菜市場裡的南向之路

跟著王瑞閔逛東協廣場
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2019 / 11月

文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧林旻萱


既酸又辣、既鹹又甜,著迷於東南亞料理的滋味,但總是知其然卻不知其所以然,只曉得風味層層堆疊,卻線索隱約,感覺既熟悉卻陌生。

熱帶植物的狂熱者、網路上暱稱「胖胖樹」的王瑞閔,深諳植物身世掌故的他,以蔬果、香草、香料作為引子,吸引我們認識一張餐桌上,台灣與東南亞千絲萬縷的牽連。


想在川流人潮裡發現王瑞閔,實不困難,他的身材高人一等,還常穿花襯衫,腳踩皮鞋,即便在摩頂放踵的菜市依舊醒目。

只見人高腿長的他一派怡然,專注地在什物雜貨裡挖寶,畢竟,這已是他行之有年的日常。從小就對植物充滿興趣的他,最終情定熱帶品種,為了一圓打造植物園的夢,從台大森林系、森林所畢業後,他一腳踏入與所學八竿子打不著的房仲產業,日子過得披星戴月,只為了將百萬薪餉,投資在一棵棵珍奇植栽。

於是,他終於擁有了一片自己的祕密花園,800種的植物,是他南征北討的結果。除了買不手軟,他勤跑田野,也查找文獻史料,因此通曉了每一株植物的來龍去脈。

對他來說,植物就像微觀歷史的切片,台灣的植物,經過原住民、荷蘭人、華南移民、宣教士、泰緬孤軍、緬甸華僑、新住民等不同的族群,在各個時期飄洋過海,就地萌芽、扎根,構築出你我的生活。

根據長年心得,他陸續寫下《看不見的雨林》、《舌尖上的東協》兩部作品,開啟作家身分的斜槓人生。

市場裡的植物獵人

2013年,為了尋找臭豆,開啟了王瑞閔與東南亞蔬果的情緣。為了探查這種一般市場中罕見的食材,他踏入了東協廣場,從頹圮的廢棄建築轉身為移工移民的新聚地,眼界大開之餘,意外邂逅了許多他從沒見過的熱帶植物。原來,就像華人在海外,少不了上唐人街、亞洲超市,尋找心心念念的醬油與乾貨,這些本地罕見的東南亞食材,也是離鄉背井的移民移工,在異鄉想方設法復刻的家味,用以撫慰思鄉之情。

就從東協廣場開始,他鎖定了新住民聚集的場域,遠從北城的公館、中山北路上的小馬尼拉,到國境以南的里港信國社區,空暇時便馬不停蹄地在各地的菜市場,搜尋、認識、探索形色各異的東南亞蔬果、香料,「就算它化成灰,我也要想盡辦法認出來。」他說。

這份異於常人的執著,造就他悉數每個商圈與市集的異同,每家小店、菜舖的箇中巧妙。

儼然像哥倫布、華萊士,他對未知總是充滿了好奇與憧憬,也像現代世界裡的植物獵人,汲汲營營於蒐羅各種珍奇異種。專業訓練加上紮實的田野,不斷拓展著他的資料庫,到現在,這趟永無終站的征途仍在持續。

從「一廣」到「小東南亞」

離家最近的東協廣場,是王瑞閔最常前去的地方,有時一個禮拜就有五天泡在這兒,幾年計算下來,造訪次數已超過了500次。

這個全台最大的東南亞商圈,除了台中本地,加上鄰近的苗栗、彰化、南投,近20萬的移民移工,就是這裡的消費主力。範圍除了舊名稱作「第一廣場」的商場大樓,加上周邊的店家,種類百百種。百貨超市除了販售日用雜貨,兼有乾貨生鮮與換匯功能,小吃餐廳同時附設卡拉OK,也販售甜品、佐料,另外還有Pub、旅店、KTV、理髮廳、手機通訊行等,範圍從綠川西街延伸到公園路一帶,近千家的店家盤根錯綜,根據台中經發局的保守估計,此地每個月的消費額就高達新台幣1億2,000萬元之譜。

菜攤上的植物學

廣場旁、成功路上的菜攤,是我們認識這裡的起點。

就如同此地許多店家,這家成功路上最大的菜攤,老闆是土生土長的台灣人,老闆娘則是柬埔寨嫁來台灣的新住民,幫忙的店員也來自東南亞。平日的客人主要就是新住民,就連少數東南亞餐廳業者會來光顧,縱使菜價動輒一把30、50元起跳,價格不低,但人客依舊趨之若鶩。

