Food

Makgeolli, usually served in a shallow bowl and downed with gusto. (iStock)

East Asian literati, Korean rice wine and writhing octopus tentacles

Sampling makgeolli or Korean rice wine with friends from the academic community in Seoul, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is transported back in time to the world of ancient literati in China and Korea — would they also have exchanged a story or two over a bowl of makgeolli?
Shoppers walking past a store of Italian luxury brand Prada at a shopping complex in Beijing, China, 19 September 2020. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

How to build a ‘super-sized domestic market’ in China

Even as China talks of a “dual circulation” system and building a “super-sized domestic market”, it seems that its population of 1.4 billion has yet to translate into a strong consumer market. Zaobao correspondent Yang Danxu looks into what it will take for the Chinese government’s plan to work.
A delicious bowl of Kunshan Aozao noodles. (WeChat/玉茗堂前)

A bowl of Suzhou noodles named by Emperor Qianlong

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is lucky to have tried all ten of the most highly rated noodle dishes in China. Among them, Kunshan Aozao noodles from Suzhou stands out. Best consumed piping hot, this noodle soup served with smoked fish or braised duck leg is steeped in folklore.
A wheat field in Chishang Township, Taitung County. (Facebook/蔣勳)

Taiwanese art historian: My mother waited for her soldier husband to return from war, just like Wang Baochuan

In today’s era, we get instant gratification through a swipe of the phone or a flick of the switch. Could we have done what Tang dynasty wife Wang Baochuan did and waited 18 long years — without phone, wifi or video apps — for her husband Xue Pinggui to return home? Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun knows his army wife mother could. It was she who taught him about “Baochuan vegetables”: the stubborn weed of Taiwanese purslane that won’t be stamped out; the pure love that asks for neither company nor reward.
A stall selling Hokkien fried noodles in the 1950s, Singapore. The Chinese in Singapore were mainly emigrants from the Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China, and their food reflects the characteristics of their hometown. But fried Hokkien noodles is a dish unique to Singapore.

[Picture story] How Chinese food made its way all over the world

Chinese cuisine is far from the sweet and sour pork or fortune cookies found in the Chinatowns of the West. From the familiar flavours of Cantonese cuisine to the spicy notes in Sichuan fare and the clean flavours of Jiangsu cuisine, every taste has a place in the rich tapestry of China’s food heritage. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao traces how the Chinese and their food — complete with an entire culture — travelled in history beyond Asia into the wider world.
Winter warmers: A bowl of rich mutton soup. (iStock)

China's thousand-year-old mutton soup

Northern Chinese mutton soup is rich, hearty and bold-flavoured, standing in sharp contrast to the delicate cuisine of the south. The dish is an emblem of the gruff and big-hearted heroism of civil wars past and the grandeur of the Han and Tang dynasties. Indeed, traces of history are left behind in every drop of a good bowl of mutton soup.
A long-awaited date with hairy crabs. (iStock)

From New York to Suzhou: A professor's guide to eating hairy crabs

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai recalls the very first time he tasted Yangcheng Lake’s famed hairy crabs, not in China, but in New York. Since then, he has been smitten with the Chinese mitten crab, and is in no doubt as to why this delicacy takes pride of place in China’s food heritage.
A humble plate of scallion pancake with chive sauce. (Facebook/蔣勳)

The simple beauty of Taiwan in a heavenly scallion pancake with chive sauce 

Chiang Hsun marvels at the way a chive sauce made with Taiwan-grown produce brings out the flavours of a street stall scallion pancake so well. No question about it — this dish would win hands down against any Michelin-starred restaurant’s version. When will we learn to appreciate the natural and the down-to-earth, and eschew the shiny bright lights of the material and the shallow?
Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling in a boat on Sun Moon Lake. (Internet)

Chiang Kai-shek and the ‘President’s Fish’ at Sun Moon Lake

Visitors to Taiwan’s Sun Moon Lake are often awed by the hulking mountains and pristine waters. But notice a tiny pavilion on the water’s edge and you’d be reminded of the immense history this lake holds as a quiet retreat for the colourful leader Chiang Kai-shek — both to ponder the weighty political affairs and to reminisce about his hometown in mainland China’s Jiangnan region.