Sunday, July 24, 2011

Discuss: CNN for 50 best food list has no Taiwan food

CNN produced a list of 50 of the world's top foods. Inevitably, it included no Taiwanese dishes. Inevitably, it made an error with the only dish commonly-associated with Taiwan, stinky tofu. Inevitably, Taiwanese were affronted that there were no Taiwanese dishes on the list. Taiwanese netizens, you need to get out more.

Arguably, there are several really ridiculous choices. WTF were they doing ranking the incomparable masala dosa at 49? Below ketchup (and ketchup instead of chili sauce or salsa!)?! 神經病! How could a list of the top 50 foods contain no cheese? No kimchi? And two British foods to one French? List parma ham but not spaghetti in any form? Etc etc etc.

Does anyone at CNN ever eat out?

But all that said, there is one indisputably Taiwanese food that has taken the world by storm in recent years, and could well have been included on the list: pearl milk tea.

What would you put on the list from Taiwan, if anything?
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Ryan said...

In what world does Stinky Tofu land on a list of the world's most delicious foods? I can think of literally thousands of foods I would rank over stinky sofu which is, frankly, nothing more than an overblown novelty food (like ultra-spicy hot sauces).

Anonymous said...

Sweet Potato Fries

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, ketchup in some ways is a cousin to Taiwanese food. The word comes by way of Malaysian-Indonesia where the "jiap" is actually a Taiwanese word (I leave the translation as an exercise for the reader ;) ).

The list consists of lots of crowd pleasing types of food and is not about subtlety. In that case, I can clearly see how spaghetti didn't make the list.

I would offer General Tso's chicken (though actually the American Chinese version is quite different from the original Taiwanese version), instant noodles, biandang (Taiwanese bento box), and beef noodles (though the noodles can actually become quite complex) as all quite reasonable for the top 50.

Anonymous said...

I would point out that CNN rated Taipei as number 1 for food in a sinful Asian city list:

Kaminoge said...

"Inevitably, it made an error with the only dish commonly-associated with Taiwan, stinky tofu."

Other than Taiwanese (and resident foreigners here), who commonly associates stinky tofu with Taiwan? The Wikipedia entry, for example, states the dish is a popular street food in Hong Kong. Would the average Hong Konger associate it with Taiwan?

Come to think of it, would anyone outside of East and Southeast Asia even have a clue as to what stinky tofu is?

These "Best (insert noun) lists" are naturally subjective, and can only be based on personal experiences. While I've done a fair bit of traveling myself, there are still many places in this world I haven't been to, and therefore many delicious foods I haven't had the pleasure to try yet. I doubt those upset Taiwanese netizens have experienced much in the way of (authentic) non-Taiwanese/Chinese cuisine.

As for my choices, I agree with the bubble tea inclusion.

Gridman said...

That was a bizarre list, wasn't it?

OzSoapbox said...


Taiwan was listed for gluttony, in that food here is cheap - not neccesarily good.

Personally I'm surprised Stinky Tofu even made it onto the list. Tastewise it's nothing without the sauce. You could put that sauce on anything and have it taste alright.

The tofu itself it barely tasteful and the smell negates what little taste it has on its own anyway.

That said, ketchup...? I guess if you went with popularity and worldwide consumption numbers it'd be on there but otherwise? Ketchup is only really used to make bland tasting foods only slightly less bland.

Personally I'd have put some dumplings (those little shao ones), pork dishes (mountain pork) or yeah pearl tea if we're talking Taiwan.

Although I guess if they're going with worldwide consumption then that's why Taiwan doesn't rate. Bubble tea aside (which has been around for how long now and still isn't all that well known), Taiwan isn't too good at branding itself globally in food. And when they do, the cuisine is often simply mistaken for being Chinese.

Michael Turton said...

That's part of the current government program, identifying Taiwan with Chinese.

Taiwanese food is bland and undistinctive, even in its Chinese versions. It's all been blanded down as it came over.


Jenna said...

Food is such an objective thing...what I consider to be my favorite foods would be forced down with a grimace by others (sea urchins, for one, and grilled stinky tofu for another). I think that a well-cooked squid or perfect oyster is a beautiful thing, but I have friends who hate seafood. People rave about fine French cuisine and yet I'm...well, it's not bad but it doesn't impress me.

So the idea that there could be a list with the "50 best foods" is ridiculous in and of itself. It's just a stupid idea. Your 50 best foods won't be mine.

