New Emissary

Tasty Taiwan Ties

Taiwan is the latest place to use food as a form of diplomacy. With a $34.2 million campaign.

‘Dim sum diplomacy?’ This is certainly one fun way to describe Taiwan’s new soft power strategy as The Guardian did with its story on the recent trend in Asia of ‘gastro-diplomacy,’ or promoting international relations through regional cuisine.

Indeed, Taiwan Today reported back in June that the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs will dedicate $34.2 million to a 4-year plan to systematically approach the promotion of Taiwan’s cuisine ‘at home and abroad.’ According to them, ‘This tasty initiative promises to establish the nation’s mouth-watering fare on the global stage while stimulating the domestic restaurant, tourism and meetings, incentives, conferences and events industries.’

I’ve also mentioned this growing movement in the region several times in the past—it’s been intriguing to see countries like South Korea (‘Bibimbap Festival Flair’)), China and India (‘Ambassador Fried Noodle’) using their unique cuisines for improving their national image and boosting international relations efforts.

However, I’m not sure that Taiwan’s most distinctive offering is dim sum—which is a native Chinese form of cuisine. And indeed, The Guardian article took note that over in London, the Taiwanese consulate there is aiming to have things like ‘stinky tofu’ and ‘oyster omelette’ become ‘the stars of a diplomatic drive to differentiate the country from its giant and sometimes antagonistic neighbour, China.’

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I spoke today to our Taiwan-based Chinese site editor, Leonard Chien, on this topic and asked him whether he’d personally add anything to the roster of exclusively Taiwanese foods that ought to be used as culinary ambassadors to the Asian island.

Leonard suggested just one—bubble tea, or ‘Pearl Milk Tea,’ as they call it in Taiwan. He told me that the refreshing drink, which comes in dozens of flavour choices with a giant straw for sucking up the tapioca balls inside (hence the ‘bubble’ moniker) because ‘it's absolutely original in Taiwan and quite popular around the world.’