open late to cater to the midnightsnack (宵夜) trade. At the end of an evening of tasty food, plenty of cold Taiwan beer, and animated conversation, the friends decided they had had such a good time that they should meet again the following week – but doing a better job of time management. At the end of the second week’s meal, they made plans for the week after…and before they realized it, the Wednesday night-out had become a firmly planted tradition. That routine has continued through the years without interruption (except possibly for Wednesdays falling during the Chinese New Year vacation) – which means that over the past 35 or more years the group has met on at least 1,750 occasions. It has gone to hundreds of different restaurants, often trying newly recommended places but even more frequently returning a few times a year to old favorites (some of which are introduced in this report).


photo : photo : chris stowers

Along the way, the group picked up a name, calling itself WNOF (which, if you must know, stands for Wednesday Night Old Farts). It also adopted a few simple rules. One convention, embraced long before the days of political correctness, was that attendance would be limited to the male of the species – probably to free the diners from constraints that wives or girlfriends might place on the quantities of food or drink being consumed. Another rule barred digging into dishes with one’s chopsticks until the rice had been served. It was agreed, however, that this rule would be waived for appetizers – which of course led to countless, heated debates on whether a particular dish should be defined as an appetizer. Of the members of the group from the early years, a few have died and a number have moved away – enough of them to Shanghai to support a “branch” there that meets monthly. Earl Wieman, a charter WNOF member, also notes that a few one-time participants have gone on to bigger and better things, including movie director and cinematographer Christopher Doyle and animator Tom Sito. But most of the original members remain active, reinforced by new blood – both expats and locals – recruited

photo : alberto buzzola

over the years. Each week an email announcing the next location goes out to about 50 names, and typically somewhere between six and 12 people will show up. What has changed over the years (besides the hair color and waistlines of the members)? Definitely the prices, for one. For years, and this was back when the exchange rate to the US dollar was 40:1, it was rare for the tab to come to more than NT$200 apiece, including plenty of Taiwan Beer. At one favorite Szechuan eatery, it was as low as NT$65$80 each. Nowadays, even though the group eschews the more luxurious dining establishments, one’s share of the total is likely to be somewhere between NT$450 and $700. (The restaurants of choice have gotten used to seeing the group divvying up the bill at the end of the meal and struggling to make change, rather than following the proper Taiwanese practice of engaging in a wrestling match to determine who picks up the tab). Another change over the years is the disappearance of most of the small restaurants that specialized in some of the lesser-known cuisines of China, such as Tianjin, Hubei, Fuzhou, and Shanxi

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W e d n e s d ay n i g h t g r o u p cooking. Many of these places were introduced to the group by the late Lawrence Chang, the Time-Life photographer in Taiwan, who seemed to know every restaurant in town and their owners. And the regional distinctions were sharper at that time. These days many restaurants don’t mind putting a popular dish from another region on their menu if they think that customers will order it. What hasn’t changed in the least is that Taipei remains a great city for eating out. On a recent Wednesday, the Old Farts put down their chopsticks long enough to come up with the following list, presented alphabetically, of current favorites.


tender baby peas; “Baked Bean Curd” (鍋 塔豆腐); “Green Onion Pie” (蔥油餅); and Smoked Pomfret (燻鯧魚). Celestial was established in 1971 by retired army officer Chen Wan-chih, who hired some well-known chefs and had them train other cooks who were leaving military service. The original location was on ZhongShan North Road near NongAn Street, but the restaurant moved in 1977 into a newly built high-rise on NanJing West Road, its current premises, in order to be able to accommodate formal banquets for government officials and other customers. Wen, who has been with the restaurant since before its actual opening, notes that some of the popular dishes now common Taiwan’s northern-style restaurants were in fact invented at the Celestial. An example is “Celery with Must a r d ” ( 梨山芹菜 ) , w h i c h u s e s t h i c k Western-style celery stalks that were uncommon in Taiwan a few decades ago. The Celestial arranged for them to be specially grown on farms run by retired servicemen in the mountains near Lishan.


photo : dirk diestel

The group patronizes a number of Beijing-style restaurants, but keeps coming back to the Celestial, which has been a Taipei institution for decades. “The Celestial is the go-to place for excellently prepared Peking duck,” concludes WNOF-er Scott Weaver. On an average day the restaurant will cook some 60 ducks, according to Deputy General Manager Wen Tsun-hsiung, with double that number on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. While the WNOF crowd always orders the duck, it appreciates some of the other dishes just as much, including what the menu calls “Green Beans with Shredded Chicken” (鮮豆雞絲), actually succulently

cooking) have always made up for the relatively spare surroundings. Mah, a Chinese Moslem from Burma (his parents fled over the border from Yunnan Province during the civil war in the 1940s), came to Taiwan as a student in 1980 and stayed on. His parents had been in the restaurant business in Burma, and Mah decided to follow suit in the mid-1960s. The first two locations were not successful, but after the move to the current address in 1998, business started to take off. The kitchen is strictly halal – Mah does his own slaughtering of chickens using methods prescribed under Islamic law and imports halal beef and lamb from Australia – and many of the customers are visiting businessmen from the Middle East and other Moslem areas, together with their Taiwanese trading partners. The food is a mix of Yunnanese, Burmese (try the Burmese Cold Tea Salad), Middle Eastern (such as a Turkishstyle Musaka with beef), and mostly Indian (the legacy of the heavy reliance by the British on Indian administrators in governing colonial Burma). The WNOF group focuses mainly on the Indian dishes. “Quite apart from the excellent vegetarian and meat dishes, including samosas, salads, eggplant, tandoori chicken, and various curries,” says WNOF regular Jim Cumming, “one of the features I like about this ‘dry’ restaurant is that the owners have no objection to customers bringing in their own beer, which can be purchased readily and cheaply from nearby convenience stores.”

Out of India

photo : dirk diestel

This restaurant near the corner of NanJing East and FuXing North Roads is not much to look at – though perhaps that will soon change, as it will be closed for renovations during February – but the sensational food and the warm hospitality shown by proprietor Yacoob Mah and his wife Fatima (who does the

photo : out of india

WNOF member Alberto Buzzola is a vegetarian, so when he is in town rather than globe-trotting on a photo-

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W e d n e s d ay n i g h t g r o u p graphic assignment, the group makes sure to patronize a restaurant with plenty of good vegetable dishes (though rarely a strictly vegetarian establishment). Out of India falls in this category. The restaurant was opened seven years ago by New Delhi native Arya (“Andy”) Anand, who originally came to Taipei as a language student but then decided to try to bring authentic Indian food to the local scene. Buzzola thinks he has succeeded. “As a traveller who has been to India at least 11 times, I must say that Out of India is the closest thing in Taiwan to original Indian flavor and décor,” he says. Besides such dishes as butter chicken, mutton saag, the vegetarian palak paneer (spinach) and chana masala (chickpeas), and assorted naans, the group appreciates the ambience created by Bollywood movies on a large-screen TV screen and a clientele consisting largely of fresh-faced college students from nearby National Taiwan Normal University.


photo : patio

“Ah, the Patio – it’s the non-Chinese restaurant in Taipei I miss most,” emails Richard Vuylsteke, longtime AmCham Taipei president who was a WNOF stalwart until moving over to the Hong Kong chamber three years ago. “I was present at the soft opening for the press (when it was called Pataya), fell in gastronomical love with the place, went there at least once a month until I left Taiwan, and still go there every time I return to Taipei.” “Why? One reason is that the pleasure of dining there starts even before you open the door. Diners traverse a short garden walkway before entering the res-


photo : shanghai kitchen

photo : shanghai kitchen

taurant foyer and, in just a few meters past the sound of running water and the colorful greenery and flowers, there is a sense of being in a relaxing Thai environment. That continues inside because of the décor and the scent from lemongrass candles. “So, great ambience. That is matched with a superb menu that is reasonably priced, graciously served, and a genuine joy to the palate. True, if you are a purist on super hot-spicing, it helps to ask before ordering. A fish dish, spring rolls, and a green curry are absolutely required orders, but everything from appetizers to desserts are attractive to the eye and thoroughly engage the taste buds. Enough, already – I’m hungry!”

meeting our WNOF budget, plus nice atmosphere and service.” Among the dishes the group particularly enjoys at the Shanghai Kitchen are the lion’s head meatballs with cabbage (紅燒獅子頭), which appear on the menu as “Stewed Pork Balls in Brown Sauce”; the “Braised Pork” (烤方); stirfried shrimps (清炒蝦仁); and “Wine Preserved Chicken” (醉雞), often known as “drunken chicken.” The restaurant started out on a small scale in 1986 with just two tables. Apparently the WNOF-ers are not the only ones to appreciate it, because it now operates in two separate locations that have a total space of 300 ping (10,800 square feet).

Shanghai Kitchen

Shao Shao Ke

In explaining the Shanghai Kitchen’s appeal, travel industry executive Stephen Chang, a pillar of the Wednesday-night gatherings, cites the “authentic, quality Shanghai cuisine, reasonable prices

Xian in Shaanxi Province in northwestern China, probably best known these days as the home of the terra cotta warriors, was the ancient capital for 12 dynasties and terminus of the Silk Road.

photo : shao shao ke

photo : shao shao ke

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photo : tung hakka

After spending more than four years there attending to family business, Li Ying-ying returned to Taipei with the intention of introducing its unique cuisine to Taiwan, opening Shao Shao Ke in 1996 on a short alley near the intersection of RenAi and JinShan Roads. “Shao Shao Ke manages to blend very traditional dishes (pao mo comes immediately to mind) with a truly creative bent,” Dirk Bennett emails from California. “It seems that every few months it has added a few new, original dishes (that defy regional categorization) to the menu. Its ribs, whether traditional or not, are todie-for.” The pao mou (泡饃), called “Traditional Bread” on the English side of the menu, involves the diner in the preparation of the dish. A small loaf of doughy bread is first brought to the table for the customers to break up into small pieces – which later get added as ingredients in the lamb, beef, or pork soup. The lamb kebabs are a staple, but also let the waitress steer you to some of the

photo : shin yeh

photo : tung hakka

more unusual dishes, such as those with shredded potato or mountain vegetables. For dessert, there is a fried cruller with cheese, topped with powdered sugar. “Funky best describes the atmosphere here, since Shao Shao Ke is housed in an old house that dates back to early 20th century,” Bennett continues. “Adding to the funkiness is the graffiti scribbled on the walls by patrons.”

on using only fresh ingredients, the best they can get each day. Although Shin Yeh has an elaborate menu, the basic Taiwanese favorites are prominent, and this is what we always order (such as egg with dried turnip (正宗菜脯蛋), fried soft bean curd, stewed pork (欣葉滷肉), and fried oysters). To me the signature is the small cups of strong tea and mochi balls at the end of the meal.”

Shin Yeh

Tung Hakka

Shin Yeh has long been a family favorite for the Shapiros. After my daughters went to the States for college, whenever they flew home on vacation they would skip the last meal on the airplane so that we could proceed directly from the airport to Shin Yeh for dinner. WNOF veteran Gary Melyan adds: “Shin Yeh is one of my favorites simply because of consistency and quality. Perhaps I was influenced by a review I read somewhere in the murky past. The reviewer wrote that Shin Yeh prides itself

Hakka cuisine is often thought of as “poor-man’s” food – emphasizing innards and preserved vegetables, but preparing them skillfully to make the most of the natural flavors. The menu at Tung Hakka contains some of those traditional dishes, but also many others that are innovative, creating a fusion style that seems to incorporate elements from Japanese and Shanghai cooking styles. Some traditional dishes that the WNOF group enjoys include the stir-fried eggplant with basil (九層塔茄子), “Hakka

photo : shin yeh

photo : shin yeh

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W e d n e s d ay n i g h t g r o u p

Where to Find Them photo : elyse Glickman

Steamed Chicken with Rice Wine and Salt” (客家鹽焗雞), “Braised Cubical Pork Belly in Brown Sauce” (四方封肉), and “Hakka Steamed Lightly Fried Salty Pork Dipped with Garlic Sauce” (客家鹹豬肉). On the creative side are the sashimi-like “Bracken Fern Mixed with Konnyaku” (白玉過貓), “Stir-Fried Bamboo Shoots with Salted Duck Egg Yolk” (鹹蛋玉筍), “Braised Tofu with Garlic Sauce” (蒜香燒 豆腐), and “Braised Fish Tail with Pickled Mustard” (酸菜滑水). As another example of the restaurant’s refusal to be pigeon-holed, it also offers some Western-style desserts, such as vanilla or chocolate soufflés.

