Depictions of foodstuffs in Taiwan–a photo gallery.

My parents currently live in Taipei, and I recently got back from visiting them for the holidays. And as anyone who’s been to Taiwan can tell you, one of the main things you do when you’re here is eat. It is the type of place where at lunch, a common topic of conversation is where to eat for dinner.

Walking around the city, you will run into countless street hawkers selling various xiaochi (literally, “little eats”) out of stalls and carts, usually served on a stick or in a small plastic bag. Xiaochi is a broad term that includes Chinese sausages (savory and sweet and five-spiced), congyoubing (flaky scallion flatbreads best griddled in lard), muoji (chewy nuggets of glutinous rice dusted with peanuts, sesame, and sugar) and much, much more. Vendors generally specialize in a specific type of xiaochi, so generally all you need to do to begin to sample this expansive universe of food is to walk around until you find a vendor with a long line and stand in it. So simple. Best of all, this experience costs only $1-3. It’s pretty great.

Anyway, while I was there, I noticed that an interesting thing about Taiwan’s food culture is how food is advertised. It appears that there has been a consensus among Taiwanese dining establishments (from street carts to brick-and-mortar restaurants alike) that the best way to market food is to put up a sign with an anthropomorphized cartoon depiction of that food that illustrates to potential customers just how tasty that food is and just how happy that food is being so tasty.

Here are a few examples, which do a better job of describing this technique than I do. In my opinion, it’d be pretty great if American restaurants took a few pages out of this playbook.

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Here is a happy sausage wearing a chef’s hat showing all the delicious ways he can be eaten (with garlic, with cilantro, in a bun, on a stick, etc.).
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This is a sculpture of a smiling bao, who is serving a few of his tasty compatriots in a bamboo steamer.
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This is a cow, licking his lips and blowtorching himself. He is also wearing a chef’s hat.
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This is a joyful chestnut and what appears to be mischievous durian, arm-in-arm, both giving a thumbs up.
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This is a cheerful squid who bears a passing resemblance to a phallus giving a thumbs up, holding another squid wearing glasses skewered on a stick.
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Here, a sweet potato and a ginger nub give each other a high five.
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A kiwi celebrates while a lychee undresses herself.
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Here, a smiling pig wearing a chef’s hat serves up an oyster omelet.
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A cow who is also a boss smokes a cigar.
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In this mural, a mustachioed mango cube wearing a top hat and cape saws a strawberry in half after which the two weeping strawberry halves embrace, in what appears to be a magic trick gone wrong.
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In a metaphor evoking the restaurant’s name, a delighted sausage embraces a piglet.
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Finally, this is only somewhat related, but here is the Quaker Oats man advertising a ginseng drink, which appears to have been a popular beverage enjoyed by the Quakers in the early 18th century.

 

You should visit Taiwan! You will probably gain a few pounds, but it is worth it. I myself have no regrets.

 

2 replies on “Tasty Happy Taiwan Food

  1. The strawberry being sawed in half is really metaphysical. It just strikes me as being like on an entirely different level than all the other foods with faces. Some brilliant artist clearly put a lot of thought into it, the story of mango cube and strawberry siren, piecing together an entire window comic only to deliver a message that is lost in abstraction. It feels tragic, but I’m not entirely sure why. And it dawns on me that perhaps the riddle itself is the commentary… like what is the sense behind all this food porn? Well, if I ever need someone to draw on my windows, it’ll be a long journey to Taiwan.

    Liked by 1 person

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