photos by Alice Swift

Introduction to Taiwan (Republic of China)

This month, I continue my exploration of Asia’s hidden secrets while traveling abroad. Being from Taiwan, I can tell you that it does indeed have much to offer.

The island of Taiwan occupies the most density of mountain ranges, and has the largest number of beautiful mountain ranges in the world. In fact, a list of the top 100 mountain peaks over 3,000 m high was released in 1971 for those avid hikers who strive to climb all 100. 

For the foodie lovers out there, Taiwan is full of diverse eating experiences, from the famous night markets where you can have the “street food” experience, to the high-end restaurants like Taiwan-born Chef André Chiang’s RAW, a French-style, modern Taiwan cuisine restaurant, which was just awarded a one-Michelin-star
for 2018!

Fun fact! Chef André Chiang shuttered his two-Michelin star restaurant, Restaurant André in Singapore, to return to his roots in Taiwan and focus on educating the next generation of young aspiring chefs in Asia.

The beverage industry is quite prominent in Taiwan as well. Coffee and tea continues to maintain its popularity, with many local growers and coffee/tea shops. Whiskey has also continued to rise, with Kavalan whiskey (of King Car Distillery) becoming quite well known due to its recent wins at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. 

Taitung

What you may not know about Taiwan is its rich history and indigenous culture. There are 16 recognized tribes living in Taiwan, with the majority of tribes living in Hualien and Taitung. Many of the indigenous peoples living in Taiwan continue to embrace their native cultures and traditions, with increased tourism in both regions. My husband and I traveled to Taitung for the second time in June/July and discovered there is much more to learn about the area. It is a great place to visit if you want a good balance of arts and culture, along with outdoor activities and events that connect you with nature. 

Since 2011, Taitung County has held the Taiwan International Balloon Festival (http://balloontaiwan.taitung.gov.tw) with people and their hot air balloons traveling from afar to the Luye Township. The festival has grown from 350,000 in its first year to over 4.5 million accumulate visitors! 

The Taitung Railway Art Village and the Tiehua Music Village are two other wonderful places to visit for those who want to get up close and personal with local artists. It’s a place where art and culture meet, with local artists, musicians, events and performances taking place. 

Taitung is also known for its fresh seafood (e.g. swordfish, flying fish, sunfish), and its agricultural staple, rice. Surprisingly, Chi Shang, the township in Taitung that is famous for its rice fields, gained its boom in popularity because of an EVA airline commercial featuring a famous actor riding a bicycle past a paddy field and resting under a tree, now known as the Takeshi Kaneshiro Tree. 

Millet Wine

Last but not least, what would a “Wine Talk” article be without talking about wine? While in Taitung, I was able to learn about (and try) a traditional wine made entire from millet. Known as millet wine, this beverage is primarily produced locally by indigenous peoples in areas like Taitung and Pingtung Counties. Millet production has declined due to the onset of rice as the primary agricultural crop in Taiwan. It was considered a “holy crop” because of its traditional use in giving offerings. It would also be used as a celebratory beverage of choice at special events, festivals, weddings, etc. 

Fun Fact! Millet is used in the U.S. primarily as a primary ingredient in birdseed! 

There are quite a few health benefits to millet as well, so it’s a surprise this grain hasn’t taken America by storm like quinoa has. It is high in protein and fiber, contains antioxidants and other essential minerals, and can be used for everything from wine to food dishes and desserts. 

Millet can survive in arid environments and doesn’t need much water, and can grow in less than ideal soil. The wine itself is composed of millet, yeast and water, and is typically made in the traditional, homemade method by the aboriginal tribes. 

Fun Fact! The Malasun brand of millet wine became famous when it was featured in the Taiwan box office hit, Cape No. 7. Malasun is made by Sinyi Winery (Nantou County) whose majority of residents come from the Bunun tribe. 

Taiwan is such a vibrant place filled with rich history, arts, culture, food & beverage and so much more. It’s no wonder the island was formerly called “Ilha Formosa” (beautiful island in Portuguese). I genuinely hope the world puts Taiwan on the map for tourism, as there is just so much to learn and experience. 

For more information on traveling and events in Taiwan, go to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s website at: https://eng.taiwan.net.tw

Until next month, Cheers~! 

Alice