Xiao Wei Sichuan You don’t get much more traditional than the Xiao Wei, notes Dirk Bennett, “from the rickety elevator you take to its 3rd floor location to non-décor décor and raucous atmosphere, with tables packed together as tightly as possible.” As he notes, “what’s important here is the food.” When Xiao Wei was mentioned previously in the TOPICS Wine & Dine issue

in a 2009 survey of Sichuan (or Szechuan if you prefer) restaurants, writer Brian Asmus gushed that “Xiao Wei’s gong bao shrimp (宮保蝦仁) and stir-fried string beans (乾扁四季豆) – both are the best in town – had me floating back to the Taipei of 25 years ago.” The WNOF group is also big on Xiao Wei's spare ribs steamed in lotus leaves (粉蒸排骨). Wrote Asmus: “The staff is a friendly, boisterous bunch, and that sense of chaotic family dining is what adds to the charm.”

Zen Ho Uang The Zen Ho Uang – an idiosyncratic English rendering of what would usually be spelled Ren Ho Yuan – also received a previous write-up in this magazine, in a 2007 feature on “Dining Spots That Have Met the Test of Time.” See the full version online at tw/content/view/946/353/. The restaurant opened in 1956, and was in several previous locations before settling at the current address in 1985. This writer first ate there in the 1970s, when it was downtown in Ximending, in the company of the above-mentioned Lawrence Chang and Henry Luce III, son of the founder of Time, Life, and Fortune. Zen Ho Uang offers delicious and inventive Yunnanese fare. Rely on the advice of Yao An-chin, whose father was one of the original investors, for what to order, especially if she has recently brought back a supply of mushrooms from one of her trips to Yunnan.

Celestial Restaurant 天廚菜館 3F, 1 NanJing West Road, Taipei 台北市南京西路1號3F Tel: 2563-2171 Kunming 昆明園 No. 26, Lane 81, FuXing North Road, Taipei 台北市復興北路81巷26號 Tel: 2751-6776 Out of India No. 26, Lane 13, PuCheng Street, Taipei 台北市浦城街13巷26號 Tel: 2363-3054 Patio No. 12, Lane 247, DunHua South Road, Section 1, Taipei 台北市敦化南路一段247巷12號 Tel: 2731-5288 Shanghai Kitchen 上海鄉村 B1, 67 RenAi Road, Section 2, Taipei 台北市仁愛路二段67號, B1 Tel: 2322-3333 Shao Shao Ke 勺勺客 No. 11-15, Lane 41, RenAi Road, Section 2, Taipei 台北市仁愛二段41巷11-15號 Tel: 2351-7148 Shin Yeh 欣葉 34-1 ShuangCheng Street, Taipei 台北市雙城街34-1號 Tel: 2596-3255 Tung Hakka 桐花客家菜 7 MinSheng East Road, Section 3, Taipei 台北市民生東路三段7號 Tel: 2518-2766 Xiao Wei Sichuan 小魏川菜 3F, 13 GongYuan Road, Taipei 台北市公園路13號3F Tel: 2371-8427

photo : dirk diestel


Zen Ho Uang 人和園 16 JinZhou Street, Taipei 台北市錦州街16號 Tel: 2568-2587

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The Roots of Taiwanese Cuisine Delving into the history and uses of taro, sweet potatoes, and their like TEXT AND PHOTOS BY MARK CALTONHILL

At an outdoor market, pumpkins accompany sweet potatoes, lotus roots, and jicama yams.

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Left to right, candied sweet potatoes, sweet potato- and taro-flavored dough balls to go with shaved ice, and taro pastries.


e f o r e m o v i n g t o Ta i w a n , m y favorite piece of culinary trivia was the following: “There are many fruits we use as culinary ‘vegetables’ (such as tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants, and zucchinis), but there is only one vegetable commonly used as a ‘fruit.’ What is it?” The answer, in the part of the world where I grew up, is rhubarb. But in Ta i w a n , a t l e a s t t w o m o r e c o r r e c t responses can be offered: taro and sweet potatoes. At first glance, seeing them piled in shop boxes or lying on the ground at a local fresh-goods market and often still covered in mud, it is perhaps difficult to imagine them as anything but a root vegetable, used mostly by poor rural people as a source of carbohydrates. Return to the street market in the evening, however, and plenty of chic urban youngsters can be seen finishing off their evening meal with a portion of “candied sweet potato” (蕃薯糖) or small pastries and cakes filled with taro paste (芋頭酥). Shaved ice (挫 冰; chwa-bing), popular in the hotter months, may be topped with glutinousrice flour balls known as “taro circles” (芋圓; oy-ee in Taiwanese) and sweetpotato-flavored “paste circles” (粉圓; hwun-ee). Taro is also a popular flavor of both traditional popsicles (冰棒) and Western-style ice-cream (冰淇淋).


Unlike rhubarb, however, both roots are consumed not only as a sweet “fruit” but also as a savory “vegetable.” Even more interestingly (at least for those who like to think about history at mealtimes) is that both were among the first species domesticated by humans when mankind started to practice agriculture many millennia ago, albeit on different sides of the planet. In contrast to their earlier focus on the Fertile Crescent of the Near East, the “first city” of Ur, and prehistoric cereal farming, archaeobotanists now consider it more likely that Homo sapiens’ first attempts at crop production were in tropical regions that already had abundant food resources, rather than in more arid environments feeling the pressure of rising populations. In those tropical areas, those first farmers would have used the roots and tubers of perennial plants, rather than the seeds of annuals that require more sophisticated techniques and greater investment of time. In southern or central Americam, this led to domestication of Ipomoea batatas, the sweet potato, and in southeast Asia to cultivation of Colocasia esculenta, taro. Taiwan was probably one of several places where this phenomenon took place, with some of the earliest evidence coming from the Dapenkeng (大坌坑) site on the northwest side of Guanyin Moun-

tain in New Taipei City, which has given its name to a 4th-millennium-B.C. culture found widely throughout southern China. In The Archaeology of Ancient China, K.C. Chang describes this “horticultural revolution” as follows: The first gardening in this area was probably done by individual farmers who propagated perennials (such as taro and yam) in fenced gardens. The technique was at most a swidden cultivation [temporary cultivation and then abandonment] with periodic cuttings into the forests from the riverbanks and estuaries… In fact, the first uses of plants in this area may have been related to the gathering of fibers [for fishing nets and ropes]. Whatever its origin and uses, cultivation of taro spread throughout the ancient world wherever a suitable tropical climate existed – south and east through Oceania, and west to Africa. By Roman times, taro was as ubiquitous as the solanum potato is today. Only with the decline of the Roman Empire and the diminished importance of Egyptian trade – and consequently of access to African produce in general – did taro largely disappear from European kitchens. African nations such as Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon continue to be the world’s leading producers. That the character 芋 for taro is not among the botanical species mentioned in

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Roots China’s earliest writing, the 2nd-millennium-B.C. oracle bone script, nor in the Book of Odes dating from the first half of the 1st millennium B.C., suggests taro was unknown to the earliest Han Chinese, who were yet to migrate to what is now southern China. It certainly was known by the end of that millennium, however, as it is among artifacts excavated from the stomach, intestines, and burial pots and cases of the wife of Li Cang (利蒼 ), the 2ndcentury-B.C. Marquis of Dai, at the Mawangdui (馬王堆 ) site in Hunan, China. Taro was also mentioned on inscribed bamboo slips found with her well-preserved body, for example in a dish of “deer meat and taro stew.” Whereas in earlier times the leaves and young shoots were also eaten, as they still are in other countries today, in Taiwan only the taro’s comb (the swollen underground stem used as a storage organ) is used. All parts contain toxic calcium oxalates – which can lead to kidney stones, gout. and rheumatoid arthritis – and so require cooking or, better still, soaking overnight and then cooking. Occasionally, whole small taro are baked, then eaten by peeling off the skins, but more usual is to boil or steam lumps of the vegetable and add them to soups, hot pots, and stews. It can also be shredded and deep-fried in a tempura-like batter; shredded and steamed with rice flour to make a “cake” (芋糕); and more recently a chip form has become popular. It is commonly described as having a nutty flavor. A fast-food chain known in Chinese as “Fresh Taro Immortal” (鮮芋仙; www., but translated into English as “Meet Fresh,” sells a variety of desserts and drinks, some of which include the taro and sweet potato dough balls mentioned above. In Taiwanese slang, referring to someone as a “taro” (芋啊; o-a) means they or their parents came from outside Taiwan – that is, were part of the “Mainlander” influx following the Kuomintang’s defeat by the Communists in 1949. In contrast, a person of earlier Taiwanese stock is nicknamed a sweet potato (番薯; han-ji). Given that taro originated in tropical

Southeast Asia, whereas sweet potatoes come from South America, this identification is somewhat strange, but perhaps shows the diminished role the local vegetable had after import of the foreign species hundreds of years ago. Sweet potato’s foreignness is preserved in its name, the han part (fan 番 in Mandarin) means “barbarian,” while ji (shu 薯in Mandarin) is a generic word for yams or similar root-type vegetables. Other names for the same vegetable include hongshu (紅薯; “red yam”), ganshu (甘薯; “sweet yam”) and digua (地瓜; “earth gourd”).

Deep-fried sweet potato balls being made at a night market.

Archaeological evidence from South America points to a similar process of domestication to that of taro in Asia, though perhaps at an earlier date. Evidence from Pacific islands suggests it was grown there by at least the 1st century A.D. (supporting theories of PacificAmericas interaction in pre-Columbian times), and eventually reaching Taiwan and China, which today is responsible for about 80% of global production, about half being used for human consumption and half for livestock.

The simplicity of its cultivation – from cuttings, not seeds – has probably not changed much over the millennia. In From Far Formosa, Canadian missionary George L. MacKay describes the situation among Han Chinese in 19th-century Taiwan as follows: The bulb of the sweet potato is planted in March. In about six weeks the vines are cut into pieces eight inches long, which are planted in drills, and from these vine-cuttings the bulbs grow and are ripe about the end of June. A second crop is planted in a similar way in July and is ripe in November. The sweet potato is hardy and rarely requires fertilizer, suffers little insect damage and so can do without pesticides, and its leaves grow quickly and broadly, meaning that little hoeing is required. In former times it therefore allowed farmers to focus their efforts on other crops, and today is well suited to organic production. On winter days, baked sweet potatoes (烤地瓜) sold from clay ovens at the side of city streets are popular, perhaps because they are evocative of Taiwan’s former rural communities. Rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, beta carotene, vitamins C and B6, and potassium, and low in sodium and cholesterol, sweet potatoes are a nutritious vegetable whether boiled, steamed, grilled, or even fried. It can be a pleasant surprise to find soft orange lumps of it included in boiled rice in Hakka restaurants. Night-market standards include shredded sweet potato in tempura-style batter (番薯餅) and potato-style fries (薯 條). The leaves (地瓜葉), once disdained as animal fodder, are now a popular leafy green vegetable served boiled (湯青菜) or sautéd (炒青菜). The potatoes are also ground into a flour (地瓜粉) used mostly as a thickener. Sweet potato long ago surpassed taro as Taiwan’s main root crop, and today around 230,000 metric tons are produced annually, compared with just 43,000 tons of taro. Even solanum pototes, another New World import, exceed this latter figure, with a harvest of 51,000 tons in 2009. Western potatoes are known as “horsebell yam” (malingshu, 馬鈴薯) in Taiwan and “earth bean” (tudou, 土豆) in China,

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which is somewhat confusing as the term tudou is used for peanuts in Taiwan. Potato chips are “oceanic-taro slices” (yangyupian, 洋芋片), in which “ocean” stands for the “big west ocean” (大西洋), the Atlantic. Yet another import, the carrot (“red radish” 紅蘿蔔 or “northwest barbarian radish” 胡蘿蔔) finally overtook its local rival the “white radish” (白蘿蔔) with 110,000 tons to 102,000 tons in 2009 after years of steady growth in production. “Other roots” account for just 6,000 tons in total, according to these latest statistics from Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture. The carrot’s culinary hegemony represents just the latest of a long series of battles lost by local root vegetables over foreign invaders. It is not one to worry about, according to the authors of the “Modern China, South” chapter of Food in Chinese Culture: A whole range of root crops has declined to minor importance due to the spread of the New World potatoes and of the European carrot, Daucus carota, believed to have great medicinal value, perhaps due to its superior carotene content… Most of these root crops, indeed all of them known to us, deserved their fate: they were much less nutritious, less productive, and more coarse, fibrous, hard to prepare and hard to use than the supplanters. Only taro is spared the author’s disparagement. A couple of other overlooked species are still eaten in Taiwan, however, perhaps due to the influence of five decades of Japanese rule. The first is the foremen-


tioned “white radish,” also known in Taiwan as “vegetable-head” (菜頭, tsaitau in Taiwanese); or da-gen, the Mandarin pronunciation of the Japanese name daikon (大根; “big root”). It is large, fleshy, and rather bland compared with European radishes, and generally appears as white lumps in stews and soups. It is also steamed with rice flour to form a “cake” (蘿蔔糕), which is then fried; or can be sun-dried to make “radish jerky” (蘿蔔乾), which is added to Chinese omelets (菜脯蛋) and other dishes. “Good” radishes are placed on altars in Confucian and Wen-chang (文昌君) temples before examinations (and giant imitation radishes are presented to candidates during election campaigns), because a “good vegetable-head” (好菜頭) sounds like a “good omen” (好采頭; hau tsaitau) in Taiwanese. The second root under Japanese influence is edible burdock (牛蒡; Arctium lappa), a strange-looking vegetable measuring up to a meter long but just a couple of centimeters in diameter. It is used in Japanese tempura or shredded for use in “cake” form. Burdock is also used in Chinese medicine as a diuretic and blood-purifying substance. Two other immigrant roots available at local markets include beet (甜菜 根“sweet vegetable-root”; Beta vulgaris) and the jicama yam (豆薯 “bean yam”; Pachyrhizus erosus), native to Central America. Finally, there are a few more roots and other underground plant parts with medicinal or flavoring uses. Lotus root

