Penghu Fish Says.
EVERY YEAR, TAIWANfest engages in a dialogue with other nations; for 2022, it’s a conversation with Indonesia and Malaysia. And while the festival shines a light on Taiwan, it also celebrates multiculturalism. One of the ways the event connects cultures is through food. Here’s a sampling of what’s on the table—and beyond—at TAIWANfest: The Stories of Independence.
 
This interactive installation at Granville 700 explores ideas of bento through the works of several artists. “There are different stories behind every bento,” says Charlie Wu, ACSEA director, noting that the comfort meal is also a basket for the fusion of different cultural backgrounds. “The concept of this installation is getting people to talk to each other: ‘What do you put in your bento?’ Bentogram features ideas of bento that are environmentally friendly and culturally interesting.”
Consider participating artist Allie Huang, head chef of Taiwan’s The Alley No. 11, who relocated to Tainan from Miaoli. Her grandmother, who helps her at the tiny restaurant, planted roots in Taiwan after leaving Shandong. By sharing stories that detail the inspiration behind each dish, the origins of each ingredient, and the hard work of farmers, Huang believes that the kind of dining experience she offers can make the world a better place. 
Huang sources her ingredients strictly from farmers who adhere to eco-friendly practices. Mushrooms from the hills of Nantou and a variety of carrot related to fennel are stir-fried to retain their purest flavour then garnished with edamame—the “green gold” of Kaohsiung. Everything is then wrapped in lotus leaves. The dishes that Huang will be talking about at TAIWANfest reflect an appreciation for family and nature.
Other artists featured in Bentogram will share stories about everything from the Hehe Terrace Fields in Gongliao (producers of culinary bamboo farmed with the assistance of oxen) to sambal, Malaysia’s signature sauce. Then there’s narrow-barred Spanish mackerel, an iconic fish of Penghu. 
Also known as Pescadores, Penghu is an archipelago and county consisting of more than 60 small islands that lie approximately 50 kilometres west of the coast of Taiwan, separated from the mainland by the P’eng-hu Channel.
The narrow-barred Spanish mackerel makes for a classic dish in local cuisine, ideally served with beer, the fish sun-dried then wok-fried at high heat with garlic and chili. Penghu Fish Says is a business that aims to educate people through food about how fish make their way from the ocean to the dinner table. Fishing techniques, the stories of fishermen, and the culture of Penghu are also taught. They hope that people will develop a closer bond with the ocean by appreciating the fish they eat and contribute to the sustainability by choosing seafood procured through ocean-friendly methods.
Taiwanese spring roll (run bing or popiah). Photo by WoonHeng
The daughter of famous writer Lin Yu-Tang called lumpia as “a gift wrapped in white yarn”; poet Du Fu described the food as “delicate fresh greens in a spring dish”. 
Called lumpia in Indonesia and the Philippines, spring rolls are known as run-bing in Mandarin. In Malaysia, the dish is dubbed popiah; the Vietnamese call it cha gio; while the Dutch and Belgians know it as loempia
With migration and global trade, the popular street food spread from Asia to Europe and beyond, the dish taking on new flavours along the way. “Each place wraps different things in it to make it their own, reflecting local culture and customs,” Wu says.
Burnaby’s Sasaya Bistro, which specializes in Taiwanese and Chinese cuisine, will be stationed at šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énk Square (north of Vancouver Art Gallery) throughout the festival offering fresh spring rolls. 
La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop’s birria ramen. Photo by Runamen
Spotlight IndependEats is a self-guided food tour in partnership with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. Each featured restaurant has a “spotlight” dish or range of dishes that links to the fest’s theme of The Stories of Independence.
“We’re a multicultural festival, and we’re also mindful that we’re only downtown once a year, and we want to make sure we do things that contribute to the area’s well-being,” Wu says. “Downtown is part of a lot of people’s everyday lives and we want to support the local community. As we celebrate stories of independence, we want to support local independent businesses.”
Among the highlights: vindaloo at Rice N Spice Restaurant. The dish from Goa ( a part of India that was colonized by Portugal) is based on a Portuguese meal, its Portuguese name being carne de vinha d’alhos. La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop is serving birria ramen, a fusion dish inspired by Mexican birria, a type of soup or stew you can dip tacos into, and Japanese ramen. La Taqueria’s version has garnered a cult following, the brisket broth replete with freshly made cornflour and rice noodles, a crispy taco, a soft-boiled egg, pickled onion, herbs, spices, and more. Try pho at Joyeaux Café and Restaurant, morel risotto at Nightingale, gaeng mussamun (massaman curry) at Sala Thai, French-North African cuisine at Café Medina, banh mi at Viet Sub Vietnamese Cuisine, bubble waffle at Bubble Waffle Café, and seafood at Coast. Learn the stories behind each dish as you go.
More information is at TAIWANfest
Gail Johnson is a Vancouver-based journalist who has earned local and national nominations and awards for her work. She is a certified Gladue Report writer via Indigenous Perspectives Society in partnership with Royal Roads University and is a member of the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards judging panel.
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