The expert panel for the Taiwan episode was WildTaiwan co-founder Wendy Kung, local tech expert and entrepreneur ViVi Chang and indigenous studies expert Abus Istasipal. The conversation covers a range of topics – nature, food, indigenous cultures, languages, pop culture and more!
Here are a few of our favorite snippets from the podcast – teasers to whet your Taiwan travel appetite!
ViVi kicks off the episode with her favorite travel experience in Taiwan: “One night when I was drifting on a small bamboo raft by the Penghu Islands, I saw this blue glowing water and many little sparkles swimming underneath me like little blue stars. I felt like I was walking into an Ang Lee movie, but the movie scene wasn’t fiction anymore. Actually, these luminous sea creatures were the inspiration for the Ang Lee’s Life of Pi when he first saw them off the southern coast of Taiwan. Locals like to call them blue tears. Anyway, that was one of the most remarkable nights I ever had in Taiwan.”
She later goes on to give some mind-boggling facts about Taiwan: “I want to give you some interesting facts about Taiwan. Taiwan is home to so much biological diversity. We have a tropical climate in the south, a subtropical climate in the north and snow on the central mountain peaks. So that really gives the island a wide variety of plant and animal life. Believe it or not, we have nine national parks on this one small island. Taiwan has the highest density of high mountains in the world with 268 peaks above 3,000 meters.”
Wendy gives the best overview to Taiwan’s complex and multi-cultural food culture that we’ve ever heard: “In Taiwan there are roughly four types of cuisine. One is really traditional Taiwanese, like beef noodle or luwei (滷味), which is eaten as late night snack where you take fish balls or vegetables or a bowl of noodles which you pick out and then brew in a soy sauce soup. This is really traditional and you can find it at the night market, where all the best traditional Taiwanese snacks can be found.
The second translates to “military dependence village cuisine”. The soldiers and farmers and everyone who came to Taiwan during the wars brought with them the eight types of cuisine from mainland China to Taiwan. They cooked these in their small communities, which is why it’s called “military dependence village cuisine”. There are lots of familiar dishes that come from this one, like Peking duck and dumplings.
Third is Hakka cuisine, which is distinct to the Hakka people. It’s slightly salty and always marinated. So like pork with vegetables or Hakka tofu – tofu with meat in-between with a lot of sauces.
Fourth is the indigenous cuisine, which people are usually the most curious about. So this is like wild barbecue boar or hunter’s lunch which is a rice ball wrapped in a ginger leaf.”
Taiwan’s Indigenous Culture and History
Abus talks about how taro, a purple root vegetable popular in Taiwan, can be used as a lens through which to view Austronesian culture’s Taiwanese heritage: “Actually taro is one of the main crops of Australia now, but originally it was thought to have come from Taiwan. One thing that’s great about it is that it can last a very long time, up to 10 years dried, so it was a perfect food item to bring on long voyages [which Taiwanese indigenous people embarked on over 3,500 years ago]. Language research also points to ties between Taiwanese indigenous people and Austronesian people. For example “fish”, in Fiji is ikah, in Malay ikang, Bunun [an indigenous people of Taiwan] is iskam. So it’s really similar. So now we know that Austronesian language and cultures stretch from Madagascar to Easter Island and from Taiwan to New Zealand, so it really spans the whole world.”