(蓮藕; actually the rhizome of Nelumbo nucifera), is eaten boiled, fried, or braised, particularly in vegetarian restaurants because of its Buddhist connection. This connection also perhaps explains its use in traditional medicine, though modern scientific analysis attributes to it a good balance of vitamins and minerals. Yams (Dioscorea species), which elsewhere in the world are a staple source of carbohydrate, in China are considered more of a medicinal plant, as is clear from their name of “mountain medicine” (山藥). Nevertheless, yams are available in the vegetable section of markets. This is not true for ginseng (人參; Panax ginseng), which is sold at high prices in traditional herb shops, as well as as an aphrodisiac at even higher prices in dodgy shops in shady neighborhoods. Ginseng is said to be an “adaptogen,” that is a substance that increases resistence to stress, and is claimed to have anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties. Anticarcinogenic claims are also made for the unrelated ginger (薑; Zingiber officinale), of which 31,000 metric tons were produced in Taiwan in 2009. Chinese traditional medicine also recommends its use for everything from inflammation, motion sickness, and both constipation and diarrhea, to nausea during pregnancy, diabetes, and the common cold. Most people use it as a seasoning, however, particularly with savory dishes containing fish or meat. But since it also lends itself to flavoring sweet foods, it might be added to our list of vegetables used as “fruit.”

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East Meets West Over Breakfast When confronted early in the morning with green tea butter on toast, diners may wonder whether this is an example of fusion or collision. BY DIANA TSAI phot os Š dirk dies t el

At this neighborhood eatery, breakfast is just a few minutes away.

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B r e a k fa s t


t’s your first time in Taiwan, and you are overwhelmed by the array of exotic foods offered by street vendors and the hole-in-the-wall local restaurants. You’re starving for something familiar, and your heart almost stops when you see a sign: Western Breakfast. Could this be? Scouring the menu desperately, you overhear someone ordering toast. It sounds like a safe bet, and you stand back to see what the finished product looks like. To your astonishment, two slightly crisped slices of toast appear, not topped with peanut butter, jelly, or butter – but with a thick green spread. What in the world is…green-tea butter? Twenty years ago, traditional Taiwanese breakfast places could be found all over the city. Now, Taipei breakfast culture is dominated by a mix of Western and traditional elements, forming a style of cuisine best described as a collision between East and West. The outcome is delicious at best, disturbing at worst. The proliferation of these restaurants is truly astonishing. In the DaAn District, where I explored “Western” breakfast eateries, there were over 20 fusion restaurants within a five-kilometer radius – and just one shop serving the traditional rice congee (稀飯) and you-tiao (fried dough, 油條). The main reason for this change is a generational shift in preferemces, explains Ms. Chin, proprietor of the Wutiaotong Breakfast Shop. “Young people nowadays are very busy, and they all rush to their offices in the mornings,” she says. “It’s much easier to grab a sandwich and go” than to sit down for a bowl of hot soybean milk (doujiang, 豆漿). Taipei’s modernization has led not only to an influx of Western influences in food culture, but also a faster-paced lifestyle that demands convenience, manifesting itself in the sandwiches and take-away breakfasts that are now so popular among young professionals and students. But the most interesting aspect of this phenomenon are the uniquely inventive foods that combine Chinese and Western elements, such as egg pancake (danbing, 蛋餅) topped with cheese and ketchup, or toast topped with shredded dried pork (rousong, 肉鬆) and mayonnaise. I explored four “Western breakfast” eateries and learned a bit about the history of each, as well as the trends in consumer tastes of the past two decades.

Meibaobao (美堡寶) No. 31, Lane 108, AnJu St., Taipei 台北市安居街108巷31號 The oldest Western breakfast eatery in the area, Meibaobao is typical of Taipei’s small, family-run breakfast establishments. The owner is a quiet, reserved woman, but answers my curious inquiries with a smile. She opened her restaurant 18 years ago when she saw a for-sale ad in the local paper for a breakfast eatery. She tells me that when she was growing up, typical breakfast foods were congee; fantuan (飯團, rice wrapped around vegetables and fried dough); and doujiang, served hot with fried dough floating inside or placed on the side for dipping, or else served cold with sugar. The most popular items at her restaurant are vegetarian sandwiches and hamburgers, and chocolate toast. She says her


“secret to success” is providing inexpensive, fast, and consistent food. The restaurant is open from 4 in the morning until 12:30 in the afternoon, the perfect place to drop by for a quick bite before work.

Jia Jia Hamburger (佳佳漢堡) No. 20, Lane 131, WoLong Street, Taipei (easier to find from Lane 151) 台北市臥龍街131 巷20號 This café feels a bit sterile, but the owner, Tseng Kuo-ming, insists that “this isn’t an ordinary place.” He tells me that he quit his banking job to open the café two years ago, with the vision of providing a tranquil atmosphere for his customers to relax. “Look at the pictures I’ve got hanging here,” he says, gesturing toward the watercolors of natural scenery. “It’s to make a warm environment.” A customer sitting at a table

Tseng Kuo-ming shows off his spaghetti omelet.

Big Business According to industry sources, Taiwan has around 12,000 breakfast eateries (excluding the thousands of mobile hawker carts and small trucks parked by the roadside). Franchise chains account for an estimated 70% of the total, with the largest being Ruilin Mei Erh Mei (瑞 林美而美) with its nearly 3,000 stores. No data on overall turnover is available. Although the number of outlets has not declined, sales revenue in the breakfast channel is believed to have fallen in the past two years as the convenience store chains have extended their food range and begun promoting themselves as sources of quick meals.

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B r e a k fa s t against the far wall is reading a newspaper and taking calls on his cell phone. I order the specialty item on the menu, a twist on an Italian classic combined with a long-standing Western breakfast tradition. The owner (also the cook) starts with a thin layer of egg on the stove-top and nudges it into a rectangular shape that looks like the beginning of a standard omelet. But then Tseng reaches over and throws some spaghetti on the side and begins stir-frying it together with tomato meat sauce. He flips the pasta into the middle of the egg and folds up the corners, then places a mini deep-fried hot dog (sliced to resemble a flower) right on top. Lastly, some Italian seasoning is sprinkled over the concoction.

The dish (蛋包麵) tastes just like what it looks like – a spaghetti omelet dowsed with ketchup. But it is apparently quite a popular item and sells approximately 20 orders per day. “Some people wait an hour for this, because it takes time to make,” says Tseng. Other popular items include fried chicken wrapped in egg pancake (蛋 餅) and curry chicken hamburger. Tseng tells me that when foreigners come in, they particularly like the cheese eggpancake with ketchup, as well as the bacon egg-pancake. These both involve the use of typical Western breakfast ingredients, but wrapped in the egg-pancake that has long been a staple of Taiwanese morning meals. “Tastes vary across ages,” the onetime banker explains. “Older people prefer the egg pancakes and dumplings,” while younger ones may opt for a hamburger or the specialty omelet. One final example

of cultural fusion is the red tea from central Taiwan, sold alongside freshly brewed coffee made from coffee beans ground on the spot, a rarity in these street-side eateries.

Mai Xuan Vitality Station (麥軒活力站) No. 20, Lane 121, AnJu Street, Taipei 台北市安居街121巷20號 The first thing I notice here is the delicious smell of peppered beef. An elderly man is vigorously stir-frying noodles with peppered beef sauce. I look around this tiny eatery. To the right is a little nook where a young teacher with glasses is reading a newspaper while eating his noodles. I interrupt to inquire about his breakfast routines, and he explains that his usual morning fare is a hamburger or egg pancake. He tends to alternate traditional and Western options so as to “not get bored with the food.” This shop is run as a franchise, and the laoban tells me that as part of a chain, he has to follow central directives for what dishes are offered. Since creativity is not an option, he says, he tries to emphasize consistency. “I prefer to have just a few things, and to do them well,” he adds. “There’s no point in making things complicated.” The customers are mainly workers (across the street are dozens of small offices and stores), though the occasional student wanders in. As I glance across his sandwich offerings, I am taken by the ingredients included in one combination: thin noodles, salami, mayonnaise, and eggs. It’s as if someone opened a refrigerator blindfolded and picked out random ingredients. At the teacher’s suggestion, I opt for the peppered steak noodles instead. The dish is mildly spiced, and the noodles are good, if not as “Q” as freshly pulled noodles.

Wutiaotong Breakfast Shop (五條通早餐店) 157 WoLong St., Taipei 台北市臥龍街157號 I feel the friendliness and warmth of this restaurant as soon as I enter. The owner, Ms. Chin, is a wide-smiling, plump middle-aged lady. She enjoys chat-

ting with her customers, and knows about their jobs and personal schedules. While I am speaking with her, two little boys come in with their mother. The boys take swimming lessons with the owner’s nephew, and they wanted to come by to greet him. Invited to join them for breakfast, the nephew responds jovially: “Oh, I can eat here every day for free – go ahead and eat your food.” The atmosphere here is one of camaraderie. A gaunt man enjoying his noodles overhears my questions and jokingly suggests that I should write an article about the food culture for the dead. He works for an undertaker, and volunteers to take me on a tour of Taipei like I’ve never had before – concentrating on spots where suicides and murders have occurred. I decline as politely as I can, letting him go back to his brunch of teppanyaki-style noodles with vegetables and tomato sauce (鐵板麵). The laobanniang explains that her customers are primarily workers, with students making up approximately 15% of the total. As she speaks, I glance around, and take note of some sights confirming the establishment’s EastWest fusion, including a container of Italian seasoning next to the soy sauce on a kitchen shelf. Since opening the restaurant in 2001, she has constantly been introducing more variety. “Tastes in Taiwan have definitely changed,” she says. “We used to get by with just very simple flavoring, like ketchup, pepper, and soy sauce.” Reaching under the counter, she takes a bottle and squeezes something yellow onto my finger. It looks (and tastes) like mustard, but she calls it honey wasabi, and it is one of their new condiments. Some new menu items that she recommends include squid hamburger (“very popular during the World Cup”), cheese egg-pancake, and turkey egg-pancake. She also confirms what others have said about the difference in tastes across generations. The older folks like to order soy bean milk or something simple such as toast with an egg. The younger customers tend towards “fancier” orders, such as shrimp burgers and bacon sandwiches. But the reality is that whatever you start off the day with, that’s breakfast.

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Dining Out in the Deep South Kaohsiung restaurants may not be fancy, but the best offer a hospitable, relaxed atmosphere, plus good food at decent prices.


Besides the seafood for which it is well-known, Kaohsiung now offers a wide variety of other fare. p h ot os: r i c h m at h e son


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Dining in Kaohsiung


ver the past five years, the southern port city of Kaohsiung has gone through a marked transformation. The once putrid Love River flowing through the center of the city has been cleaned up and turned into a passable tourist attraction, Mayor Chen Chu has reaffirmed her commitment to building more parks than parking lots, and the city’s nascent metro system has taken a substantial number of scooters off Kaohsiung’s congested roadways. The change has also made a difference for Kaohsiung’s restaurant industry. Taiwan’s second-largest city (at 1.5 million before the December merger with Kaohsiung County, which doubled the population), has always maintained a laid-back island feel compared with bustling Taipei. It is the kind of town where the restaurant owner is also the bartender, known by firstname-only to loyal customers. The city prides itself on the kind of hospitality displayed by proprietors like Wu Chia-ling, who runs her family’s traditional noodle and chicken stand in Kaohsiung’s downtown Lingya District and enjoys getting to know her customers. “I really think that we have a very special type of culture here,” Wu says of Kaohsiung’s food scene.