趨近一探,攤子上的一片綠意,除了常見的空心菜、九層塔,其餘一概不識,經前幾日颱風掃過台灣,中南部豪雨連連,一般菜市裡的蔬果普遍樣貌不佳,倒是這些不畏水性的南洋植物,強壯依舊。

經王瑞閔的解說,我們像從五穀不分逐步啟蒙,除了較常見的香茅、斑蘭葉、薄荷、紫蘇、南薑,另還有越南白霞、越南夢茅、沙梨橄欖、芭蕉花、紅毛丹、木鱉果等,蔬果以外,東南亞料理仰賴甚深的香草植物,數量尤其龐大,魚腥草、叻沙葉、檸檬葉、越南水薄荷等,不可勝數。

此時,我們才一併認識到,原來台灣夏季盛產的空心菜,就是來自於東南亞,而許多親近的南洋料理如「咖哩」、「叻沙」、「打拋」,竟也是植物的名字。

一個東協,多種滋味

幅員廣大的東協十國,地理空間橫跨中南半島與馬來群島,雖然共享相近的地理位置,但國情、族群、宗教、歷史卻完全迥異,曾為了臭豆,一家家餐廳詢問卻未果的王瑞閔,最後在越南新住民的指點下才知道,這種罕見食材,要到會吃臭豆的印尼餐廳找才找得到,也因此提醒他,必須把各個國家分別獨立看待。

彷彿也呼應著老闆娘的出身,因柬埔寨飲食習慣與越南較近似,因此在菜攤上所販售的品項也偏向越南常用食材;至於泰式料理會用的打拋葉、綠紋茄,必須到廣場一樓的泰國雜貨店尋找;若是像印尼料理才會食用的臭豆,廣場裡頭百貨商場的冷藏櫃中才找得到。

東協十國的飲食習慣壁壘分明,就算同一種食材,在不同國家人手上也會變成不同的料理,常見的小圓茄,「泰國人會生食,當作沙拉吃,越南人會拿來醃漬,至於緬甸,拿來當咖哩的配菜。」王瑞閔舉例說明。

以東協廣場主要聚集的越泰印菲為例,萬島之國的印尼,多炸物與烤物,因為使用香料不手軟,料理看上去總是暗沉黝黑;越南料理擅用大量新鮮生菜,也喜食米餅、漬菜,由於曾受法國統治,法國麵包、火腿也常見;至於泰國,代表性的便是各式咖哩、打拋肉與冬蔭功等;菲律賓的甜點最好吃,甜蜜破表的哈囉哈囉冰(Halo Halo)、焦糖布丁(Leche Flan)都是代表。

同中有異的是,因著都處於燠熱的熱帶,為了促進食慾,東南亞料理大多重鹹也重甜,且大量運用香草、香料,近似華人在端午節時喝雄黃掛艾草的傳統,用以驅蟲解熱。

從吃開始探索東南亞

平日蕭條的街廓,每逢周末便湧入不可計數的人潮,許多在週中歇業的店家也開門迎客,這兒不再是幽靈船傳說籠罩的廢墟,因著廣場前的小金字塔,它甚至在移工之間有了個祕密代稱「畢拉密」(即pyramid的諧音)。

即便連泰文、印尼文、越南文、菲律賓文都無法分辨也無妨,從食物切入最容易,曾經當過房仲的王瑞閔發現,若想和人拉近距離,那就從吃或談論吃開始吧。

這裡數量最龐大的小吃餐館提供了多樣化的選擇,一廣百貨內多是越南與泰國餐廳,以及少數的菲律賓餐廳,主要位在一樓與三樓,印尼由於穆斯林眾多,嚴守清真戒律,為了避免食物被汙染,多開在廣場的外圍。

「我不僅喜歡植物,也喜歡吃下它們。」王瑞閔說,「吃過每一家,每家都吃過一桌」的他,帶我們逐一認識到,除了印尼沙嗲、越南河粉、泰國打拋肉與冬蔭功以外的神奇滋味。

從植物開始一步步認識東南亞食物,確實是個好辦法。爪哇牛肉湯(Rawon)黑色的湯汁,原來是源自於印尼黑果;淺綠色的斑斕丸子,顏色來自於斑蘭葉,表層灑上新鮮椰蓉,裡頭是流質的椰漿;五彩繽紛的哈囉哈囉冰,色彩由新鮮的紫山藥、亞答子、香蕉、椰果組成;還有如假包換以真正的打拋葉炒成的打拋豬;以及色澤亮麗的越南煎餅(Bánh xèo),薑黃讓餅皮染上了鮮黃色,裡頭除了夾了豆芽菜,還有紫蘇、越南薄荷等你我所不熟悉的香草……

