Eating in Taiwan----Banquets, chopsticks and beer
Taiwanese sleep on beds harder and flatter than billiard tables. Sleepless and achy, their only option (aside from shooting billiards in their pajamas) is to eat and drink. They do it constantly.
These are the most hospitable people in the world.
Imagine a place where everybody acts like your grandmother---“Have you eaten yet? Well, it doesn’t look like you’ve eaten enough. Well, just try this!” I would open a bank account here, but I’m afraid of having to go to lunch with tellers every time I want to do business. Soon, even the ATMs will offer money AND tea and cookies. I walk out the front door of the Taipei Artist Village and a lady selling fruit offers me persimmons the size of tomatoes, and several fruits I have never seen. Maybe she is not so much interested in selling fruit as in hanging out where there is guaranteed starving artists supply.
Comparing Chinese food here to Chinese restaurants in America is like comparing McDonalds to grandma’s Thanksgiving Day meal. It will be VERY hard for us to go into a Chinese restaurant in Raleigh in the future.
Taiwan in general, and Taipei in particular, is a great place to try the full panoply of Chinese cuisine. Refugees from all over the mainland have turned up here, so we had authentic North Chinese food last night here in Taipei in contrast to authentic Southern Taiwan seafood in Kaohsiung.
Learn to use chopsticks. Just as with Western cutlery, there are proper and rude ways of holding the sticks and using them. New sticks, in paper or plastic packages are laid by your place at every meal. They are made as one piece, and you have to snap them apart at the end before using them. Your hosts will be delighted to help you learn how to use them and it is a great conversation starter. Wet towels are presented to you to wash your hands before the meal, and more brought out during the meal (I am such a slob, they brought me a pile of them last night, even before I asked.)
Unlike in America, the guest should not eat all the food—it would shame the host, implying there was not enough. The way around this, from the Chinese viewpoint, is to serve people a mountain of food, impossible to entirely consume. Meals are served as ten to fifteen courses. You have one or two small plates before you. Using the square, or blunt end of your chopsticks (the end you don’t put in your mouth), serve yourself from the heaps of food. Jasmine tea, beer and water are served alongside. Beer is sold in large bottles and poured around in 2 or 4 ounce glasses. Toasts are offered to one another constantly, and the glasses held with both hands to show respect.
In the very, very unlikely event you actually have room for desert, fresh fruit is served. The Taiwanese are famous for, and justly very proud, of their fruit industry (I am eating some sort of delicious cross between a pear and an apple as I write this.) Speaking of delicious, one quickly learns to use the word “How-tzur” meaning “delicious.”
At Mr. Huang’s banquet at the Howard Plaza in Kaohsiung, I lost count of the “how-tzur” courses of food served. People lined up and came by the table to introduce themselves, present their business cards ( a separate ritual, deserving its own short essay), and offer a toast to me and Joy. Whiskey, wine, and beer are served and calls of “Gampay! are heard frequently (literally, “dry glass,” but their phrase for “bottoms up!”)
This seems to go on until very late at night until everybody is so tipsy and full, they don’t mind sleeping on a billiard table.
I have posted a few pictures below. Finally, there is a picture of the foreign artists and their interpreters and event staff.
Mr Huang presents us with
an embroidered scroll Joy with a silk shawl.
The Usual Suspects at an "English pub,"
The Pig And Whistle, in Kaohsiung one night. Left to right: Joy Haas, Jodie Lee, Kristaps Gulbis, Saturo Takada, David Lee Thompson,
Daphne Yisin, Joel Haas, Liya Wang Mr. Huang kindly bought drink and food all around that evening.