But with growth comes change. Over the past few years, Kaohsiung has become home to numerous Western restaurants – from the utterly awful to impressively authentic – as well as Western bars and coffee shops. The popular American coffee chain Dunkin’ Donuts, a Taipei staple, landed in Kaohsiung about three years ago, and Starbucks is an already-ubiquitous corner fixture. A typical Kaohsiung street front is lined with as many Italian pasta restaurants as traditional noodle shops like Wu’s. Many credit the culinary expansion to the growing number of foreigners who choose to teach English in Kaohsiung because the cost of living is considerably lower than in Taipei. Eventually, like Italian deli Casa Lingua’s owner Stefan Martin, some stay to open their own eateries. In the process, Kaohsiung has gained a restaurant scene with a character all its own. Most restaurant owners and diners will readily admit that high-class establishments and fastidious service aren’t Kaohsiung’s area of expertise. Instead, this southern city’s draw is the warmth of the restaurateurs, relaxed atmospheres void of frills, and delicious, cheap fare. When you next find yourself in the Kaohsiung area, here are some places worth trying.

Ya Jiao 鴨角活海產 (Seafood) 22 Miaoqian Road, CiJin District, Kaohsiung 高雄市旗津區廟前路22號 Tel: 07-5716325 Price Range: NT$150-$300 Rows of fresh seafood slither and squirm on the front stoop of this seafood eatery on Cijin Island as customers select their dinner. You can’t visit Kaohsiung without hearing about – and smelling – the seafood. The port city has one of the world’s largest natural harbors and handles more than 10 million container shipments a year. The epicenter of it all is Cijin, a small island minutes by ferry across the harbor from downtown Kaohsiung. Bordered by massive ships and a natural sandy beach looking out toward mainland China, Cijin is the place in Taiwan for fresh seafood. At seafood stalls stretching the length of the main road, cooks can be found grilling stillsquirming squid, soaking miniature snails, and tossing around thick, bloody slabs of skinned salmon. Further toward the beach the stalls morph into sit-down restaurants with actual roofs and air conditioning (a must in the summer). The granddaddy of them all is a sprawling building called Ya Jiao, or

p h ot o : r i c h m at h e son

“male duck” in Taiwanese slang. Originally a nickname for owner Peter Chen’s father, the restaurant is one of the oldest on Cijin’s main drag. It opened 30 years ago as a roadside stand and has blossomed with the rise of the city’s fishing industry into one of Kaohsiung’s biggest seafood restaurants. Guided by the knowledgeable staff, customers choose from an overwhelming array of slimy and scaly dishes still swimming in containers on the street. While their meals are being cooked, eaters retire with a beer to unfettered tables next to unadorned white walls.

Luckily, it only takes minutes. To bring the food as quickly as possible to customers, Ya Jiao has two kitchens – one to house a deep fryer. Sea cucumbers, squid, crabs, clams, and snails are cooked however the diner requests and then tossed with fried rice or noodles and a simple glaze of soy sauce, ginger, and sugar. Ya Jiao’s specialty is fresh squid deep fried with a simple mix of garlic, green onions, and salt and butter. “The speed of the food from kitchen to table is unbelievably fast,” says frequent customer Leo Chen, who relies on

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Dining in Kaohsiung Ya Jiao to satisfy his fried-shrimp noodle cravings. The proximity to the harbor ensures that the food is relatively cheap and as fresh as possible, making Cijin and Ya Jiao a must-visit for those passionate about fresh seafood.

phot o : rich mat hes on

Casa Lingua (Italian Deli) 96 Fuguo Road, Zuoying District, Kaohsiung 高雄市左營區富國路96號 Tel: 07-6680009 Price Range: NT$150-300 A hearty meatball sub slathered in homemade tomato sauce and dripping with cheese is one of this authentic Italian restaurant’s most popular items. Just one year old, this small New York-Italian deli off the main section of Kaohsiung’s modern and hip northern Zuoying neighborhood is fast becoming an institution among resident foreigners. Canadian-Italian owner Stefan Martin is a man’s man, making hearty subs and sausages from scratch much of the day for his avid customers. Casa Lingua is known among its followers for its chicken parmesan cutlets, homemade meatballs, and monster-size roast beef sandwiches. The restaurant is proof that it’s possible to make authentic Western food in a city deep in the heartland of Taiwanese culture, Martin says. To bridge the culinary gap, Martin uses fresh local produce as much as possible and often substitutes Taiwanese staples in classic Italian dishes. One of his most successful variations has been trading XO Taiwan fish sauce for anchovies on Casa Lingua’s puttanesca pasta dish. “The customers love it,” Martin says. But to make genuine Italian fare, it’s necessary to import some of the harder-


to-find ingredients. One import Martin says he can’t live without? “Really quality olive oil.” He also takes requests from his customers to import food they can’t find in Kaohsiung’s grocery stores or Costco Warehouse. Despite the fact that authentic Italian food is hard to find elsewhere in southern Taiwan, Martin acknowledges that his customer base from both the East and the West is difficult to impress. A slew of processed-spaghetti chain restaurants in Kaohsiung have dimmed taste buds and expectations; handmade noodles don’t wow the locals “because they eat noodles all day long,” Martin notes, and Kaohsiung’s growing foreign population is starting to demand quality over quantity. “The foreign population is large enough now that you have to have good food, or no one is going to eat it,” he says. He decided to open his restaurant a year ago, he says, when the government eased its regulations governing foreign business owners. For example, he’s no longer required to have a Taiwanese partner. As a result, Casa Lingua is one of a handful of Western-run restaurants that are opening around Kaohsiung, mostly in the Zuoying neighborhood. But for now, Casa Lingua stands on its own in the city as a purveyor of real Italian deli food.

The Bayou (Southern cooking) 226 Mingcheng 1st Road, Sanmin District, Kaohsiung 高雄市三民區明誠一路226號 Tel: 07-3107293 Price range: NT$300-$500 A warm interior matches the hearty home-cookin’ of this southern-American restaurant, one of the first of its kind in Kaohsiung. Its jarring neon sign with funky font may be a bit misleading, but The Bayou is a down-home restaurant you can feel comfortable in. Don’t let the location fool you either. The Bayou may be on the east side of the city in the purely Taiwanese Sanmin District, but it has some of the best American food this end of the island. The restaurant draws on the swamps of Louisiana for its culinary inspiration, serving heaping plates of jambalaya (a hearty mixture of vegetables, seafood, and sausage), anything catfish, authentic Cajun-spiced pork ribs, steaks, and even Chicago-style double-crust pizzas. The food may sound a bit too exotic to pull off in Kaohsiung, but The Bayou has managed to create cheesy, warm dishes that would rival any place in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Co-owner Cindy Loo Andersson,

pho t o : amber parcher

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Dining in Kaohsiung who runs the place with her boyfriend, Brandon Mitchell, says they scoured the island searching for key ingredients and high-quality goods. Eventually, they settled on Costco’s imported cheeses and meats as “the only way we can bring the true flavors of the U.S. to Taiwan.” On busy Friday nights, Andersson – who hails from Houston, Texas – is perpetually behind The Bayou’s well-stocked bar, catering to her customers like a southern mother hen. When Andersson and Mitchell decided to open The Bayou 12 years ago, there was virtually nothing else in the way of Western food in Kaohsiung outside of fast-food outlets and hotel dining rooms. “We both fell in love with the hospitality of the people of the city and wanted to pay them back with something better than McDonalds,” she said. “How cheesy is that?”

ph o to : am b e r parcher

make dining at Western Cowboys an event. The restaurant is open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily, and generous portions can serve 3 to 4 people each. “Eating is very important to Chinese culture,” he explains. Hsuan credits his success to emphasizing the trifecta of dining: food, service, and liquor. The restaurant stocks nearly 2,000 bottles of imported wines and whiskey, ranging from the extravagant to drinks at student-friendly prices. The kitchen is also ready to prepare more than 200 different dishes, and well-trained waiters spend time to make customers feel like they’re the only ones in the world. Hsuan even has a supply of fine Cuban cigars for aficionados of a good smoke. It all makes for a diverse clientele, something Hsuan prides himself on. “You must know what your customers need,” he says. But the real miracle of Western Cowboys is that its quality has stood up despite the massive quantity. Hsuan, who lived in the United States for more than a decade, says he learned to cook Chinesestyle from his Taiwanese mother and just adapted her recipes for mass appeal. The king of the massive menu is a simple French dish of mushrooms and shrimp made more chopstick friendly. Another sought-after plate is a dried red pepper chicken and the spicy Szechuan chicken dish of gongbao jiding.

Western Cowboys Restaurant and Pub (Chinese food) 335 Siwei 2nd Road, Sinsing District, Kaohsiung 高雄市新興區四維二路335好 Tel: 07-3302668 Price Range: NT$150-$300 Another restaurant that shouldn’t be overlooked is Western Cowboys Restaurant and Pub. The corny-sounding name is far from indicative of its sizzling mainland Chinese fare, which is some of the best in the city. The downtown restaurant near Kaohsiung’s cultural center is packed every night – close to 400 people pass through Western Cowboys’ doors on an average Saturday evening. (Luckily, the restaurant accepts reservations.) Owner Johnson Hsuan has tried to

p ho t o : ri ch mat hes o n

So with all the emphasis on Chinese food and culture, why the Westernsounding name? “I wanted to be original,” says Hsuan. With food this good, it seems his customers will accept any explanation.

Liu’s Pickled Cabbage Hot Pot (Beef Noodles) 248 Jhonghua 3rd Road, Kaohsiung 高雄市中華三路248號 Tel: 07-3857899 Price Range: NT$40-$150, more for hot pot For two years running, an international beef noodle competition has been held in Taipei, and for two years running, Liu’s beef noodle and hot pot restaurant has been crowned the undisputed champion. This Kaohsiung fixture wins awards for its succulent beef chunks and wide, fluffy baked noodles that are served in a special family sauce with just the right amount of kick. (The dish can also be ordered with thin noodles.) “The noodles are so chewy,” says loyal customer Ellie Chiu. The restaurant has been operated by members of the same family for 30 years, says owner Huang Yu-Lin. Her grandfather originally opened Liu’s as a sour-vegetable hot pot restaurant, but soon found even more success with beef noodles. Making a perfect beef noodle dish can be tricky. The family has experimented enough over the years to find the right recipe, Huang says. She said one of the keys is to not skimp on the beef, and they purchase only high-class Australian beef. “It’s worth the price,” she says. And fans of the restaurant’s naturally fermented pickled cabbage can still find the vegetable in abundance in the beef noodle dish. The noodles and vegetables come from local traditional markets, which are close by Liu’s downtown location. Liu has two more shops in the north of Kaohsiung, another in the neighboring town of Fengshan, and a branch in Tainan. If you’re not in the mood for beef, Liu’s also has an array of traditional Taiwanese dishes – from dumplings to feathery green onion cakes to the original sour-vegetable hot pot.

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Promoting Taiwan through its Food Learning from the example of Korea and Thailand, the government is turning to “gastrodiplomacy” to raise Taiwan’s international prominence.


Some Taiwan snack foods have gained a following in other markets. photos: tourism bureau


