Food holdover from Taiwan’s military past popular with Chinese tourists


TAIPEI, Taiwan – A Taiwanese dish that is a holdover from the country’s military past has been proving unexpectedly popular among Chinese tourists, a local tourist attraction official said Friday.

The National Center for Traditional Art, which is based in northeastern Taiwan’s Yilan County, said it had received numerous complaints from Chinese tourists over the past week since it took a local dish common among Taiwan’s military families off its menu.

Nancy Lee, the center’s PR officer, said many Chinese tourists expressed disappointment when they found that the dish — Meal for Difficult Situations — was no longer being served because the center’s caterers had terminated the contract . The simple dish of fried rice mixed with sausage, egg and soy sauce is popular among people who fled to Taiwan from mainland China following the defeat of the Nationalist forces in 1949.

Regarded as a legacy of Taiwan’s military past, the dish has become increasingly famous among Chinese tourists, including some free independent travelers (FITs) who have been allowed to enter Taiwan since June 28, Lee said.

Lee said the center had been selling around 300 of the dishes per week, mostly to Chinese tourists.

What has surprised Lee even more, though, is the reason why so many of the Chinese tourists are attracted to the dish.

“They are crazy about the mini-Taiwanese flag we put on it,” Lee said. “It seems to me that Chinese tourists are especially interested in stuff that carries Taiwanese images, even though they might sometimes be politically sensitive.”

However, Lee’s observation is not strange to Kevin Chen, secretary-general of the Shen Chun-chi Foundation, which is devoted to cross-Taiwan Strait cultural exchanges.

“I have seen an increasing amount of critical thinking among Chinese tourists in recent years, and they seem more open to political alternatives,” Chen said.

In addition, he went on, Chinese people have become more appreciative of traditional Chinese culture, largely demolished in China during the Cultural Revolution but still well-maintained in Taiwan.

“They really like our lifestyles, no matter whether it is reflected in Taiwanese flags or traditional Chinese characters,” Chen said, “I expect to see more cultural icons similar to the Meal for Difficult Situations being discovered by Chinese tourists once the FIT program gathers steam.”