The exotic flavours of Taiwan


Omani journalist Faiza al Kalbani (right) samples the halal food






Taiwan is the friendliest country in the world for expats according to a 2016 survey report titled The World Through Expat Eyes published by Inter Nations’ Expat Insider. 

The same survey has ranked Oman as the friendliest country in the Middle East, while its global ranking is at a robust sixth.

The likeness between both the nations doesn’t stop at their ‘friendliness quotient’ though. Both Taiwan and Oman appear to be overshadowed by their flamboyant neighbours when it comes to attracting tourists. So, while Dubai lures a big chunk of tourists visiting the Gulf; Hong Kong and Shanghai seem to score over Taiwan.

Despite its reputation as an extremely welcoming destination, Taiwan has surprisingly remained undiscovered and strangely underrated by Middle Eastern and Western travellers. A bulk of its tourists comes from mainland China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asian countries.

However, those who have visited the far eastern island nation even once, are unanimous in their opinion that Taiwan is among Asia’s most attractive tourist destinations that offers immense opportunities and world-class facilities for travellers of all hues. People in Oman will relate to the fact as visitors to the sultanate do not stop singing its praises as the most scenic and friendly place in this part of the world.

Taiwanese people love their food and they love to feed their guests even more. Think of oyster omelette, xiao long bao (steamed dumplings) and eel noodle soup. Does it make your gastronomic juices flow? Well, then Taiwan is the place for the foodie in you to explore.

Taiwan could easily be described as a food-lovers’ paradise, particularly for those who are willing to experiment a bit. While you can experience the best of fine-dining from a range of Asian, Western and Indian cuisines, the night markets in all the major cities offer a mind-boggling choice of street food.

The Garden Night Market in Tainan and Ximending Market in Taipei are among the popular choices for trying out street food. Oyster omelettes are unique to Taiwan and therefore a must try. The array of Asian delicacies on display at these markets is also a treat for your eyes while certainly promising to gratify your palate.

The one place tourists must not miss out is the Din Tai Fung restaurant at the ground level of Taipei 101 – the iconic skyscraper in the Taiwanese capital. The restaurant has a legendary reputation for the xiao long bao (steamed dumplings) served with all kinds of meats, seafood, vegetables and exotic edibles as fillings. Din Tai Fung was once ranked among the top ten restaurants in the world by the New York Times and was awarded one Michelin star.

Tainan, in the southwestern coast of the island, is regarded as the culinary capital of the country, with many authentic and traditional Taiwanese dishes originating from the city. Some of the popular dishes include the eel noodle soup, milkfish dishes and street foods such as the unique oyster omelette, guabao (meat belly buns) and popiah (local spring roll).

All your preferred choices of meats, seafood, vegetables and fruits are available fresh from the local farms. There are a number of outlets specialising in organic products. Lately, Taiwan has witnessed a remarkable increase in outlets offering vegan and vegetarian food. And for Muslim travellers, there are a number of restaurants and hotels serving halal food.

Meanwhile, the authorities in Taiwan are making extra efforts to entice Muslim tourists from the Middle East. The Taiwan Tourism Bureau (TTB) now routinely publishes booklets to spread awareness about the steps it has taken to promote halal tourism in the country.

“Taiwan is home to more than 170,000 Muslims, who worship at six mosques in Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichun, Tainan and Kaohsiung,” informed former TTB director general David Wei-Chun Hsieh.

“The Tourism Bureau invited international Muslim clerics and experts from the Chinese Muslim Association (CMA) to carry out on-site inspections and plan out special tour routes [for Muslim tourists], and to assist hotels, recreation areas and Muslim restaurants along those routes in acquiring halal certification,” he added.

CMA President Ali Kamaluddin Chang assured Muslim travellers that “Taiwan is one of the most inclusive and welcoming travel destinations in the world. We greet the strangers with big hearts and open arms. Muslim friends from abroad can get the support they need, before coming and while here, ensuring a travel experience that is comfortable and rewarding.”

TTB officials said that Taiwan currently issues two kinds of certificates to restaurants and establishments catering to Muslim needs. These are: Muslim restaurants (owned and run by Muslims) and Muslim-friendly restaurants (ownership is non-Muslim but special arrangements for halal food).

The TTB booklet, circulated through tour operators and Taiwan’s Economic and Culture Office in various countries, maintains a list of halal establishments in Taiwan for the benefit of Muslim tourists.

MUST TRY

Din Tai Fung, Taipei
A food trail in Taiwan is incomplete without visiting Din Tai Fung. The restaurant is famous for its xiao long bao (steamed dumplings) and is among the most popular chain of international Taiwanese restaurants with branches in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, the US, Thailand and Dubai.

Atami Hotel, Beitu, Taipei
Beitou’s ‘Tavern Dishes’ are prepared by chefs who integrate the best of Japanese, Sichuan and other regional cuisines. Meticulously cut and decorated, these signature delicacies of Beitou offer a visual and savoury extravaganza that remains popular with gourmet enthusiastics and foodies alike.

Tayih Landis Hotel, Tainan
All Muslim meals provided by the hotel are fully halal. The hotel’s restaurant managing staff and chefs have been trained by the Islamic Food and Beverage Service. The Market Place Buffet Restaurant offers halal set breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, with advanced notice.

Chateau de Chine Hotel, Kaohsiung
The restaurant serves Muslim-friendly meals. All ingredients are halal and specially sourced from suppliers. The meal is served in a private room and a separate kitchen is used for preparation. All utensils and cutlery are separated from the other restaurants in the hotel.

Crimson Buffet, Fleur de Chine, Sun Moon Lake
With stylish decoration and a private space, experience the romantic ambience of Crimson, with the beauty of Sun Moon Lake forming a backdrop of the restaurant, and with the open kitchen serving distinctive dishes and creative menus from different countries.

Ali Baba’s India Kitchen, Taoyuan
The restaurant, run by a Pakistani family, serves Indian halal cuisine. Their trademark weekend-lunch buffet features an array of meat and seafood dishes plus an extensive array of chutneys, curries, starters, breads and desserts. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes such as sizzling spice-infused tandoori chicken, nut-loaded and creamy masalas and fiery hot vindaloos provide a range of flavours popular with new-comers and curry fans.

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