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G a s t r o d i p lo m a c y


n O c t o b e r 2 0 0 9 , t h e P e o p l e ’s Republic of China celebrated the 60th birthday of the Communist Party’s takeover of the world’s most populous state with its largest ever military parade down Chang’an Avenue in Beijing. Said to cost in excess of US$40 million, it featured the PRC’s latest innovations in fighter aircraft, battle tanks, nuclear missiles, and PLA soldiers bearing their newest rifles and machine guns. In October this year, Taiwan will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China with tea and cakes. ROC President Ma Ying-jeou, the latest convert to the allure of “soft power,” announced that this country will commemorate its centenary with a display of culture and not a parade of arms. In particular, the president made “taking Taiwan’s food to the world a policy priority,” the head of the Government Information Office’s Audio-Visual Materials Department, Pedro Yuan, said at the October 2010 premiere of “All in Good Taste: Savor the Flavors of Taiwan.” This 25-minute film, to be shown by Taiwan’s representative offices abroad at food fairs, airport tasting booths, and tea ceremonies, is the GIO’s contribution to promoting the country through gastrodiplomacy. Still in its infancy compared to Thailand’s “Global Thai” program, South Korea’s “Kimchidiplomacy,” and even a plan by the North Korean Workers’ Party

to open restaurants in the West, Taiwan’s campaign has had mixed responses so far. “Some Polish people assume that shrimps are worms!” a staffer at Taiwan’s Warsaw office said, on condition of anonymity, adding: “It is a problem that many dishes in Taiwan are made of seafood. Some people said that seaweed has the strange taste of the sea.” “And it seems Western people don’t like black food. They refused to try our sesame dessert, saying it looked like tar. Fortunately, Polish people still enjoy drinking tea. But it is hard to get tea and ingredients for Taiwanese dishes, so promoting our cuisine in Europe is difficult. Colleagues assigned to the U.S. are far more fortunate, because there are a larger number of Taiwanese immigrants there, so ingredients are more accessible.” Most embassy staffers contacted were not even aware that their government had launched a gastrodiplomacy program. But Taiwan’s cuisine has long been seen as one of the country’s best selling points, and so presenting it has always been used as an accompaniment to other ROC diplomatic efforts. Next month the Hong Kong office of the GIO is hosting a visit by food writer Han Liang-lu (韓良露) in a “Springrolls for Springtime” event. But this is just the latest in an annual series; in 2010, for example, it organized a “Tea and Music” occasion. Similarly, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) held a “Taiwanese Food and Flower Culture Event” in London in November 2010 to jointly promote gastrodiplomacy and the Taipei International Flora Expo. The general impression of the foot soldiers of diplomacy, however, is that business as usual predominates. One said, also requesting anonymity, “The government's food-promotion policy is targeting mainland China and Southeast Asian countries, aiming to help local brands such as 85 Degrees C to expand,” referring to Taiwan’s largest and fast-growing coffee-shop chain. Officially, the NT$1.1 billion (US$38 million), four-year program will include hosting international food festivals, spon-

soring Taiwanese chefs to participate in overseas cooking competitions, setting up promotional shops and booths, establishing a foundation to research ways to promote Taiwan’s culinary soft power, and supporting Taiwanese restaurants trying to set up abroad. At present, few foreigners are even aware that there are Taiwanese restaurants in cities abroad or know anything about the unique features of Taiwan’s cuisine. Visitors to TAITRA’s London event, for example, were treated to a live cooking instruction by Chef Peng of the Hunan Restaurant (which despite being named after a Chinese province is a Taiwanese restaurant) in the U.K. capital, and also sampled traditional side dishes provided by Leong’s Legend, another Taiwanese restaurant. The GIO staffer said diners commented favorably that the food was lighter and less greasy than they were used to at Chinese restaurants in the Soho district. The government hopes that its investment will result in the opening of 3,500 new restaurants (both in Taiwan and overseas), with private investors matching its dollars almost two for one. No doubt it has closely studied the experience of Thailand, which according to The Economist was the pioneer of gastrodiplomacy. Noting that eating in restaurants is often the only contact many people have with foreign cultures, the authorities in

A program on Taiwanese food and culture at London’s Asia House. photo :mark caltonhill

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G a s t r o d i p lo m a c y

photo : mark caltonhill

photo : tourism bureau

Popular night market specialties include stinky tofu and oyster omelets.

Bangkok concluded that the spread of Thai restaurants would help deepen relations with other countries and even persuade more people to visit Thailand. But there are two key differences between the two countries. First, there were already around 5,500 Thai restaurants around the world before the Global Thai program was launched in 2002, when the Bangkok authorities set a target of increasing that number by 3,500 to 8,000. Second, Thailand long ago became a tourist Mecca for visitors from around the world, whereas the majority of Taiwan’s visitors come primarily for reasons other than tourism and hail mainly from neighboring East Asian nations, such as Japan, Hong Kong, China, and South Korea. On the plus side, observes Paul Rockower in a paper entitled Branding Taiwan Through Gastrodiplomacy, “Taiwan has a reputation as a premier foodie paradise. Ask anyone who has been to the island, and the first words that come out are related to its gastronomic treats.” An American gastronomist and specialist in public diplomacy, Rockower was recently a visiting fellow in Taipei at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. The bad news for local entrepreneurs


thinking of investing in a Taiwan-themed restaurant in Washington, London, or Tokyo is that Rockower’s main examples of these treats are less suitable for being sampled in high-profit luxury surroundings than at the “colorful night markets for which the island is famous.” The examples he cites include stinky tofu, kong-xin cai (空心菜; water spinach), and beef noodle soup, followed by chua-bing (挫冰; shaved ice with toppings) and washed down with pearl milk “bubble” tea. The latter, he laments, is becoming popular around the world without drinkers knowing that it was originally a Taiwanese innovation. Rockower has suggested that the Taiwan government create an International Pearl Milk Tea Day to attract thousands of gourmet tourists to Taiwan, and a “traveling night market” to take Taiwan’s specialties to Washington, Los Angeles, and fairs and rodeos in the American heartland. GIO officials seem to agree with him. Peanut brittle from Kinmen, brown-sugar cake from Penghu, and pineapple cake from Taichung were served at the launch of the four-year program, under the title of “All in Good Taste: Savor the Flavors of Taiwan.” Furthermore, in a national

survey to identify the island’s most popular foods, also held by the GIO last year, 8,117 people voting online picked stinky tofu, oyster omelets, braised meat rice, and bubble tea. But before rushing to assume that Taiwanese people are gastrinomically low-brow, one should know the back story: Voters were given four very limited choices, a) the tofu or blood pudding, b) omelet or meat balls, c) ground meat-topped rice or steamed buns, and d) bubble tea or mango on shaved rice. This is a shame. As residents of Taiwan know very well, the country has a great variety and high standard of restaurants. Night markets are merely the above-water part of the island’s culinary iceberg; seeing the other nine-tenths requires a bit more effort. Rockower is probably wrong when he repeats the story that Chiang Kai-shek and his generals and ministers selected many of China’s master chefs and brought them over when they fled across the Taiwan Strait in 1949. And he is certainly wrong in suggesting that a second wave of mainland chefs arrived in the 1960s and '70s fleeing a Communist clampdown on “bourgeois” restaurants. This argument represents a top-down approach to the handing down of cooking skills and does not fit the facts. Moreover it looks at history through the eyes of contemporary Taiwan, where many young people cannot cook an egg and star chefs have their own television shows. Mainland immigrants were not like this, and cooking has always been a popular craft engaged in by the many rather than an art preciously practiced by a few. But it is true that the Republican government’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War and the relocation of a million or so people from all areas of China brought a wide variety of cuisines to Taiwan. These were added to the island’s long history of Fujian, Hakka and aboriginal cooking, as well as the more recent introduction of Japanese food. Six decades on, this wide range of foods still exists; the annual appearance of this publication attests to that complexity. It would be good to see Taiwan’s government find some way to promote these non-snack dishes too.

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Taiwan’s Single Malt Sensation Scotch has overtaken cognac as the king of alcoholic beverages in Taiwan. BY DIANA TSAI

Whisky aficionado bartenders at the MOD Public Bar


酒後不開車 安全有保障

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S i n g l e M a lt s e n s a t i o n


o into any 7-11 in Taiwan and you’ll notice something you could never find in a convenience store in the States: a bottle of Macallan 12 or Famous Grouse casually displayed behind the cashier. How has single malt Scotch won the love of the Taiwanese? Much of the answer to this question lies with the brand, Macallan, that started the single malt fever on the island. The story begins in the late 1990s, when the Edington Group, owner of the Macallan brand, participated in establishing the Maxxium B.V. holding company in the Netherlands, which then proceeded to set up branches in potential markets. Maxxium Taiwan Ltd. was formed in 1999 and Macallan whisky started to be introduced into this market the following year. Macallan was not the first single mart to be launched in Taiwan. Glenfiddich has that honor, but it did not emphasize the “single malt” nature of the product, introducing it simply as a Scotch whisky, says Sam Lu, deputy chief editor of WineSpirits-Digest Magazine and a former Macallan employee. When Macallan entered the market, it not only played up its identity as a single malt rather than a blended whisky, but began a comprehensive campaign to educate consumers about the features of single malts. It focused on conducting

“face-to-face, small-group brand-training engagement activities” all over the island, recalls Lu, giving consumers in-depth knowledge about single malts and linking the drink to a “premium lifestyle.” In one of the first publicity events in a drive to make “single malt” synonymous with luxury and high quality, six bottles of Macallan were specially marked and their purchasers were hosted to royal treatment – picked up in six separate Rolls-Royce automobiles and driven to a free night’s stay in a top-tier hotel. A decade later, Macallan is still remembered by many as the “Rolls-Royce of single malts.” Macallan also sought to capture the imagination of consumers by putting a story behind the brand, highlighting the sherry casks used to flavor the Scotch. Growth was rapid. By 2005, Macallan was selling 70,000 cases annually. As of last year, that number had more than doubled, to 160,000 cases. In less than a decade, cognac – once the king of the spirits market in Taiwan – had been deposed and replaced by single malts. Another strategy that brought Macallan to the forefront was the use of local employees to help tap into traditional Taiwanese customs and values. The local drinking culture derives from life in the countryside, where villagers would ganbei shots of hard, straight liquor such as kaoliang with their neighbors. In addition, unlike the rebelliousness and stress on independence that characterizes young Americans, the Taiwanese still have a strong cultural tendency to emulate and respect their elders. As a result, a preference for hard liquor prevails, as younger Taiwanese continue the drinking habits of the preceding generation. And those traditions tend to be reinforced through the practice of large extended-family gatherings for Chinese New Year and other major holidays. Macallan thus set out to win the loyalty of the older generation as a means of also capturing the respect – and the business – of younger family members. Instead of targeting the young and the

hip, it focused on tradition, heritage, and elegance. Prior to 2001, the drink of choice for the older, business elite was cognac. But quickly single-malt Scotch became a symbol for strength, perseverance, curiosity, and daring. With sales in Taiwan heavily dominated by a single brand – the numbertwo, Singleton, sells less than half of Macallan’s volume in this market – it seems possible that the lack of vigorous competition within the industry could actually pose a problem. There is little growth associated with a market where there are no new, fresh challenges. What, then, will the future bring f o r S c o t c h i n Ta i w a n ? “ N o n - a g e d Scotches,” says Lu. “There’s going to be a 30% growth in non-aged Scotch demand internationally in the next few years.” He believes that Taiwan will also reflect this trend. Lu estimates that whisky connoisseurs now constitute about 15% of the domestic drinking population. After 10 years of sampling every type of single malt they could get their hands on, Taiwan’s Scotch connoisseurs are placing less importance on the age of a bottle and more on the taste. Age as a mark of quality has fallen by the wayside as more and more Scottish distilleries have become part of large corporations, and many Scotch drinkers have become displeased with the inconsistency of agemarked bottles over the years. In order to find out more about the changing tastes of Taiwan’s Scotch drinkers, I paid a visit to the single-malt lover’s mecca, MOD Public Bar. The establishment was acclaimed as one of the top four whisky bars in the world by Pete Kendall, former head bartender at London’s famous nightspot Milk & Honey and the man behind the drinks list at Hong Kong’s hotspot Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

MOD Bar expertise The moment you enter the bar, you know this is no ordinary place. It’s a

When You Drink, Don't Drive

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S i n g l e M a lt s e n s a t i o n

single malt treasure trove, with 160 bottles of Scotch tantalizingly gleaming from behind the bar. But it’s not even the selection that defines this place – it’s the expertise of the bartenders that makes MOD a bona fide fountain of knowledge. If you want to know anything about Scotch, this is the place to come. My guide for the night is Macau, named after the place where he was born and raised. He begins by showing me his personal copy of the Single Malt Whisky Companion by Helen Arthur, and urges me to purchase my own copy. “Every professional needs this,” he tells me. The 300-page volume goes into such detail as the variations in flavor and quality that occur from year-to-year as bottles are put out by each distillery. I learn about the differences between a pre-1999 old blend, a 1999-2003 old blend, and the post2003 Macallan 12-year bottles, and find that you can tell a pre-1999 old blend by the lettering on the sides of the emblem. Macau has me taste-test a sample from his own personal collection of the pre1999 old blend, nearly impossible to buy anymore. It’s beautiful, with wood-chip flavoring that is more subtle than that of today’s Macallan bottles. It also has a light hint of brown sugar – not from an artificial additive, but the natural sweetness from the supremely high-quality sherry casks used for the old-blends before the advent of corporatization. Then Macau has me compare the flavor of the Macallan to Ballantine’s Grand Napoleon, 15 years, another oldblend. This was a bottle he discovered in

a mom-and-pop liquor store in Taichung. Inventory often sits for years, sometimes a decade or more, in these stores, and the owners often have no idea of the value of the dusty bottles hidden in the back of the shelves. The taste is quite similar to the oldblend Macallan I just had, just a bit sweeter. Macau smiles, as my reaction is exactly what he was waiting for. When Macallan first made its presence known in Taiwan, it was contracted under Remy Martin. Cognac was king on the island at the time, as was true in the rest of Asia, and so Remy sought to have Macallan emulate the flavor of the most popular cognacs. This explains why the flavor of the old-blend Macallan so resembles that of the Ballantine, and also why it sold so well. Macallan was not the first to recognize the need to cater to an already-established taste preference for cognac. In 1993, Johnnie Walker entered the Taiwanese market seeking to establish dominance in the virtually non-existent Scotch category. Its featured brand was Johnnie Walker Premium, a Scotch imitation of Napoleon VSOP. But Johnnie Walker eventually lost the market because it marketed its Scotch as a blend, leaving it to Macallan to capture the Scotch category with its successful promotion of the label “single malt.” Yet Macallan’s prestige is no longer unassailable. “No connoisseur drinks Macallan’s newest triple cask blend,” scoffs Macau, and he expresses a general disappointment with the decline in

quality in single malts following the takeover of so many small, privately owned distilleries by large corporations. Originally called JC Bar, MOD was re-opened in 1996 by Macau’s business partner’s boyfriend. When MOD first opened, new customers came primarily for cocktails and beers, and for some of the big-name whiskies. The eventual transition to single malts was due primarily to personal recommendations by the bartenders. “It was a slow push to get people to try something new,” says Macau. MOD’s bartenders, some as young as their early twenties, are whisky aficionados as I have never encountered before. They have done their homework, reading the literature on Scotch backwards and forwards. That was tested when Macau, who found that he had forgotten what’s in a Johnnie Walker Blue blend, pulls one of the bartenders aside to ask. The young man with chic black glasses rattles off the names of the distilleries with startling ease. “Taiwan today has many whisky connoisseurs,” says Macau. “Just look at the number of whisky blogs online.” Curious as to Macau’s personal recommendation? If you can get your hands on a bottle of Laphroig 10-year, 1995 cases, savor it slowly, then take it to MOD bar for the bartenders to marvel at.

