I never considered myself an adventurous person when it came to food.

There were just some lines I refused to cross. But then I learned that one of the best ways you can experience another culture is through their food. I really didn’t appreciate this fact until I stepped foot in Taiwan two years ago.

Taiwan was my first real cultural experience outside of the U.S., and it was incredible. I was there for six days with my husband, and we definitely maximized our time seeing and experiencing as much as possible. From hiking up Elephant Mountain, walking the streets of Jiuffen and releasing lanterns in Pingxi to bathing in hot springs and driving the countryside of Taichung…. It was incredible. But even amongst all these incredible adventures, the thing that told me the most about Taiwan was their food.

One thing I learned and experienced first-hand is that a culture’s food represents its values.

My first evening in Taiwan was spent in the Raohe Night Market, and my senses were overwhelmed. The aromas were amazing (except the surprisingly stinky tofu), it was busy, everyone was eating, and people were happy. There was so much food and people were so proud to serve you. Oh – did I mention this happens every night, and some people are serving food directly from the kitchens of their homes? It was such an amazing experience. Dumplings, stinky tofu, bubble tea and tons of food I have never heard of were consumed that first night, and I remember being excited for so much more.

The next day we took a gondola ride to Maokong because I heard there was a cute place to sit and have tea on a mountain. OH MY GOSH….it was the most amazing tea experience ever. Everything was mixed, warmed and served right in front of me. I was asked not to drink the first cup since it was ‘dirty’ tea and the second cup would be better. The view, the warmth and aromatic experience of this little place was remarkable. So much care was given to make the purest tea possible and ensure my experience was a moving one. That one cute little place changed my perspective of tea.

A friend of mine here in San Diego is from Taiwan, and we decided to meet her parents while we were visiting Taichung.

They live in an appliance store that is their business and home. We were greeted with so much hospitality and the first thing they wanted to do was share with us the best food they could. We knew better than not to accept, and while communicating verbally was a challenge, the gestures we shared over a selfless meal (and a bit of whiskey) were enough to connect us to their culture.

Our last adventure before leaving was a Sun Moon Lake road trip. Our friends and guides wanted us to enjoy the scenic drive through the mountains (which was superb) and take us to their friend’s restaurant on the lake. They knew I liked shrimp and their friend served the best shrimp. They neglected to tell me that it was the whole shrimp, shell, eyes, legs, antennae, everything. This is not something I would even consider in my daily life, but it was a common part of theirs, so my cultural experience continued and I greatly appreciated the kind gesture.

My travels through Taiwan taught me that food, flavors and ingredients are reflections of the people who eat it. The food and culture of Taiwan was one of humble creativity and showed me that food is the best way to understand and experience a culture.

So, what culture are you going to taste?


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