A Taste of Taiwan

The annual Taiwan Culinary Exhibition draws visitors from around the world

By: Claire Bidwell Smith

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Live demonstrations showed how
Taiwan’s treats are dished up.
The island of Taiwan, which serves as a convenient center to many major Asian cities, has long been a destination for serious foodies. Taiwan takes pride in its reputation for having the best Chinese food in Northeast Asia and the annual Taiwan Culinary Exhibition is the perfect place for clients to explore the very best that Taiwan has to offer.

A map of Taiwan’s history can be traced through its kitchens. Traditional Taiwanese cuisine originates in the aboriginal tribes whose gastronomy focuses mainly on simple staples such as sweet potatoes, vegetables and meats. In the early half of the 20th century, during the Japanese occupation, miso was introduced to the country adding new flavor and depth to many traditional dishes. In 1949, following the influx of mainland Chinese immigrants, a whole new batch of regional Chinese dishes were added to the palate of Taiwan. All of this culinary history points to the delicate balance of tradition and innovation that makes up today’s Taiwanese cuisine.

This year’s exhibition was held downtown in the spacious and accommodating Taipei Exhibition Hall and featured four days of showcases from Taipei’s most exclusive restaurants; whole pavilions focusing on regional specialties; interactive cooking classes; and a televised star chef competition.

Every year the exhibition follows a simple but sensible program; events and fundamentals mentioned here are all aspects that clients can expect to look forward to at the 19th exhibition to be held in 2008.

The theme of this year’s exhibition was organic food and there were also four other central pavilions showcasing a range of Taiwanese cuisine: The New Stage for Taro and Sweet Potato, the Cuisine of Sun Moon Lake, the Enigmatic Taste of Sichuan and the Fine Dining Exhibit.

Opening day featured an exciting flurry of Taiwan’s top chefs placing final touches on their signature dishes, all beautifully displayed in well-organized booths, each of which visitors could freely meander through to pause and closely inspect any plate that particularly interested them.

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Guestrooms Chefs gave educational
presentations at the 2007 Taiwan
Culinary Exhibition.
Upon entering the exhibition I was immediately swept up with the flow of visitors into the fine-dining exhibition that featured 12 world-class hotels and restaurants with chefs from the likes of Taipei’s Grand Hotel, Taitung’s Luminous Hot Springs Resort and the Grand Formosa Regent, all proudly displaying their artistry. Dishes such as stir-fried water eel with young chile or the stewed shark’s fin soup with

Chinese caterpillar fungi were so artfully crafted that I was unable to tell that they had been prepared only moments earlier. The fine-dining exhibition serves as an excellent venue for clients to get an idea of the upscale restaurants they most want to explore on a time-limited visit to the country.

Moving through the exhibition I headed for a large stage near the back of the hall where the World Culinary Contest was being held. Although the show was moderated in Cantonese, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the fast-paced culinary drama, something akin to the Food Network’s “Top Chef.” In this year’s contest, eight teams from seven countries competed before a panel of judges made up of a wide variety of culinary experts from around the world. The competition focused on innovative Chinese cuisine and had the chefs scrambling to out-do each other in their dramatic gastronomic feats. Highlights were televised nightly on Taipei television.

The Cuisine of Sun Moon Lake exhibit featured displays from the region considered by many to be Taiwan’s heartland. The cuisine of Sun Moon Lake finds its roots in the land’s fertile offerings of prickly-ash leaves, bamboo shoots and Assam black tea. The unusual red-oil-seasoned wild fern entree and sumptuous braised pork with bamboo shoots were some of the most tempting dishes I saw at the exhibit.

The Enigmatic Taste of Sichuan pavilion included prominent displays of colorful chiles and also featured a “spice summit” in which visitors could engage in discussion about peppers and other bold Sichuan flavors. The New Stage for Taro and Sweet Potato was one of the more interesting exhibits, showcasing some truly innovative recipes such as taro-infused sweet yam and lobster rolls and double-layer sakura shrimp pastry.

While clients can sample and shop as they tour through the various pavilions, there is also an extensive and bustling food court offering opportunities to really please the palate. There are cooking classes almost hourly where each presenter is an experienced chef and audience members have a chance to participate in the lesson. There is also a professional performance area featuring demonstrations of the latest cooking gadgets, creative napkin folding, cocktail mixing and cookware durability.

The festival runs over the course of four days and clients attending next year’s festival should make reservations early as hotels tend to book up quickly during this time. Next year’s exhibition will take place Aug. 15-18. Transfer buses run every 15 minutes between the City Hall MRT Station and the Taipei Exhibition Hall. More information about the 2008 exhibition can be found through the Taiwan Tourism Board Web site.