Rice is an integral part of Taiwanese food culture. In addition to the more than 30 varieties of rice that are eaten, rice is also processed into all sorts of food products such as wa kuih (steamed rice bowl cake), rice pudding, rice noodles, glutinous rice cakes, and glutinous rice dumplings. The variations are endless, and they are a heartwarming taste of tradition that the Taiwanese cannot do without. Here, take a journey with our MICHELIN Guide inspectors as they experience the flavor of Taiwan’s rich rice culture and the dishes offered by the establishments listed in the MICHELIN Guide Taipei & Taichung.
This humble dish may be ubiquitous, but its execution is an indication of any chef’s culinary skills. A good Taiwanese fried rice is judged on several aspects, each as important as the other: the selection of rice, the chef’s quick wok-frying skills, and the attention to char and caramelization.
Styles of savory rice cakes differ from region to region in Taiwan. In the North, rice cakes are fried with dried shrimps, shredded pork, mushrooms, and shallots for an aromatic dish similar to Chinese sticky rice. In Central Taiwan, tube rice pudding is made by steaming raw rice with various ingredients in a cylinder then serving it with sweet and spicy sauce or Haishan sweet chili bean sauce. Down South, steamed glutinous rice is loosely served in a bowl with pickles, meat floss, and braised mince. Finally, steamed crab on glutinous rice, or hong xun mi gao, is a dish you will commonly see in high-end restaurants and on wedding banquet tables; the rich roe of the mud crab signifying fertility and the abundance of offspring.
Taiwanese rice noodles are made from local rice and can be categorized into two types: thin and thick rice noodles. Thin rice noodles can be cooked in soup dishes or stir-fried in a dry style, while coarse rice noodles are more often served in soup. Noodle soup dishes are usually made from fish stock boiled with mackerel, mullet, or pomfret, the last a popular choice for banquets as the Chinese name for white pomfret is an auspicious homonym signifying wealth and prosperity.
Tangyuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)
Tangyuan, or glutinous rice balls, are traditionally eaten during the winter solstice to symbolize reunion, wholeness, and longevity. There are many kinds of glutinous rice balls, ranging from the traditional red and white sweet glutinous rice balls, to those stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings such as Hakka-style salty tangyuan and meat-filled glutinous rice balls in soup.
Ba Wan (Taiwanese Meatballs)
Originating in Changhua in West Central Taiwan, these meat-filled dumplings have a translucent, chewy skin made of sweet potato powder mixed with rice milk and potato starch or tapioca flour. The recipe for the meat filling varies from place to place, and cooking methods range from frying to steaming, with several ways of enjoying the meatballs.
This article was written by MICHELIN Guide Taipei & Taichung and translated by Rachel Tan. The original article can be viewed here.