MOD Public Bar No. 4, Alley 4, Lane 345, RenAi Road, Section 4, Taipei 106 台北市仁愛路四段345巷4弄4號 Tel: 2731-4221

Quick Shots What Goes with Scotch?

Taiwan Whisky Gets Attention

As an indication of how popular Scotch has become in Taiwan, Lawry’s The Prime Rib recently came up with a pairing menu featuring Johnnie Walker Blue Label served neat with a side of rocks. The dinner begins with an appetizer of Tuna Tartare, followed by a soup course of Lobster Bisque. The main course is a Lawry Cut Prime Rib Eye Steak topped with black pepper sauce and served with mashed potatoes, snap peas, and onion rings. For dessert, there is a chocolate brownier with caramel sauce, topped with vanilla ice cream. “The menu is a pairing of five specific flavors of food that Chef Michael and I worked on to highlight the nuances of Scotch flavors,” says Thomas V. Balchas, general manager of Lawry’s. “We had a very successful Scotch dinner using this menu, and are now featuring it as a daily dinner option.”

Kavalan brand whisky, made in Taiwan by the King Car Corp., previously best known for its Mr. Brown coffee drinks, made a splash last year when it was included in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible with a Gold Award. To show that distinction wasn’t merely a fluke, it went on to top three Scottish blends at the Burns Night blind tasting organized by The Times. “So does this mean that the Kavalan Whisky is as good or better than some of Scotland’s purest Scotch whiskies?” Kavalan asked on its blog. “Absolutely not,” it answered with admirable humility. “A Scotch whisky comes from years of tradition, care and craftsmanship. Kavalan is a relatively young whisky” – but has proven its worth and put Taiwan on the world’s whisky map.


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Drinking Games at Champagne Taipei’s first lounge bar is still the place to get introduced to some of Taiwan’s traditional hand and dice games to liven up an evening of imbibing. BY DIANA TSAI

Champagne on AnHe Road introduced the lounge bar concept to Taipei in 2001. photo : champagne bar

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D r i n k i n g g a m e s a t C h a m pa g n e

photo : diana tsai


he first time I went to the Champagne Bar on AnHe Road, I hazily remember taking nine shots of Macallan 12 as I lost a round of “Bullshit” with owner Jackie Lee. The next time, I returned with my notebook to learn about Taipei’s drinking culture and different drinking games from someone who appeared to be an expert on the subject. But in the course of our conversation, I also discovered that when Champagne opened in 2001, it was the very first establishment to introduce the lounge bar concept to Taipei. This evening, Jackie starts me off with a glass of lychee champagne, an elegant blend of Dita lychee liquor and champagne in a crystal glass, with a bubbling lychee at the very bottom. Throughout the interview, Jackie constantly excuses himself as he personally attends to customers’ requests, bringing a glass of water here, taking a shot there. The atmosphere is less like a bar than in being in a friend’s living room. It is mind-boggling to think that this all began less than a decade ago. “I used to be a bartender at the Sherwood, and like every other bartender, my dream was to open my own bar,” says Jackie. In 1998, he went to Corning Wine House (in the Taipei Sogo Department Store building) and worked for chairman Danny Shi of the Remy Martin


(now Maxxium) operation in Taiwan. He bartended there for three years before proposing his idea of a lounge bar to Maxxium, which backed his proposal. “Before Champagne, Taiwan had only bars and pubs – there was no concept of the lounge bar,” he explains. “I wanted to construct a beautiful space, with clear but low lighting, different from the bars of the past with their dark, hidden corners that made them hangouts for mobsters.” Specifically, he wanted to establish a lounge that was open and appealing to women, a place to relax and socialize with friends and colleagues. That’s why Jackie boldly selected champagne as the drink of choice for his lounge, even though “nobody knew anything about champagne when we first opened.” Colleagues were not encouraging. “Everyone thought we would close in three months,” he recalls. Instead, when Champagne opened in 2001, it was wildly successful. The lines of would-be patrons waiting for admittance extended out onto the sidewalk every night for an entire year, even on Sundays. In its first year, Champagne sold 2,016 bottles. Taipei had never seen anything like Champagne before, and it loved it. Within a year, over 20 other lounge bars had opened in Taiwan, hoping for the same success. “I would go to new lounge bars in Kaohsiung and

other cities, and the managers and many of their clients would greet me by name; I didn’t even know them!” exclaims Jackie. Before long, lounge bars modeled after Champagne were opening in Tokyo and Shanghai. “I traveled all over Japan before I opened Champagne, searching for the style of lounge bar I wanted to start,” he says. “I went to so many bars, and not one was a lounge bar.” Asked about his favorite memories from Champagne’s early years, Jackie leans in confidentially. “Imagine this,” he says – “All you can drink champagne.” In 2003, Champagne hosted a huge promotional event, featuring unlimited champagne, for NT$1,000. “We drank 136 bottles of champagne that night,” he boasts. Champagne Bar features a selection of 174 champagnes, second only to the Champagne Bar in Tokyo (same name, different owner), which stocks more than 300 champagnes. Every two years, Jackie visits the Champagne region of France to see champagne houses and stay updated about the latest trends. “I love this job,” he tells me. “There is no pressure, no problems.” The business is changing, however. Since the 2008 economic downturn, customers have become more conservative about their spending. The average table spends NT$10,000 over the course of an evening, which could buy either three bottles of champagne or three bottles of whisky. More people are beginning to opt for whisky, as hard liquor gets everyone a bit tipsier than the equivalent volume of champagne. Thus, champagne now comprises approximately 20% of revenue, while whisky accounts for 70% (the remaining 10% is taken up by cocktails and beers). Champagne’s best-selling whiskies are Macallan and Singleton, the top-performing single malts in Taiwan. As the conversation winds down, I glance around the lounge. The configuration is perfectly suited for drinking games, with tables intimately encircled by plush, individually set couches. So I turn the topic to what I originally came to learn about – the drinking games that are integral to drinking culture and a significant factor in producing the atmosphere

When You Drink, Don't Drive

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D r i n k i n g g a m e s a t C h a m pa g n e of camaraderie and friendship unique to lounge bars. Jackie explains that drinking games are a tradition brought over after World War II from China, where pretty bargirls would play games with clients to get them to take shots and drink rapidly, leading to more purchases. The games are divided into two categories, quan (拳) games and dice games. Quan games (hand or “fist” games) are more prevalent among the older generation. The simplest is just scissors, paper, stone; win three times in a row and your opponent must drink. My personal favorite is a game called wu, shi, shiwu (五十十五, “5, 10, 15”), which originated in Japan. The two players first go through a round of scissors, paper, stone to determine who goes first. The first player calls out “5,” “10,” “15,” “kai” (開, “open” or “20”), or “zero.” The moment that call is made, both players must either open one or both fists, or keep both fists closed. If the shouted number matches the overall number of fingers, then the second player must drink a “bottoms up.” In a variation on this game called Taiwan Quan, each player uses only one hand. The two players take turns in calling out any number from 0 to 10, except for the number 5. If one player calls a number that corresponds with the total number of fingers extended, the other drinks. Quan games are played in many parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, Singapore, and China, so once you learn the rules you can play them throughout your travels. These types of drinking games are typically played with hard liquor, and are not as prevalent in the West, probably because the price of liquor is higher. The rules for dice games are a bit more complicated, and tend to vary considerably from game to game: • Su3Zhong1: The game is played with four dice, tossed in a bowl. There can be any number of players. Players take turns throwing the dice, and roll until the dice show a combination of a pair and two other numbers. Remove the doubles and add the value of the two remaining dice left. The next player needs his throw to be higher than the previous player’s. If not, he downs a shot. An additional rule is that if you

roll triples, the round starts over. This is a traditional Taiwanese dice game that formerly was frequently played in night markets in front of sausage stands. Vendors would place a bowl in front of the stand, and customers could wager with sausages. • 9 drinks, 6 returns: This game, which involves wagering with shots, requires two dice. The player that starts is the one who rolls the highest number, and the loser of the previous drinking game gets to select the shots wager (ranging from one to ten shots). Players take turns going counter-clockwise to roll the dice; if you roll snake eyes, you get to choose someone to take the shots. If one of the numbers showing is a six, reverse directions. Rolling a total of eight means subtract any number of shots from the current shots wager. Rolling a total of seven means you must add more shots to the wager. Rolling a total of nine means the dice roller drinks all the shots, because the word for “nine” in Mandarin sounds like the word for alcohol. And as a penalty for those slightly inebriated players who are beginning to lose their coordination, if you fumble and drop one die instead of rolling the pair at the same time, that means DRINK! • Classmates: There can be anywhere from three to ten players with this game, and you play with four dice. Begin by selecting your base number of shots. The main rule is that the person rolling the lowest total number drinks. The player who is “it” rolls until having at least one pair – and then the pair is removed from the summation. If the total remaining is three, then the next player drinks. If you roll a higher double than the person before you,

then he or she has to drink (rotating clockwise). Roll three of a kind and you can select three players to drink. Four of a kind is the jackpot: everybody drinks except for the thrower. • 350: For this game, use seven dice. You are aiming for single die readings of one or five. One equals 100 points, five is 50. The goal is to reach at least 350 points; if nobody exceeds that number, the number of drinks wagered is doubled. If the number of points is exactly 500, the stakes are also doubled. • Bullshit: The number of dice used to play this game varies depending on the number of players. In general, with four players, four dice are used for each player. Each player shakes his or her dice in a cup, then slams the cup (with the dice inside) upside down on the table. Take a peek at your roll, and then begin the game. The first player will start by claiming he or she has a pair, for example, “two threes.” The next player must call a higher pair, or can call a lower triple. This continues until a player makes a call that another player doubts, at which point the other players are free to claim “Bullshit.” The player making the call must reveal his dice, and if it is indeed a bluff, he must take the shots at the table. If he is wrongly accused, it is the accuser who must drink. Next time you’re looking for a night out, head over to Champagne and put your drinking game expertise to the test. And don’t forget to call Jackie over to join you for a game or two, and a lot of shots.

Champagne Bar 75 AnHe Rd., Sec. 1, Taipei 106 台北市安和路一段75號 Tel: 2755-7976

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Restaurant Update 2011 A selection of dining establishments in the Taipei area that are either new to the market or have recently been relaunched.

BY don shapiro

photo : palais de chine

photo : shangri-la

photo : hotel eclat

photo : shangri-la

photo : namchow group


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A new look at Cantonese cuisine


hen it reopened in November after a month-long renovation, the Shang Palace in Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel not only had a new look but a new menu. While retaining the most popular dishes from the previous menu – such as the many dim sum classics that the restaurant features at lunchtime – about half the menu items are now newcomers. In devising the new menu, Executive Chef Choi Lo-Man and Assistant F&B Director Eddie Liu sought to make Taiwan diners – who are mainly acquainted with Hong Kong-style cooking – more familiar with the breadth

photo : shangri-la

of different styles within Cantonese cuisine. Guests can now find an assortment of special dishes arranged under four regional headi n g s : G u a n g z h o u (廣 州), known for its great variety; Chaozhou (潮 州), with its emphasis on sophisticated sauces; Dongjiang (東江), which relies mainly on meat and vegetables rather than seafood; and Shunde (順德), where many now-famous dishes were derived from home cooking. The remodeled Shang Palace also puts new emphasis on tea culture, offering 13 different varieties of tea – five from Taiwan and eight from China – and recommending pairings with dishes on the menu. In line with that theme, the adjacent Li Bai Lounge (named for the Tang Dynasty poet with a fondness for the bottle) has come up with some tea cocktails that have been well-received by customers. Chef Loi, a native of Hong Kong like eight other members of his staff, keeps in close touch with colleagues in the ShangriLa hotel restaurants in Hong Kong and Shanghai to share innovative recipes. These include scallop dumplings with black truffle sauce (黑松露醬帶子餃) and

a combo of two kinds of fried rice(太極 炒飯) – one with crab meat and the other prepared with purple rice – presented in a yin-yang pattern on the platter. The interior redesign of the Shang Palace and Li Bai Lounge was carried out by AB Concept, an award-winning Hong Kong-based company. The entrance to the restaurant features a three-dimensional graphic of a celestial cloud covered in gold foils, and the cloud pattern is a motif that reappears on the ceiling of the dining room. The restaurant seats 150 in the main dining area, and also has eight private rooms named after different flowers. At lunch, the clientele consists mainly of executives from the nearby office buildings, while in the evenings the restaurant caters to both business and family diners.

