How Taiwan’s national flower inspired a new way of eating

10 10 2009

pink-blossom-plumIn 1964, Taiwan’s Cabinet adopted the plum blossom as the National Flower of the Republic of China. It’s a fitting pick for a government that was composed of the Chinese Nationalists who retreated to Taiwan after defeat by the Communists. That’s because the flower is known for its resilience in the brutal winters of Northern China.

Today it can be found on government signage, along the national highways, on Taiwan’s currency, and it’s even the logo of the national carrier – China Airlines.

The plum blossom was also the inspiration behind a way of eating that was popularized in Taiwan by former President Chiang Ching-kuo (Chiang Kai-shek’s son) in 1982.

In the early 1980s, Taiwan’s economy began to take off, profiting from a robust manufacturing sector and increasing exports. That resulted in greater prosperity, but also a growing gap between rich and poor. So while some people began to feast on newly imported foods – like sharks fin soup and bird’s nest soup – other people were still scraping to get by.

plum mealChiang Ching-kuo would often make routine trips to places throughout the island, and would be treated to a grandiose banquet at each stop. Eventually, though, he devised a plan to simplify these ostentatious meals. He called it the “plum blossom meal” (in Chinese: 梅花餐), a meal that consisted of five dishes and one soup (五菜一湯).You can see a photo of this type of meal to the right.  This pared-down meal was a far cry from the 12-course services seen at traditional banquets. And when arranged on the table with the soup at the center, the configuration resembled the shape of the national flower – the plum blossom.

The Maternal and Child Health Institute’s (婦幼衛生研究所) Chang Hsing-chen (張幸真) was hired to create recipes for dishes that would make up the plum blossom meals. His team based the recipes on ingredients that were readily available, and they took into account nutrition, health, and cost, as well as the color and flavor of the dishes. In the end, they came up with 72 different recipes.

In the 10/10/2009 edition of Feast Meets West, we introduce the “plum blossom meal”, plus we sample preserved plums, a beloved Taiwanese snack. And sticking with the National Day theme of “double ten” (October 10th), we will discuss the significance behind the number “ten” in the Chinese language. To listen to today’s program, visit the RTI home page, and click on “Audio on Demand” in the upper-left-hand corner.

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5 responses

13 10 2009
janiec52

How interesting! I love learning about the cultural an historical background behind the food we eat. It makes it so much more meaningful, don’t you think?

With Autumn here and in full swing in the U.S., your post reminded me of how Thanksgiving is one of the more prominent American meals that has significant meaning behind it.

14 10 2009
taiwandroo

Absolutely! That’s why we’re doing this program and the blog. People feel passionate about food and love to talk about why we eat the things we eat — especially in Taiwan. I hope you’re enjoying the autumn weather and the leaves in the US. I miss that. And I miss the concept of Thanksgiving. We do it similarly here with Chinese New Year!

15 10 2009
Weekly Links – October 15, 2009 « The Daily Bubble Tea

[…] Taiwan’s national flower in cuisine. […]

3 11 2009
Harry

That’s a very good topic in the history of medicine. Well done!

6 11 2009
taiwandroo

Thanks, Harry. It’s interesting, I would never have thought of it as part of the history of medicine, but you’re absolutely right!

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