Thai food in Taiwan: tracing the contours of transnational taste
This essay examines the recent proliferation of Thai restaurants in Taiwan, relating their development to different streams of transnational migration from Thailand, Myanmar and mainland China. Thai restaurants in Taiwan take many forms from low-cost ‘ethnic’ restaurants around the Taoyuan train station and in more peripheral areas, catering mainly to migrant workers from Thailand, to upmarket restaurants in city centre locations, catering to a ‘cosmopolitan’ clientele with high levels of economic and cultural capital. The paper traces the contours of transnational taste in Taiwan where Thai food has been adapted to suit local demand. In this context, as elsewhere, notions of culinary authenticity are contested, revolving around specific ingredients, recipes and dishes as well as notions of provenance, décor and other aspects of material culture. The paper examines the process of authentication, focusing on the culinary claims made by differently-located stakeholders. It also considers the material as well as the symbolic construction of ‘taste’, a term whose multiple meanings provide a valuable way of rethinking transnationality. As well as providing a case study of the evolution of culinary culture in a non-Western context, the paper sheds light on the role of food in defining Taiwan’s contemporary political culture through notions of cosmopolitanism and modernity.
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