A New Generation of Chefs Reframes Taiwanese Cuisine in America

In the United States, Taiwanese dishes have often been swept under the vast umbrella of “Chinese food.” Until recently, only people who know their food geography could spot a restaurant with a particular specialty — beef noodle soup; box lunches of rice, pork and cabbage; braised beef rolled in scallion pancakes — and identify it as Taiwanese.

Now, Taiwanese food is announcing itself. It is not new to the United States, but it is being newly celebrated, and transformed, by young Taiwanese-American chefs and restaurateurs like Mr. Ho, Ms. Ku, Eric Sze of 886 in Manhattan and Joshua Ku of Win Son in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

By making components from scratch (including basics that most restaurants would buy, like dumpling wrappers and pickled greens), using top-quality ingredients like grass-fed beef and organic tofu, and adapting classics with modern forms and flavors, they are reframing Taiwanese food in the United States for an increasingly enthusiastic audience. New places serving traditional Taiwanese cooking, and calling it by name, are also multiplying, like the Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks chain in the Bay Area, and Taiwan Bear House and Zai Lai Homestyle Taiwanese in New York.

Cathy Erway, author of “The Food of Taiwan,” said that when she was researching her cookbook five years ago, she had to “scrape the bottom of the barrel” to find chefs and restaurateurs in the United States who identified their food as Taiwanese. But as this new group comes of age, there are more than she can keep up with.

“The younger generation is reclaiming their Taiwanese identity,” she said, by pushing back on the assimilation that their parents and grandparents often encouraged. “What better way to do that, and to rebel against your parents, than through food?”

But what is Taiwanese food? The answer often depends on where the question is being asked.

In Taiwan, any answer would include the food of the island’s first inhabitants: roots like taro and sweet potatoes, millet, wild herbs and greens, and seafood.

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