But, if I had to choose some Taiwanese food for the list, I'd choose:

BBQ stinky tofu (specifically BBQ, with spicy pickled cabbage)

sea urchin sashimi (which I know is Japanese but you can get it here, fresh and local)

Lugang fried oysters

East coast style preserved flying fish with mountain pig

shrimp roll rice with plum sauce and mustard

Anping douhua - but only the real stuff from Anping

Fushoushan Evergreen tea

seafood from Donggang

preserved tofu - the really fermented kind that comes in small bottles and is served with a traditional rice porridge breakfast and has that pungent taste. I LOVE that stuff. Sometimes I eat it straight.

A well-made Yuanlin style rice gluten dumpling with bamboo and mushroom.

Night-market style fried stuff - sweet potato fries, tianbula and fried white turnip cake are my faves

Anonymous said...

"Taiwanese food is bland and undistinctive, even in its Chinese versions."

What?! I would say over-salted, over-sweetened, very heavy and thick in flavorings. Fried, refried, heavy on the oil, which not too long ago, was always lard, and still is in some places. Bland? Seriously?

I would agree somewhat on the undistinctive point. It doesn't have a common denominator to it the way some cuisines do. Although soy sauce is used in many Taiwanese dishes, it's not universally puked onto dishes the way tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese is in Italian cuisine. What is a bit distinctive to me relative to many Chinese cuisines is that it avoids the heavy spices of the Chinese interior and that most dishes are salty but are often sweetened, and that is not so common, esp in northern Chinese cuisine.

I would say also is if you like milk/cheese and creamy foods, yes, Taiwanese food doesn't have that kind of thing. It's not a part of the Taiwanese spectrum of food at all.

SY said...

I'd have oyster omelette (蚵仔煎) as number one on my list.

Michael Turton said...

Bland? Seriously?

Compared to Indian, Malaysia, Thai, Sri Lankan, Mexican, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Iranian, Turkish, etc. I'd say yes, bland.


John Scott said...

I think you are confused as to which list stinky tofu should be put on. I'm pretty sure it goes on the "50 Nastiest Foods List", and definitely near the top!

Of course, those American "top 100xxx" lists are only meant to reflect the "top 100 xxx that Americans might have heard of."

But re. good Taiwanese foods, here's a couple on my own list...

1. 南部肉粽 (Southern Taiwan-style ZongZi, the kind with pork, mushrooms and peanuts, served with lots of crushed garlic and fresh cilantro). Note: have a bottle of Taiwan beer ready-- the regular kind.

2. Vanilla ice cream + crushed peanut brittle + fresh, chopped cilantro, rolled up in a thin rice crepe. Wonderful! (but make sure they don't add MSG!)

3. Pretty much anything with peanut power and cilantro on it :)

Anonymous said...

No one's mentioned mango ice. Definitely a must-include.

That's part of the current government program, identifying Taiwan with Chinese.

Can we leave the local politics out of one post at least. It's tiresome. The food promotion policy now is no different to what it was during the DPP-era.

Michael Turton said...

Can we leave the local politics out of one post at least. It's tiresome. The food promotion policy now is no different to what it was during the DPP-era.

Can't; promotion of food tourism in Taiwan is an old KMT policy designed to increase local tourism without development of nationalism through ties to local history and culture.

Would be nice to leave politics out, but unfortunately the politicians won't let us.

Jenna said...

Some Taiwanese food is bland (I didn't list you fan or oyster omelet because I happen to find those two dishes bland) but really, I can't agree that it mostly is, and definitely not that it all is.

A nice grilled mountain pig with salt and pepper - how is that bland?! Lugang fried oysters, especially if you get the ones with basil and chili (available in some places) is nowhere near bland. Sea urchin is packed with flavor - NOT BLAND. Rice gluten dumplings are only bland if made badly - made well they're delicious. Shrimp roll rice with the stewed meat...definitely not bland especially with the added sauces. Good fresh seafood is not bland if made right. And if you think the Chinese food that came over is bland, you haven't eaten at Hui Guan (Ningxia food) or Tian fu (Sichuanese food).

I like that Taiwanese food has no common denominator - I like that I need very different ingredients to make different common dishes. To me that says "varied", not "undistinctive". Unlike the cuisines of many countries, Taiwanese food doesn't all taste vaguely the same.

Michael Turton said...

Jenna, you've misunderstood -- the Chinese that came over was blandified in Taiwan to match local palates. Only recently has the influx of Chinese good retained more of its distinctiveness.

