Taiwan has been called a "hog island" and for good reason. In places like Pingtung County, southern Taiwan, the density of pig farms far exceeds that of anywhere in North America or Europe. Because local consumers prefer fresh to frozen meat, the sight of swine being trucked to market isn’t unusual. As recently as the late 1960s, most countryside families in the countryside raised a pig or two as a sideline. Back then, more households owned swine than a car or a motorcycle; they ate or sold the meat and applied the manure to their fields. Until the late 1990s, Taiwan was the world’s number two exporter of pork — behind Denmark but ahead of the United States.

In the old days, pigs were fattened on sweet potatoes plus whatever their human owners didn’t eat. That changed after the introduction of Yorkshire, Landrace and Duroc swine from the U.S. But, to the delight of environmentalists, these days pigs aren’t fed only on imported feed. Household leftovers are a key part of Taiwan’s food economy. Two-thirds of the island’s waste are collected and sent to hog farms as part of the regular rubbish-handling system.

Since World War II, as Taiwan has industrialized and internationalized, people’s diets have changed. Much less rice is eaten than before but the intake of bread, cakes and coffee has soared, while far more Taiwanese eat beef. However, pork remains the carnivore’s staple; when a Taiwanese person talks about an unspecified meat, you can assume he or she means pork (for some reason, neither ham nor bacon is as common in Taiwan as in the West). Per capita, pork consumption more than doubled between the 1950s and 1980s. For every kilogram of beef or veal eaten in Taiwan, more than six kilograms of pork ends up in human stomachs.

Pork is cooked and served in dozens of different ways. Large chunks of braised pork are a key ingredient of what many visitors call "Taiwanese hamburgers” ("guabao" in Mandarin Chinese). What’s variously called braised meat on rice, diced pork gravy with rice, or minced pork and rice ("rouzaofan") is a lunchtime favorite of many workers. Japanese influence is evident in dishes like pork cutlet in breadcrumbs served with noodles. In indigenous communities, juicy slabs of mountain boar ("shanzhu") are a highlight of many barbecues.



The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published by Life of Taiwan.

(Life of Taiwan, a travel company which organizes bespoke tours of Taiwan, maintains this blog for the convenience of everyone interested in or planning a visit to Taiwan. All blog entries are written or edited by Steven Crook.)

Editor: Olivia Yang