Taiwanese cuisine has never really been my thing.
Perhaps I’m really a closet Mainland Chinese, but I’ve always dismissed Taiwanese cuisine as a consequence of the Japanization of Chinese cuisine. Not that it’s a bad thing, but there’s a certain displacement, emptiness and a lack of anchor to Taiwan which I can’t seem to place my finger on. It’s not Chinese, it hasn’t been Chinese for a long time yet. It was most recently under Japanese rule but controversial cultural sensitivities prevent the islanders from fully embracing that either. So, the result is a culture that’s neither here nor there – living on borrowed time, creating and recreating its present (and past) to create an identity that’s familiar yet distinct from its former influences. Maybe it warrants an exploration, but there are more than 200 countries in the world, countless cultures in each and everyone of them, and so little time left on this planet. I think I can sacrifice this one place. But as far as Singaporeans go, particularly the Chinese diaspora, it’d appear that my sentiments belong in the minority. Taipei, its largest city, has since become a choice vacation destinations for Singaporeans young and old – revered for its night markets of palatable street food, trendy shopping options, picturesque scenery and beautiful people.
Banking on this trend, Singapore’s street food scene has seen an explosion of Taiwanese food stands. Yet, for all its popularity, none of them are apparently any good…with the exception of Din Tai Fung, but it could be argued that they serve Shanghainese cuisine (indeed, its founder, Yang Binyi was born in Shanxi, China, and moved to Taiwan in 1948). Still, I wanted to dine at Five Little Bears because I needed to travel down to Orchard Road, and didn’t want to be limited to Ofira Amazing Thai Food or Bakmi Jakarta yet again when it came to budget options. You could say this visit was a recce in some ways.
A favorite Taiwanese classic is “lu rou fan” (鲁肉饭), a Fujian inspired pork rice dish. The pork belly is either minced, cubed or ground, and stewed in soy sauce and spices served atop rice. As is common with many Taiwanese dishes, the presentation was thoughtful, with the minced pork, the ubiquitous stalk of greens and condiments of a sliced boiled egg and shredded salted vegetables. All in all, it made an appetizing, hearty meal, although I’ve to admit that halfway through, it became an arduous task. The chili is deceptively numbingly hot. I don’t have much experience with the dish, but for the price of just SGD 5.50 (comes with Winter Melon Juice or “Coffee Black Tea”), it was definitely a steal. I just wish there was a little more richness to the minced pork – it lacked a little sweetness, to be honest.
After all’s said and done, I’ll still probably visit Taiwan sometime in my life. The society’s attitude towards the LGBT community is progressive compared to much of Asia, and that should count for a friendlier, more tolerant and better society, right?