What are rice gluten dumplings? Sticky rice tzung tz?

And yes, compared to a good Sri Lankan coconut curry, almost everything on your list is bland. Except for the fresh seafood which has its own delicate flavors.


D said...

I second SY. Oyster pancake belongs on the list, if not on the Taiwanese flag itself.

The shaved ice can be fun too.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why people kept calling CNNGO CNN. It's just a lifestyle website that belongs to the CNN group. The connotation is different, right? It's just giving the anti-CNN folks more excuses to attack "Western Media", what with Century Egg selected as the most disgusting food last time and only one Chinese food on the list this time. Ok. I double checked, Chinese Media are more careful to make the distinction this time, but generally people still aren't.

And why pay attention to this website at all? It calls itself "the insider's guide to Traveling in Asia": "Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Mumbai, Tokyo, and Shanghai." Oh, now with Seoul and Sydney.

Those selections come from their "iReports", submitted by their website users. Anyone can submit something. Oh, wait, that plays right into their hands, more publicity for making these subjective lists.

Carlos said...

I don't think "bland" is unfair. It's usually used in contrast to spiciness, which Taiwanese food generally is not. "Savory" might be a better term though. Spanish food is often described as bland too; like Taiwanese food it tends to depend on salt, oil, and sweetness (not as much though). The flavors tend to be more subtle, at least.

And I don't fault CNNGO for leaving Taiwanese dishes off the list. The ones that stand out to me personally are small foods rather than main courses, which might be why they didn't make it. I think I would've lobbied the hardest for zhong zi.

My other half would've put Valencian paella a little higher up, and jamón serrano way above parma ham. But I'm biased.

STOP Ma said...

One of my favourites -- that is on the menu in the Richmond night market in metro-Vancouver...

"Steamed bun pork hamburger with cilantro, pickled something and a dash of peanuts."


Another drink that may not be well known in Taiwan, but I miss...

"Green Tea with Heineken beer"

Put the two together and I'm a happy man!

Brendan said...

Taiwanese rice gluten dumplings = 肉圓 (I can't think of a better English name for them). Well-made they are quite savory and delicious. Poorly made they are blah.

Anyway, I think you know, Michael, that I used to live in India. I agree that the food of most of South Asia is packed with flavor, but I respectfully disagree that the stuff on my list is "bland" in comparison. Differently flavored, sometimes more delicate, sometimes more subtle, but not "blander". And if you think that a grilled mountain pig (not the stir-fried kind but the kind made on a BBQ grill with salt and pepper) or Lugang fried oysters with basil and chili is bland in ANY context, I'm sorry but I really disagree.

Taiwan Echo said...

"I'd have oyster omelette (蚵仔煎) as number one on my list."

Oh yea ... yummy ...

滷肉飯、台南擔子麵、萬巒豬腳、太陽餅、牛舌餅、新竹貢丸、彰化肉丸、桶仔米糕、菜頭糕 。。。

Oh sh***t, drooling all over ...

Taiwan Echo said...

STOP Ma:"Steamed bun pork hamburger with cilantro, pickled something and a dash of peanuts."


I believe it is called 割包(pronounced in Taiwanese as 掛包 Gua-bao)

割 means "slice" or "sliced." It is a 包子 (bao-zi) in nature, but instead of wrapping the content inside completely, the 割包 has the wrapping dough sliced open, making it look like a hamburger. Imagine the 割包 as a "sliced 包子".

John Scott said...

I think any guide to Taiwanese dishes ought to be accompanied by a guide on how to avoid MSG! If you are among the small number of people who have MSG intolerance (headaches, etc.), be careful.

The peanut powder that is typcially sprinkled on many Taiwan snacks (such as gua-bao, the ice cream & cilantro rolls, and even mwa-ji) often has MSG mixed in.

Also avoid: pretty much anything that is deep-fried, including those sweet, chewy sesame seed balls; any spice blend sprinkled on grilled foods like squid; any kind of soup, or dishes which include lots of sauce. Find the hot pot places that can assure you there is no MSG in the broth (but even some of them still add some so-called "natural" spice blend that includes MSG).

Learn how to order dishes (and explain your intolerance) in Chinese or Taiwanese in restaurants that prepare the dish after you order it; for example, fried rice, fried noodles, etc.

Jenna said...

My apologies to you and Brendan for accidentally posting as him. That was me.

氣青強 said...