Royal treatment at Le Palais


photo : palais de chine

Le Palais at the Palais de Chine Hotel 17F, 3 ChengDe Road, Section 1, Taipei 10351 台北市10351承德路一段3號17F Tel: 2181-9999 ext. 3260 Fax: 2181-9971

e Palais, the Chinese restaurant on the top floor of the Palais de Chinese Hotel in downtown Taipei, held its grand opening in December. Head Chef Chen Weiqiang presides over a kitchen that prepares an array of both wellknown delicacies and some more unusual options. In the latter category are such dishes as “Sauteed Scallops and Dragon Whip” (金瑤龍筋), whose ingredients include pigs’eyebrow bones (豬眼根), and “Gongbao Qiankun Bag” (宮保乾坤袋) made from frog stomachs.

The restaurant particularly recommends what it calls its “Three Ones” (頤 宮三一 ) and “Three Fins (頤宮三翅 ).” The “Three Ones” are “One Bone” (一支 骨, an innovative dish of pork knuckles and thin noodles), “One Marbled Cut of Meat” (一刀肉), which requires skillful cutting technique by the chef), and “One Kilo Soup” (一斤湯), in which 40 kilograms of soup with a whole chicken, meat, ham and dried longan pulp is boiled down to its essence over eight hours. The “Three Fins” are “Chicken

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Porridge with Simmered Shark’s Fin”(雞 粥排翅), “Simmered Shark’s Fin with Yellow Fish”(黃翅燜排翅), and “Sesame Oil Chicken with Simmered Shark’s Fin” (麻油雞排翅). The elegant mid-19th century French décor is the work of designer Chen Ruixian, who also designed the rest of the hotel. Besides the 221-seat main dining room, the restaurant consists of a snack zone, semi-open lounge zone, and a private box area.


photo : palais de chine

New location, same exceptional beef


photo : lawry's

Lawry’s The Prime Rib B1, 105 SongRen Road, Taipei 110 台北市110 松仁路105號B1 Tel: 2729-8555 Fax: 2729-2766

fter more than eight years on the top floor (12th) of the Core Pacific City shopping mall, Lawry’s The Prime Rib moved in October last year to the B1 floor of an elegant new office building in the XinYi District. The new 7,000 square feet of space is decorated in traditional Lawry's style, and has maintained many of the decorative elements of the former venue. It features six-meter-high ceilings and crystal chandeliers, as well as huge glass mirrors with wooden Javanese frames, portraits of English kings, and Middle Age era shields. General Manager Thomas V. Balchas notes that since its founding in Beverly Hills, California in 1938, Lawry's has been proud to serve only USDA Prime Grade Beef, while also making use of “Lawry's exclusive Seasoned Salt and a slow roasting process.” He adds that “our Chef offers roast beef cooked to perfection and carved for you tableside” from their unique “Silver Carts”

Eclectic dining at the Eclat


he stylish boutique Hotel Eclat recently opened its new “Ming Yuen” Chinese and Western dining room, which it described as “deliberately intended to surprise, startle and start a conversation.” The menu features such signature dishes – prepared at the table – as Lobster Salad Ming Yuen, Drunken Shrimps Flambe Hong Kong Style, tradi-


(actually hand hammered out of stainless steel). The cart’s thermodynamic design allows for the uniform and well-proportioned distribution of heat, keeping the beef at the perfect serving temperature throughout the dining room. Bringing a further bit of pizazz to the meal is the “spinning bowl salad” served by a dining room server in a 1930's inspired art deco uniform. The beef is served with side dishes such as creamed corn, buttered peas or creamed spinach, together with Yorkshire Pudding and Lawry’s own recipe of whipped-cream horseradish. For lunch, in addition to various cuts of prime rib and rib eye steaks to fit all sizes of appetites, Lawry’s offers a prime rib sandwich, prime cheeseburger, fish, lamb, chicken, and daily pasta. Besides the main dining room, which has a seating capacity of about 150, Lawry's also has five private rooms that can accommodate 10-30 persons each.

photo : hotel eclat

tional Beef Tartare Steak a la Dicky, and Roasted Duck Peking Style. But perhaps as big an attraction as the food is the décor, designed by internationally renowned interior designer Thomas Schoos. The Ming Yuen consists of four uniquely designed dining tables, in addition to six private rooms. The Horse Table, with its old-world brown

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photo : hotel eclat

Ming Yuen at the Hotel Eclat Taipei 370 DunHua South Road, Section 1, Taipei 10684 台北市敦化南路1段370號 Tel: 2784-8888 Fax: 2784-7888

hues and silver linen chairs, features a stuffed horse head; the Contemporary Table features colorful chairs and white dining utensils and is lit by a silver chandelier; the Asia Table, with its two red chairs, is decorated with candle holders and a painting from Thailand; and the Gentlemen’s Room Table relies on leather and steel, as well as bottles of wine for adornment. The décor also makes use of brica-brac sourced from antique shops in

Taipei and Hong Kong, along with cow and zebra skins on the walls. One desk and chair set is carved from camel’s bone. Also at the Eclat is the relaxing George Bar (named for hotel owner George Wong), decorated in classic English-pub style. During “Sunset Hour” from 5:30 to 8 every evening, a “buy one, get one free” policy is in force; after 10 p.m., all drinks are 25% off the regular price.

German-quality beer, broad menu Paulaner @ Urban One 寶萊納慶城一號店 2F, 1 QingCheng Street, Taipei 台北市松山區慶城街1號2F Tel: 2713-6777

photo : namchow group


aulaner Bräuhaus Taipei's own microbrewery located in Taoyuan enables the restaurant to guarantee a freshness that is otherwise difficult to achieve. Paulaner @ Urban One and the three other Paulaner locations in the TaipeiTaoyuan area offer two traditional types of beer: Lager and Dark Beer. “Freshly brewed according to the famous German Law of Purity of 1516, these beers are free from off-flavors, soft in their first taste, pleasant in the bitterness and of sufficient body,” says Greg Hartigan, COO of the Namchow Gastronomy Group, the parent company. “Since the beer is not filtrated – which is the only difference from our Bavarian partner company's brew – it becomes

cloudy and distinguished by natural appearance.” The Paulaner @ Urban One menu includes a wide choice of international specialties, as well as such typical Bavarian dishes as Pork Knuckle with Sauerkraut, various Sausages, Schmalz, and Brezels. Among the popular desserts is warm Apple Strudel with Vanilla Ice Cream. The restaurant also offers a deluxe luncheon buffet (as well as a late lunch) consisting of 65 items daily and including a carving station. Represented in the buffet are various international cuisines, including German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Thai, American, and Russian foods. In addition, guests can utilize the unique “Order Buffet” to request Chef Lee Jan-Cheng and his team to prepare hot Cantonese dishes to complement the regular buffet items. Live entertainment has also been an essential element of the restaurant's success. “Starting the evening with warm, easy-listening music before moving on after dinner to feet-tapping, finger-snapping numbers, the restaurant's Filipino Live Band ‘The Gems’ are able to cheer up any audience and respond to any request,” says Hartigan. The 400-seat Paulaner @ Urban One can accommodate special events and is able to create customized packages to meet particular needs.

Other locations: Paulaner @ Guandu, Taipei 1 XueYuan Road, Beitou District, Taipei 台北市北投區學園路1號(國立台北藝術大 學藝文生態館) Tel: 2891-7677 Paulaner Microbrewery @ Taoyuan 35 XingBang Road, Guishan Township, Taoyuan County 桃園縣龜山鄉龜山工業區興邦路35號 Tel: 03-3676321 Paulaner @ CKS Airport T2 桃園縣大園鄉航站南路9號4樓

CKS International Airport Terminal 2 4F, 9 Hangzhan South Road, Dayuan Township, Taoyuan County Tel: 03-3931648

photo : namchow group

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Reintroducing Chaozhou cuisine to Taipei


lso new from the Namchow Gastronomy Group – and also located in the Urban 1 complex near the corner of QingCheng Street and NanJing East Road – is the Chao Jiang Yan restaurant specializing in the cuisine of the city of Chaozhou (once better known in the West as Teochew) in northeastern Guangdong Province. Close to Guangdong’s border with Fujian Province, Chaozhou cooking shares many similarities with Fukienese dishes. Namchow Chairman Alfred Fei-lung Chen, regretting that Taipei has not been well represented with Chaozhou cuisine since the closing some years ago of the famous Jing Dao Restaurant, decided to recreate that tradition with the help of Jing Dao’s former chief chef, Hong YuenWei (known as the “godfather of Chaozhou cuisine” in Taiwan). Among the many special dishes on the extensive menu

Chao Jiang Yan 潮江燕 3F, 1 QingCheng Street, Taipei 105 台北市松山區慶城街1號3F Tel: 2545-2222 Fax: 8712-3737

(some 200 items in all) are the Marinated Meat Platter (潮州滷水拼盤), Rural Luffah Pancake (家鄉水瓜烙), Chaozhou-style Fried Oyster Pancake (潮州煎蠔餅), Chaozhou-style Steamed rice Rolls (潮州蒸粉 粿), Chaozhou-style Chive Dumplings (潮 州韮菜粿), Chaozhou-style Cold Flower Crab (潮州凍花蟹), and Chaozhou-style Cold Mullet (潮州凍鮮魚). Chen says that to do justice to the “profound culinary skills” of the restaurant’s chefs, Chao Jiang Yan goes to great lengths to procure the freshest, highest quality ingredients. For its seafood, for example, the restaurant deals directly with suppliers at fishing ports such Keelung and Penghu, and with aquaculture dealers in Pingtung. Live seafood is kept on the premises in an aquarium area of about 50 square meters. “Chao Jiang Yan has invested millions of dollars to build this elabo-

rate seven-section system consisting of 33 separate fish tanks that are each individually controlled in temperature and salt levels in the sea water to accommodate the varied species of seafood,” says Chen. “You can personally choose your seafood and the staff will prepare it to your desired liking. There is also a separate aquarium consisting of more than 60 species of sea life for your viewing pleasure.” In addition, the restaurant seeks to honor Chaozhou culture in its interior decoration, for example making wide use of the blue-and-white porcelain for which the area is famous. It also devotes a corner to two “Kung Fu Tea Walls,” in tribute to the tea that is regarded as the essence of Chaozhou cuisine. Besides the public dining area, Chao Jiang Yan has four private rooms and a VIP stateroom, the Hall of Talents, which can accommodate 40 guests.

