4. Hakka Ban Tiao
Region: Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Kaohsiung, and Pingdong, but it’s most strongly associate with Meinong (in Kaohsiung).
I notice this list has a bit of a Hakka bias (about 10-15% of the population of Taiwan is Hakka). Both aiyu and Oriental Beauty Tea originate from Hakka regions of Taiwan (Fenqihu and Hsinchu).
Ban tiao is basically a kind of thick rice noodle, though there are certain other ingredients (namely the typical ingredients of Hakka cuisine) which are usually stir-fried with the ban tiao.
I did not realize that ban tiao was a distinctly Taiwanese food until I did some search engine queries, and found that Ban Tiao is mostly strongly associated with Taiwanese Hakka, not Hakka people in general.
I love Hakka ban tiao, and whenever I went to a Hakka town I would eat it. Ah, okay, I *did* live in a Hakka region, and I could get ban tiao in my neighborhood in Taoyuan City, but the ban tiao in the rural Hakka towns tastes a lot better.
5. Taichung Suncake
Region: Taichung (isn’t it obvious?)
This is a flaky pastry with a sweet, chewy inside. I find it tasty.
Note: some people will tell you it is not possible to find vegan Taichung Suncake. They are wrong. When I lived in Taiwan, I could buy vegan suncake right inside Taichung train station.
6. Mud Volcano Tofu
Region: Southern Hualien, Taidong
To make tofu, you need three ingredients: water, soybeans, and coagulant. There are many coagulants which can be used with tofu, and different coagulants will produce a different texture.
The recipe for Mud Volcano Tofu is water, soybeans, and liquid from a mud volcano.
Of course, people don’t actually want to eat the mud, so the the liquid from the mud volcano must sit for at least three days so that the mud separates from the clear liquid (the mud particles are so fine that they cannot be filtered out).
Of course, the need for mud volcano liquid means that this kind of tofu is only made in places which have mud volcanos. There are mud volcanoes in various parts of southern Taiwan (this post is a good overview of Taiwan’s mud volcanoes). I have eaten a lot of tofu in my life, and mud volcano tofu is definitely one of the most delicious kinds of tofu I have ever eaten. I ate it in Luoshan, the Hakka village in Hualien (I told you this list has a Hakka bias) which is best known for mud volcano tofu. I have also heard that it is possibly to buy mud volcano tofu in Taidong City, which means that it is probably produced somewhere in Taidong County (probably Guanshan, since there is a mud volcano there).
There is a blog post describing the process of making mud volcano tofu here.
Okay, so what Taiwanese food could be even rarer than tofu made from mud volcanoes? Well, it is…
7. Kolitan Fruit
Region: Green Island, Lanyu, and apparently some other coastal areas
You can find a photo of the fruit here.
Kolitan is so rare that a) most Taiwanese people have never heard of it and b) it has no name in English. I borrowed the name of the fruit from the Tao language since it the name which is easiest for English speakers to pronounce. The Latin name for the plant is palaquium formosanum. The Chinese names include: 大葉山欖 (Big-Leaf Mountain Olive), 台湾胶木 (Taiwanese Gum Tree), 杆仔樹 (not sure what this means because my Taiwanese is no good), 臭屁梭 (Stinky Fart Shuttle, a reference to the scent of the flowers), and 蘭嶼芒果 (Lanyu Mango). (I think this is a lot of Chinese names for a fruit which the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese people, let alone Chinese-speakers, have never heard of – but maybe people kept on making names for it because they did not realize it already had a name in Chinese).
I ate Kolitan on Green Island, and even saw an old man harvesting the fruit from a tree. It tastes a bit like avocado, but it is sweet. Apparently, the plant is related to the plant from which shea butter is made, so it probably tastes like avocado because of high fat content.
The people on Green Island told me that this fruit only grows on Green Island and Lanyu. However, when I was looking up the name on the internet, I found that it also grows in mainland Taiwan, though it is very rare on the main island. It also apparently grows somewhere in the Philippines, which is not surprising since Green Island and Lanyu are ecological melting pots of Taiwanese and Filipino species.
Have you tried any of these foods, and what do you think? Which foods would you want to try? Which of these foods is the weirdest?