Although the majority of Taiwan’s population is comprised of the Han Chinese (myself being one of them!), there is also a very large Hakka population, with the majority living in and around Miaoli, Hsinchu and Kaosiung Counties. One of the most well preserved centers of Hakka culture can be found in Beipu, which is an old town located in the foothills of Hsinchu. (yeah, foothills. I know it’s a strange archaic term but I don’t really know how else to describe it!)
The Hakka people have tried, and been successful in recent times in reviving and establishing a distinct culture for themselves, which of course, includes food! And the food in this town is probably going to be much better than what you would find elsewhere in Taiwan (more authentic, obviously).
On the first day I arrived in Taiwan (at 5am!) my parents and I, along with two of my aunts, my uncle and a cousin of mine (Angela) decided to take a day trip to explore the old town. We made our first stop at a traditional little Hakka restaurant and ordered a ton of things. Most notably, you will find one of the most famous dishes of Hakka cuisine: Ban tiao (板條). Pictured below, this is essentially a flat rice noodle cut from long sheets of rice noodle paper and can be either served in soup, tossed with some soy sauce, onions, garlic and scallions, and usually pork, or it can fried, with similar items, in addition to some bean sprouts.
However, and perhaps even better than the ban tiao is the lei tea (擂茶) that is unique (and probably more complicated!) to any other tea you’ll find on the island. The word “lei” literally means “to grind”, and refers to the process of combining peanuts, sesame seeds, and tea leaves into a fine paste, then combining that paste with a matcha-like tea powder made from a bunch of different herbs and teas.
Let me tell ya, “grind” was an understatement!
After seeing a lovely display outside a tea house, we decided to go in for their “DIY” experience.
This “DIY” experience basically means that we (myself and some of my family members) spent 30 minutes using the biggest mortar and pestle that I have ever used to grind this stuff into an edible sticky paste. The point? To enjoy the fruits of our labour, I guess. It was very delicious, and quite healthy too!
So, there you have it! A Hakka experience. So for those of you who are always asking me about the “other cultures” in Taiwan, this is a fulfilled request. Stay tuned for much more!
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