No food in the place deserves to be in the top 1000, let alone the top 50. How can other SE Asian foods be so good (Thai, Korean) and Taiwan's be so bad. The seafood is great but I don't see anything distinctly TWese about it.

Taiwan Echo said...

John Scott:"The peanut powder that is typcially sprinkled on many Taiwan snacks (such as gua-bao, the ice cream & cilantro rolls, and even mwa-ji) often has MSG mixed in."

MSG on ice cream and snacks? you sure ? I thought MSG is used for cooking.

Readin said...

"I think any guide to Taiwanese dishes ought to be accompanied by a guide on how to avoid MSG! If you are among the small number of people who have MSG intolerance (headaches, etc.), be careful."

"The peanut powder that is typcially sprinkled on many Taiwan snacks..."

Do you have any advice on how to avoid peanut powder for people with peanut allergies?

Anonymous said...

The list is definitely strange. It's almost as if they had a shorter list and added filler items. I second all the things on Taiwan Echo listed, and add 剉冰 and 永和豆漿. Now I'm hungry...

John Scott said...

Taiwan Echo: "MSG on ice cream and snacks? you sure? I thought MSG is used for cooking".

Very sure. If it is in dry crystal form, I can feel it immediately and stop eating whatever it is. It is an intense itching feeling-- not a taste. If it is dissolved in soup, sauce or in stir-fry, etc. , I can't feel or taste it, but I get very sick about 45 minutes later.

If you have lived in Taiwan, tried every kind of food, and never had a reaction, then you don't need to worry about it. But when I came to Taiwan a few years ago, I had to figure out why I was getting sick so often. Once I learned how to avoid it, I was fine. A doctor told me that most people have an enzyme in their blood that breaks MSG down quickly, but people who don't have that enzyme will have bad reactions.

Yes, it is mostly for cooking, but the dry MSG is sprinkled onto many Taiwan snacks, even sweet snacks, and yes, even the ice-cream rolls. Most Taiwanese think it makes any food more delicious. For example, when you buy mwa-ji (the sweet, white, chewey rice balls) from a vendor, there is often MSG in the sweet powder they give you to dip the mwa-ji into.

Readin: "Do you have any advice on how to avoid peanut powder for people with peanut allergies?"

No. That would be pretty hard to avoid in Taiwan, where peanuts are in so many sweets and so many dishes.

James said...

Jenna's got it right - all about taste; one man's meat etc ...

Mike's saying dosa and coconut curry - but I wouldn't even put these that high on my list of Indian foods. I find some coconut curries extremely bland - gimme Jalfrezi, Dopiaza, Rogan Josh and even the made up British ones over Korma any day!

As for the naysayers about food here - unlucky. Stinky tofu bland apart from the sauce? The stinkiness is the tofu! It's normal tofu, dogan etc that has now taste. The fermenting is the only thing that gives its taste and teh sauces with a good mala ... oooh yes.

Wild boar meat, as Jenna mentioned, a decent bowl spicy beef noodles with accompanying steamed pork chops and rice powder(lao zhang on yongkang, lao deng off yanji)and vinegary cow peas (love these),grilled quail meat (aboriginal - not so easy to find)and their peppered fried eggs, a good bowl of thick majiang, mutton fried rice, frog, a greasy old scallion bread with runny egg, dragon's beard veg with raw egg cracked in the middle, good lion's head meatballs, home made zhongzhi with everything in it, gongbao chicken when it's got more of the sichuan about it, a CNY rack of braised pork tied up with strings(so bad but sooo good) ...

(sings) these are a few of my favourite things!

And that's just off the toppa the dome kids.

Thoth Harris said...

lol: "Do you have any advice on how to avoid peanut powder for people with peanut allergies?" To paraphrase Ben Bailey, "I have an intolerance for people who have an intolerance of peanuts."

I will confess, however, that I am not merely MSG intolerant, but I actually am allergic to it, and I even tell doctors, skin, or otherwise, that I am. My lips swell up really big, and my face gets even more freakish than it already is, hehe. Honestly, I've never encountered anything like it. I didn't used to get allergic to it, only in the past 8 months or so. I used to be allergic to dogs and cats, but either my frequent contact with my wife's dog and some other dogs or all the pollution in Taiwan, have rendered that allergy null and void. But the MSG thing is a recent occurrence. It doesn't happen every time food supposedly has MSG in it, or even the same product. Even my different skin doctors haven't been able to figure it out.