Monday, January 21, 2013

Taro Town (Travel in Taiwan)

Thanks to Taiwan’s fabulously diverse landscape and climatic variations, the country’s farmers are able to grow almost every kind of fruit and vegetable, including many which aren’t native to the island.

If you’ve spent your life in cool climes, you’d be excused for not knowing what taros (芋頭, yutou) and sweet potatoes (番薯, fanshu in Mandarin; also known as 地瓜, digua) look like, or how they taste. Every Taiwanese can tell you in some detail how taros differ from sweet potatoes, however, and not only because they grew up eating them. The Chinese names of these root vegetables are cultural code words: “Sweet potato” is shorthand for a Taiwanese person whose ancestors came to this island several generations back, while a “taro” is someone who (or whose parents) arrived after 1945.

The taro has its origins in Southeast Asia, but these days is grown on a significant scale from Nigeria in the west and Polynesia in the east. No one knows when taros were first cultivated in Taiwan (long before 1945, that’s for sure), but there’s no doubt which part of the island can claim to be the Republic of China’s taro capital: Dajia (大甲區), a bustling town of almost 80,000 people which is part of Taichung City.

Downtown Dajia, just 6km from the ocean, is home to one of Taiwan’s preeminent places of worship, Jenn Lann Temple (鎮瀾宮)...

The rest of this article, which appears in the January/February issue of the magazine, can be read here.

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