[Editor's Note: As of July 2021, Taiwanese Kitchen Whistler was closed.]
Feeling a bit homesick, Chia-Ling Wu went to the Whistler Welcome Centre in the hope of connecting with someone from her native Taiwan. As it often does in small towns, word soon spread, and by the time Wu found herself at the Whistler Multicultural Festival, fellow Taiwanese Eva Wei was already on the lookout for her.
“Eva for some reason knew I was looking for her,” Wu recalled with a laugh. “That’s the first time we met each other.”
First bonding over their shared culture, now the two friends are hoping to share a piece of their homeland with the rest of Whistler through Taiwanese Kitchen, a new pickup and delivery service based in Function Junction.
“Eva and I are both from Taiwan and we realized there’s no Chinese or Taiwanese food culture in Whistler. So we’ve been working on it for more than three months to try to set up a business to share our dishes with everyone,” Wu explained.
Initially hoping to launch a restaurant, sky-high rental rates forced the women to reconsider their options. Eventually, they decided to rent space out of the Chirp Co-Kitchen, behind Home Hardware, three days a week, where they will offer a rotating menu of lunches available for pre-ordered pickup and delivery.
Wu was clear about one thing: This won’t be the watered-down, chicken-ball and fried-rice cuisine so common in Westernized Chinese kitchen across North America, but will draw on family recipes to offer an authentic taste of Taiwan.
“We will try our best to keep the menu a very Taiwanese style, because all of the dishes we learned from our mothers or from friends working in Taiwan restaurants, and we just kind of steal their recipes,” she said with a laugh.
Taiwanese cuisine is incredibly diverse and heavily influenced by its colonial and migrant history, drawing in particular from Japanese and Chinese culinary traditions. Sometimes grouped into the Chinese Southern Fujian style, modern Taiwanese chefs have gone to great lengths to distinguish their kaleidoscopic cuisine from the wider Chinese culinary umbrella, and today, staple dishes like beef noodle soup, braised beef rolled in scallion pancakes, and the increasingly popular gua bao, or pork belly buns, are becoming more recognized in the West for their Taiwanese origins. And while the influence of Taiwan’s vibrant snack culture has taken hold in Vancouver, with a growing number of bubble tea and dessert shops dotting the downtown core and outlying suburbs, Whistlerites have gone years without a dedicated Chinese restaurant, let alone a Taiwanese spot, so Wu expects there to be a bit of a learning curve.
“This is one of the questions that we discuss, because people definitely ask what is the difference between Taiwanese food and Chinese food,” she noted. “I would say Taiwanese food is part of Chinese food but not all Chinese food is Taiwanese food.
“Taiwanese food has very diverse seasoning flavours; it’s more like soy sauce, sesame oil, soybean paste, ginger, garlic, and many, many more.”
(Funnily enough, Wu said she often has to explain to people the difference between Taiwan and Thailand, and with food being an easy entry-point to unfamiliar cultures, she’s hopeful her traditional cuisine will help with that education.)
The pair has planned about a dozen dishes to start, including the first-week menu of mapo tofu with rice, a scorchingly spicy dish that Wu said every Taiwanese family has their own version of, homemade black pepper sauce chicken, and a vegetarian black pepper oyster mushroom dish served with noodles or rice.
Diners can expect future dishes like the beloved comfort food Lu rou fan, a simple and hearty bowl of braised pork belly over rice, and the iconic San bei ji, or three-cup chicken, so called because the recipe utilizes soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil.
Each dish is served with two sides in a bento box-style, and can be made into a combo with soup for an additional cost.
Taiwanese Kitchen Whistler is available for pickup on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Delivery is available anywhere from Function to Alpine during one of three time slots on their operating days: 11:30 a.m. to noon; 12:15 to 12:45 p.m.; and 1 to 1:30 p.m.
Ideally, orders should be placed by midnight the previous day, but same-day orders by phone will also be accepted until 1 p.m.
As the Taiwanese Kitchen operates out of a shared kitchen, they are not allowed to list the address, but pickup instructions will be texted to the customer after an order is placed.
For more information, and to check out the menu, visit taiwanesekitchenwhistler.ca.