Microbrews and freshly made food


nother newcomer in the beer hall category is the DunHua North Road outlet of the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, which opened in December – following GB’s launch of venues in 2008 in the XinYi District and 2009 in Taichung. The Taiwan operation is part of a chain that started in Palo Alto, California in 1988 through the partnership of master brewer Dan Gordon and restaurateur Dean Biersch, and that was acquired in 1999 by the Big River Brewing Co. The GB slogan is “Beer like it ought to be,” which to the company means a selection of handcrafted German and Czech-style lagers that adhere to above-mentioned 16th century German

Purity Law prescribing that beer can be made from only three ingredients: barley, hops, and water. The broad-based menu emphasizes main-course selections of steaks, seafood, pizza, and pasta, as well as soups, salads, and sandwiches. There is also a separate vegetarian menu. Private dining areas are available for social or corporate functions. Other locations: Taipei XinYi Store 2F, 11 SongShou Road, Taipei 110 Tel: 8786-7588

photo : gordon biersch

Taichung Store 533 Dadun Road, Taichung (Carrefour Dadun Store) Tel: (04)-2310-7678

photo : gordon biersch


Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, Taipei DunBei Store 102 DunHua North Road, Taipei 105 台北市敦化北路102號 Tel: 2713-5288

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photo : CHEFS' HOLIDAYS: DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.

photo : BRACEBRIDGE DINNER: Lani Spicer | Andrea Fulton Productions

Wining and Dining in Yosemite BY TAMI VON ISAKOVICS


ith its abundance of outdoor recreation areas, world-class wineries and outstanding restaurants, Northern California can be an overwhelming place to visit. How can a traveler choose between so many options and still get a satisfying taste of everything the region has to offer? Bet you never guessed you’d get the answer from a national park. The Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite National Park has a long-standing tradition of bringing together world-class vintners, well-known American chefs, and internationally renowned entertainment for its winter programs. Yes indeed, you can experience all this at Yosemite, the World Heritage site known for its fantastical waterfalls, towering granite cliffs, and miles upon miles of wilderness across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Wine in the wilderness Picture yourself amid the dramatic, woodsy backdrop of snow-covered


Yosemite, nestled warmly into one of America’s most historic hotels while sipping a deep, plummy cabernet from the Napa Valley’s Silver Oak Cellars. You can have this and a lot more at The Ahwahnee’s annual Vintners’ Holidays event each December. There are eight Vintners’ Holiday sessions that offer a series of two- and three-day programs, each including four educational tasting seminars led by some of the most talented wine minds in California. Topics cover a wide range of winey topics such as “An Exploration of the Cool Climate Wines of Carneros” and “The Best of All Worlds – Sushi and Sparkling Wine.” L a s t y e a r ’s Vi n t n e r s ’ H o l i d a y lineup brought together 32 renowned California wineries, including such f a v o r i t e s a s F l o w e r s Vi n e y a r d & Winery, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, and Domaine Carneros. Because of the exclusive nature of the seminars, the winemakers often pepper their presentations with rare and limited release samples, making the event a true once-

in-a-lifetime experience. Adding to the very special nature of Vintner’s Holidays, a reception is integrated into each session so that guests can get to know the winemakers in their session. Wine lovers will also greatly appreciate the interesting twist on food and wine pairings offered at the final five-course Gala Dinner. Instead of matching each course with an appropriate wine, the dishes are developed in reaction to the vintners’ wine choices to accent the notes in the featured wine.

Great chefs meet the great outdoors Though sniffing and swilling for three days may appeal to oenophiles, some of us would rather focus on the edible side of the eating and drinking equation. These fine food-loving tourists should plan to arrive in Yosemite in January, when a slew of world-class American chefs make the pilgrimage to The Ahwahnee for Chefs’ Holidays. At this awesome celebration of culinary

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discovering america

photos: Kenny Karst | DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.

creativity, guests hobnob with talented, well-known chefs and culinary personalities as they enjoy three seminars and a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour. At this year’s event, Chris Cosentino of San Francisco’s Incanto, David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, CA, Suzanne Goin of Los Angeles’ Lucques, Brad Farmerie of PUBLIC in New York, and several former “Top Chef” contestants, including Elizabeth Faulkner of San Francisco’s Citizen Cake and Orson and Ryan Scott of San Francisco’s Ryan Scott 2 Go catering service, are all in attendance. Much like the vintners’ event, Chefs’ Holidays sessions last three days each and include a reception allowing guests to meet the chefs whose cuisine they sample over the course of their stay. The Chef’s Holiday is held each year in January and February. Chefs’ Holidays also wrap things up fittingly with a fivecourse Gala Dinner. Though this time around, wines are chosen to pair with the outstanding chef-driven dishes.

or chefs will be presenting. Keep in mind that visitors to Yosemite National Park may attend the seminars free of charge if standing room remains; but because the events sell out quickly, the best way to experience the three days of revelry is to purchase one of the twoor three-night packages offered by The Ahwahnee and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. The packages include all events and seminars that take place during your chosen session. It’s the most affordable way to get it all.

Where to sleep If you’re interested in attending one of these epicurean meetings of the minds, check out The Ahwahnee’s web site where you can look up the exact dates when your favorite wine makers

photo : Kenny Karst | DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.

Singing from the mountains Vi n t n e r s ’ a n d C h e f s ’ H o l i d a y s allow guests to experience a staggering amount of American food and wine culture in a small amount of time. But if you’re visiting Yosemite mid-December when neither event is taking place, it may just be a blessing in disguise. Since 1927, in December each year, the Ahwahnee is transformed into a 17th century English manor for a feast of food, song, and mirth. The inspiration for this ceremony was Washington Irving’s Sketch Book, which described Squire Bracebridge and English Christmas traditions of that period. From December 13 to 25, The Ahwahnee produces eight theatrical dinner performances called The Bracebridge Dinners, a dramatic yuletide celebration in a stunning winter wonderland setting. Count your blessings at this seven-course indulgent feast, which forms the backdrop for a lively operatic Christmas performance meticulously woven into the dinner experience. More than 60 professional singers, court characters, and other performers tell the story of a Christmas feast with Lord Merrick of Bracebridge and his household. It’s a joy to watch the servers deliver each course as part of the show. The Ahwahnee’s dramatic Dining Room, with its 50-foot ceiling

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photos: Kenny Karst | DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.

topped by massive log beams, is the perfect stage for this celebration. At certain points throughout dinner, you’ll watch the show unfold around you and wonder if you are a spectator or a part of the show. It’s an amazing opportunity that turns your Christmas meal into a show rivaled by no other. Although many look forward to visiting Yosemite in summer and fall when the sun is high in the sky and the hiking trails are dry, they are missing the rare, unprecedented opportunities Vintners’ Holidays, Chefs’ Holidays, and the Bracebridge Dinner allow. The experience of outstanding food, wine, or entertainment and a breath-taking natural setting doesn’t happen often. For this reason, we’ll take a dead-ofwinter trip to The Ahwahnee any day of the year.

one of the most enjoyable vacations you will ever have. Here are some tips to make your summer vacation in Yosemite easy and fun. Getting up early is a plus, as it is the easiest time to explore the park. If you want a hike or walk, getting up with the birds offers you the advantage of having the valley to yourself. This is also the best time to see wildlife, as they tend to stay out of the heat of the sun. Consider exploring outlaying areas of the park, as these are traditionally less crowded but just as stunning. For more info and to start planning your next vacation, visit:

Yosemite Summer Activities From rafting down the Tuolumne River to hiking beside wildflower-covered meadows to star-gazing at night, Yosemite in the summer is a magical place. The whole park is accessible during the warm months and the park is brimming with warm-weather activities. Although the park is the most crowded during these months, it is still


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Lanterns for the Year of the Rabbit


t o u r i s m B u r e a u , R e p. o f C h i n a


aiwan has an annual calendar filled with festivals that highlight its exceptional variety of attractions, including festivals that revolve around culture, food, history, nature, and sports. Festival options in 2011 range from action sports like Dragon Boat racing to calm pastimes like watching rare Chinese Crested Terns on one of the Mazu islands. Between these two extremes are a variety of gatherings and celebrations that include music (Taichung Jazz Festival and Sun Moon Lake Music Festival), nature (Caoling Historic Trail Silvergrass Season, Hakka Tung Blossom Festival), religious ceremonies (Keelung Ghost Festival, Mazu Pilgrimage), exhibitions (Taiwan Culinary Exhibition, Taipei International Travel Fair), and dozens more, including festivals dedicated to ceramics, kites, sand sculpture, mock kungfu battles, folklore, fireworks, Austronesian culture, and glass blowing. But even among these many choices, one festival towers above the rest: the annual Lantern Festival. The lantern celebration is pre-eminent because it is held throughout the island, and in some of those locations – Pingxi, Taitung, Miaoli city, and Yenshui, for example – it has evolved into colorful and sometimes

bizarre events that are unique to Taiwan. The Lantern Festival also has other features that set it apart. It is a cheerful, happy gathering that marks the end of cold weather and the beginning of spring, and it is held on the first full moon – considered a lucky sign – of the new lunar year. The Festival marks the end of the long Lunar New Year holiday, and a return to normal life, and its roots lie deep in Chinese history. Above all, the Festival is filled with lively color, as vivid lanterns of red and orange and yellow, meant to imitate the full moon, light up parks and streets throughout the island. In Taiwan, the traditional hand-held lanterns are supplemented by giant mechanical lanterns with moving parts that are based on the incoming animal in the Chinese zodiac, and these mechanical lanterns grow more elaborate each year. Over the years, the Lantern Festival in Taiwan has evolved in special ways in certain localities. In Pingxi, near the northern coast, residents set aloft candle-powered “sky lanterns” that light up the night skies and symbolize another year of peace. Rowdier celebrations are held in Yenshui in Tainan County, and in Taitung City on the southeast coast. Yenshui has become famous for its beehive rocket displays – boxes of fire-

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s e e i n g ta i w a n works that shoot horizontally and are accompanied by ear-splitting noise and flashy explosions. The beehive rockets celebrate the arrival of the god’s sedan chair at Yenshui’s God of War Temple. Spectators are advised to bundle up and to protect their heads and eyes; most viewers wear motorcycle helmets and thick scarves. The Bombing of the Plague God Handan in Taitung is equally extreme, although less dangerous to spectators. That can’t be said for the participants. Clad only in underwear, volunteers expose themselves to bottle rockets and other fireworks, as they seek to purge away the bad deeds of the previous year. While local communities hold their own versions of the celebration, a national Taiwan Lantern Festival is also held, and it moves from city to city each year. This year it will be held in Zhunan Township in Miaoli County, and will once again feature the island’s most extravagant lantern displays. The centerpiece for this Year of the Rabbit will be a giant mechanical rabbit lantern, and Miaoli will also unveil 100 large conventional lanterns shaped like rabbits. Altogether, nearly 50,000 lanterns of various kinds will be unveiled. Other Miaoli highlights will include famous fictional rabbits, including Peter Rabbit, the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a Disney creation that dates back to the 1920s. The Taiwan Lantern

Festival is sponsored, as always, by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. The 2011 Lantern Festival also has a special characteristic, in that it is part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China, which was established on the mainland in 1911, before moving to Taiwan after the Chinese civil war. To help commemorate the occasion, a large number of the Miaoli lanterns will be arrayed in the shape of a Taiwan map. As luck would have it, Miaoli is also home to another of Taiwan’s homegrown lantern festival permutations: the beng long or “bombing the dragon” ritual. Beng long is a Hakka ceremony that involves throwing firecrackers and shooting bottle rockets at dragon dancers. This is thought to generate good fortune, and if more fireworks hit the dragons and dancers, it generates additional good fortune for the coming year. The Miaoli City Government has promoted and expanded the “bombing the dragon” event, and it may soon begin to rival its better-known counterparts in Yenshui, Taitung, and Pingxi. The beng long dragon bombing has an interesting history. According to the Taipei Times, it began in the 1950s, when a Shinkong Group clothing factory paid several dragon dancing teams to perform inside its factory and to subject themselves to fireworks thrown by employees. Only one team finished the first year, but the event was popular, and soon more local businesses began paying dragon dancers and encouraging employees to pelt them with tiny explosives. Eventually the dragon-bombing turned into a city-wide outdoor ritual that now takes place in various locations throughout the town.

The Taiwan Lantern Festival, sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, will be held in Zhunan and Toufen Parks in Zhunan Township, Miaoli County, from February 17 to 28. Taiwan Tour Bus offers three routes to Miaoli – the Nanzhuang, Xiangtian, and Xianshan routes – that explore the food and cultures of surrounding areas during the day, and deliver tourists to Miaoli in the evenings in time to enjoy the lanterns. For information on other festivals in Taiwan, see the Tourism Bureau website at The beng long ‘bombing the dragon’ events take place in Miaoli from February 11 to 19. For more information, in Chinese only, see www.bombingdragon. And for stargazers, the upcoming Year of the Rabbit brings good news. According to Chinese astrologers, rabbit years are usually calm and peaceful, and benefit artists and entrepreneurs, especially those who are bold and creative. People born in a Rabbit year are said to be calm, persistent, and thoughtful, and have an abundance of charisma.

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AmCham Companies through the Years As AmCham Taipei turns back the clock during this anniversary year to review its six decades of service, it is also asking its member companies to share photo remembrances of their early presence in Taiwan.

The opening ceremony for the first McDonald’s Restaurant on January 28, 1983. Opening-day sales at the store, located on MinSheng East Road near DunHua North Road (just down the block from the current AmCham office location), set a world record at the time for a McDonald’s outlet.

An advertisement from 1968, when Coca-Cola was first put on the market for general public in Taiwan; previously it was only available for U.S. Army personnel stationed on the island. (Note that Chinese characters were usually written right to left in those days).

TOPICS can be found in the Eslite, Kingstone, Caves and Hess bookstores in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. But why wait until we’re on the stands? Make sure of getting a copy by filling in the subscription form below.


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2011/1/27 11:50:48 AM

2011 Taiwan TOPICS Wine & Dine Special Edition  

TOPICS'ninth annual issue devoted to the joys of food and drinks. Articles on outstanding cuisine and teh restaurants that prepare it. This...

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