OK guys, let's start by saying that Taiwanese food is definitely not orange chicken or broccoli and beef. The Taiwanese grandmothers — or “ah-mahs” — of the San Gabriel Valley would shudder at that thought.

And it's not the same thing as Chinese food — no matter where you stand on the political spectrum of “Taiwan belongs to China,” or “Taiwan and China are NOT the same country.” That's like saying Italian food is the same thing as American food, which doesn't make any sense. In today's edition of Venn Food Diagrams, we explore the cuisine of the small island of Taiwan, where the food tends to be one of the defining features of the country — er, province.

A brief lesson:

Taiwanese dishes tend to be heavy on the seafood (it's an island, whaddja expect) with Fujian and a mild Japanese influence. Xiao chis, their version of tapas, is the defining feature of the cuisine. Broths and noodles are common and there is an emphasis on bold flavors that are heavy on the soy sauce and saltiness index. The Taiwanese also tend to skirt away from extremely spicy foods — unlike their Sichuan counterparts.

Oysters are common (fried oysters, oyster pancake, oyster vermicelli) and snack foods like bean curd, seaweed, bean sprouts and salted peanuts are usually complimentary in Taiwanese restaurants.

Classic Taiwanese appetizers from A&J Restaurant; Credit: Clarissa Wei

Classic Taiwanese appetizers from A&J Restaurant; Credit: Clarissa Wei

Moral of the story:

Unfortunately for Angelenos, the distinction isn't really there. But we forgive you. A couple of people were kind enough to blurt out Din Tai Fung and ramble on about boba and shaved ice, but the good majority of non-Taiwanese surveyed gave us a blank stare and listed an item from the Panda Express menu. Fail.

Some were so caught off guard they listed “pad thai.” Taiwan, dudes. Not Thai.


Though we wish there was a professional statistician on board who could help us cull sample size, eliminate biases and compile fancy charts, we prefer it done the old-fashioned way. The data was gathered via email, texting, Facebook and the thrifty ask-our-friends-in-person technique. We did strive to get a variety of Angelenos in our survey, from those who had no idea what Taiwanese food was, to those who've had the pleasure of purchasing a boba drink at some point in their life.


Although Los Angeles has one of the highest concentrations of Taiwanese-American immigrants in the States, the average Angeleno has no idea what real Taiwanese food is. Heck, a good chunk of them outside the SGV can't even tell the difference between authentic and Americanized Chinese food.

Kung pao chicken? Really?

Oyster pancake from SinBala restaurant in Arcadia; Credit: Clarissa Wei

Oyster pancake from SinBala restaurant in Arcadia; Credit: Clarissa Wei

Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Reach the author at clarissawei.com and follow her on Twitter.

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