My “Sweet” Hometown—we are what we eat

“Why Tainan food is so sweet?” This is a common question or maybe just complaint that my classmates will ask me when I studied in Taipei. I never realized this fact when I lived in Tainan before 18 until I first leaved my hometown. The food in Taipei is good, but I always feel that it can be better if they put more sugar in it even my friends think it is sweet enough. The foods I like always have the common feature: sweet, for me, this is not only a flavor, but also a familiar memory.

Tainan is located at Southern Taiwan, and is known for its old history, temples , and traditional snack food. Not just my classmates, I am also wondering why the Tainan people prefer the sweet flavor. The only way to find the origin of the traditional flavor is to dig the history. There are many different stories, and the oldest one could be related to colonial period by Dutch. When Dutch occupied Taiwan in the 17th century, they found that it is a suitable place to cultivate cane and produce sugar, which was an economic product in that time. Because of the landscape and the condition of whether, the plain in Tainan is one of the main places to plant cane.


Figure1: The Dutch map for a port in Tainan

In the colonial period by Japan (1895-1945), Japanese also cultivate cane and build several sugar factories in Tainan. Dues to the easier access to sugar, it is a common condiment for Tainan peoples. Another story is that because most Han people in Tainan come from Fuzhou (in Southeastern China), the sweet flavor is a traditional style of their cuisine.


Figure: The sugar factory in colonial period by Japan

Although these stories provide some explanation for the reason of sweet food, some arguments is hard to prove only through the oral history. Maybe the archaeology can tell us more different stories. If we can find the material culture which can be associated with the sugar, we might be able to trace back this cultural tradition. Whether we can find the real answer or not, I know that I will always love this sweet flavor. It is like a kind of identity which passes down from generation to generation.

Just as Twiss(2007) said, “We are what we eat”. From the sweet flavor, I find my identity and my sweet hometown.

Twiss, Katheryn C.   2007   The archaeology of food and identity. [Carbondale, Ill.]: Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University Carbondale.



1 thought on “My “Sweet” Hometown—we are what we eat

  1. Wow – that’s really interesting! I wonder how it plays into the preservative aspect of sugar. It would be neat to know what kind of food preservation techniques they were using before sugar, and see what the archaeological record could say about how that changed after the introduction of cane sugar to the area.

    It would also be kind of neat to see how many people move away and notice this kind of disparity between hometown favorites and local cuisine. I bet there are a lot of people who notice that their hometown or local area has a specific flavor profile, and then really miss it like crazy when they leave. What an interesting post!

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