Written by Tracy Fu, (George Washington University), CET Taiwan Summer 2019
Be warned, if you decide to study abroad in Taiwan, you will probably gain a couple extra pounds over the course of your time here. In this blog, I just wanted to ramble a bit on the food culture of Taipei.
In the United States, we have this odd misconception that people in East Asian countries are healthier due to their eating or lifestyle habits. While this might be true for some cities, there is definitely no shortage of fried and unhealthy food in Taipei, such as 炸鸡排(zhá jī pái/fried chicken), 葱饼(cōng bǐng/spring onion pancake), and 水煎包(shuǐ jiān bāo/dumplings). The fact that these foods are cheap and readily available on every street corner does not help anyone maintain a balanced diet.
However, the vast majority of people I see walking the streets are very fit and seem to be unaffected by the plethora of fried food that are surrounding them. I then thought maybe Taiwanese people just don’t eat out often, maybe they frequently cook meals at home. As I was talking to my one-on-one Chinese teacher at ICLP, she dispelled this sentiment explaining that Taiwanese people very rarely cook at home, as there are so many cheap and convenient options everywhere they go.
Perhaps it is genetics or a heavier emphasis on going to the gym, as it is very common to see even elderly people at the local gym, Either way, foreigners like me needed to find a way to adapt to this food culture. During the first couple of weeks, I was sick to my stomach half the time due to the change in my eating habits. People always talk about culture shock but a large portion of that culture shock includes the food culture. Since our stomachs are not used to the different spices and ingredients, it is easy to find oneself with an upset stomach.
The easiest way to eat and feel better is to find the closest market near you to buy fresh produce to cook on your own at home. By market, I mean the morning markets, not the infamous night markets where you are sure to only eat fried snacks. The morning markets have vendors of every kind; fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, flowers, and grains.
If you want to practice your Chinese, come to these markets and try your luck bargaining with the vendors. Once you have your produce, you can control the amount of salt and oil that goes into your meal.
Lastly, don’t feel ashamed if you need to eat food from home every once in awhile. Sometimes a nice burger or a plate of spaghetti is just what you need after a long week of studying and interning.