A New Generation of Chefs Reframes Taiwanese Cuisine in America
When Richard Ho opened Ho Foods, a tiny storefront in New York’s East Village last year, his goal was to serve the best possible version of a single Taiwanese dish: beef noodle soup.
His goal was not to become the host of what his employees describe as Manhattan’s first Taiwanese food community center.
But because the dish is so beloved, everyone from Chinatown aunties to fellow Taiwanese-American chefs to curious tourists showed up to see if his soup was up to their particular standards.
“Every Taiwanese mom who comes in tells me a different ‘secret’ to the broth,” Ho said. “Apples, cilantro stems, star anise.”
Beef noodle soup is widely considered the national dish of modern Taiwan, assembled from the island’s tumultuous history, celebrated with an annual festival in Taipei and fought over in a cooking competition with multiple winning categories. But it is only one of countless dishes that make Taiwan’s cooking remarkable and rewarding.
Much of its cuisine can be traced to somewhere else, but — like the United States — Taiwan has experienced so many transformations of demography and culture, technology and taste, that the food now has its own identity.
Because the modern history of the island includes centuries of immigration and colonization, 50 years of Japanese occupation (from 1895 through World War II), and an influx of 2 million refugees from mainland China when the Communist Party took power in 1949, modern Taiwanese food is a particularly kaleidoscopic mix. (Today, the island exists in political limbo between independence from and absorption into greater China.)
“Taiwan itself is a melting pot,” said chef Vivian Ku, of the restaurant Pine & Crane in Los Angeles.
In the United States, Taiwanese dishes have often been swept under the vast umbrella of “Chinese food.” Until recently, only people who know their food geography could spot a restaurant with a particular specialty — beef noodle soup; box lunches of rice, pork and cabbage; braised beef rolled in scallion pancakes — and identify it as Taiwanese.
Now, Taiwanese food is announcing itself. It is not new to the United States, but it is being newly celebrated, and transformed, by young Taiwanese-American chefs and restaurateurs like Ho, Vivian Ku, Eric Sze of 886 in Manhattan and Joshua Ku of Win Son in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
文／Julia Moskin 譯／李京倫