As the temperature begins to drop and Thanksgiving rapidly approaches, nothing satisfies the holiday cravings like a warm home-cooked meal. The Taiwanese Student Association provided just that with their free annual Taste of Taiwan event Sunday. Students of all cultural backgrounds gathered together at Shea House to show appreciation for the Taiwanese culture while enjoying a wide variety of traditional dishes.
The planning process for Taste of Taiwan began back in July with booking the space in Shea House. The TSA executive team began formulating the menu about a month ago and finalized the recipes a week later. Since then, the team has been hard at work gathering bulk ingredients like beef and noodles from Costco with the expectation of feeding about 350 to 400 students and families.
Third year Engineering student and TSA president Eric Guan spoke about the lengths that preparing for the event required. Finding the more specialized ingredients for their authentic dishes proved to be a slight inconvenience, primarily due to the near absence of Asian grocery stores in Charlottesville.
“A lot of the ingredients that we have aren't exactly sold here in Charlottesville, as they are specific Asian spices and things that you would find traditionally in Asian grocery stores,” Guan said. “There is only one such grocery store here in Charlottesville which is called Cville Oriental, but their selection is pretty limited.”
For that reason, TSA members made multiple trips up to Northern Virginia to shop at larger Asian American supermarkets such as H Mart, Lotte and Great Wall Supermarket to give guests an authentic taste of Taiwanese dishes.
This year’s menu included beef noodle soup, scallion pancakes, tea eggs, sesame and peanut noodles, almond and coconut jelly and bubble tea. These dishes were chosen not only for their personal significance to the TSA board but most importantly for their significance in Taiwanese cuisine.
“These are such staple Taiwanese dishes that we feel like showcasing an event where we have the name Taiwan would not be complete without any of these items,” Guan said.
TSA changes the menu for Taste of Taiwan every year based on the preferences and skills of the team leaders as well as the culinary chairs. The team comes together with different versions of the same dish, then recipes are compared and taste tested to perfect the new menu.
“Each culinary chair has some experience with specific dishes in the past,” Guan said. “This year our culinary chairs have their own home recipes for the scallion pancakes as well as the beef noodle soup. I am the team leader for the beef noodle soup, and my mom has her own recipe which we ended up using.”
TSA members got an early start to the day Sunday, rising at 5 a.m. to begin cooking all of the food that was served at Taste of Taiwan. Each menu item was prepared by a team of TSA members of all years. The team was led by an executive member or a general officer. Members met at the apartment or house of their respective team leader to cook the dish they were responsible for prior to the event.
“One thing that I really like about this event is that anyone in TSA can get involved in cooking, so we will open it up to first-years even,” Guan said. “Back in my first-year, this is what really got me interested because coming in I personally didn’t know how to cook these cultural foods.”
Upon completion, the food was brought to Shea house to be served fresh to guests beginning at 11 a.m. Attendees received a welcome at the door by a TSA member serving as hostess who handed out paper menus and ushered guests to seat themselves at any open table. Guests then used a pen provided to check off the boxes of the menu items they would like to order, and waiters were quick to collect menus and return food orders.
Taste of Taiwan experienced a big turnout, with students continually coming in from the start of the event at 11 a.m. to the closing time at 2 p.m. Despite the estimated 250 to 300 students in attendance, there was plenty of food to go around with second helpings encouraged by the end of the event.
For some students, Taste of Taiwan offered the chance for them to try a variety of new foods and introduce themselves to flavors and spices unique to Taiwan. On the other hand, for many guests of Taiwanese backgrounds, certain menu items held comforting familiarity, often reminding them of home and their parents’ cooking.
“I really liked the scallion pancakes,” said Devyn Lee, third-year Curry student and member of TSA. “My mom used to make them, and then every time my family would go back to Taiwan we would eat them, so it has always been one of my favorite foods growing up.”
Some of the food even managed to transcend cultures by uniting various Asian backgrounds under shared staple foods and flavor combinations.
“The peanut noodles were my favorite because they remind me of summer rolls, the Vietnamese dish where you use peanut sauce for it,” first-year College student Jacqui Unciano said.
Unlike most TSA events held throughout the year, Taste of Taiwan was open to the entire University and their families.
“We want to be able to share a part of our culture with people who do not know as much, and we want them to see the happiness that we feel when we eat our food and when we make our food as well,” Guan said.
TSA’s ultimate goal for this event was not only to give Taiwanese students a little taste of home, but also to promote University wide awareness and appreciation for Taiwanese culture.
“It is really important being able to show off to the University community that Taiwanese culture is really special and just spread that appreciation for Taiwanese culture,” Lee said. “The food is a big part of the culture, so I think it is really important that we get to make it and share it with everyone.”