但可別因此以為,這是與東南亞蔬果的初相遇。就像司空見慣的空心菜,也是道地的南洋種,只是栽植日久,早已融入了你我的生活。許多台灣農民引以為豪的經濟作物,通通都來自熱帶,好比芒果,原產於印度,經由荷蘭人從印尼爪哇帶來;蓮霧也是,原產自馬來西亞與印尼,會稱之為「蓮霧」,也是翻譯自馬來文「Jambu」。

了解愈多,愈不敢故步自封。原來,在政府喊出南向口號以前,台灣與東南亞的文化融合,早就悄然展開!所以,邀請各位跨出熟悉、擁抱多元,找個機會到東協廣場,來一趟舌尖上的冒險。

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EN

Tropical Bounty

—Exploring Southeast-Asian Food at ASEAN Square

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Jonathan Barnard

Simultaneously sour and hot, salty and sweet, Southeast Asian food enraptures. At once both familiar and strange, the cuisine offers many layers of flavors—however unclear their origins to most diners in Taiwan.

Wang Jui-min, known as “Fat Tree” online, is a lover of tropical plants. A fount of knowledge, experi­ence and anecdotes about plants, he invites us to learn about fruits, herbs, and spices as we become better acquainted with what goes into Southeast-­Asian dishes and explore the many connections between Southeast-Asian and Taiwanese cuisine.


It’s not hard to spot Wang Jui-min in a crowd of people: Tall and typically dressed in a colorful shirt and leather shoes, he attracts attention even in a bustling vegetable market.

There he is, striding through the crowds on his long legs, or stopping to dig through heaps of produce. For years, market visits have been a part of his daily life. He became interested in plants at a young age, and ended up devoting himself to tropical varieties after earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in forestry at National Taiwan University. To build the wealth needed to realize his dream of a botanical garden, he first switched to a profession that had nothing to do with what he had studied: real estate. He toiled long hours to earn a high income, and then used that money to purchase one valuable plant after another.

His tireless botanical quest has given him his own secret garden of 800 plant species. As well as buying plants with abandon, he has also conducted fieldwork and dug into historical records about the plants, becoming quite knowledge­able about all of them. In his view, plants represent history. The plants of Taiwan have been affected by a variety of ethnic groups: the island’s Aborigines, the Dutch, immigrants from southern China, missionaries, Chinese Nationalist troops that were cut off in Thailand and Myanmar after the Chinese Civil War, an early wave of other ethnic Chinese immigrants from Myanmar, and finally more recent immigrants from Southeast Asia. Although arriving in different eras, these groups have alike put down roots to live alongside the other residents of the island.

Hunter of market plants

It was a quest to find the stink bean (Parkia speciosa) in 2013 that tied Wang’s fate to Southeast Asia. To investigate the plant, which is rarely found in Taiwan, he stepped into the markets of ASEAN Square in Tai­chung, where formerly forlorn and dilapidated buildings had been transformed into a gathering spot for migrant workers and immigrants from Southeast Asia. The visit was eye opening and introduced him to many strange plants. Just as ethnic Chinese living overseas can’t do without Chinatowns or Asian markets where they go for their favorite soy sauce or dried foods, Southeast Asians living in Taiwan go to their own ethnic markets to find obscure foods to replicate the flavors of home.

Starting with ASEAN Square, he has focused on places where these immigrants gather, from Tai­pei’s Gong­guan neighborhood and Little Manila on Zhong­shan North Road, all the way down south to the Xin­guo community of Ping­tung’s Li­gang Township. In his spare time he has explored their fresh markets, surveying their myriad varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs. “I want to be able to recognize them in all their different forms,” he says.

The botany of vegetable stalls

ASEAN Square, which is closest to home, is where Wang goes most often. Sometimes he comes here as often as five days a week. Over the past few years, he’s probably paid it more than 500 visits.

The largest market for Southeast-Asian products in Taiwan, ASEAN Square attracts customers mainly from among the nearly 200,000 Southeast-Asian immigrants and migrant workers in Taichung and neighboring ­Miaoli, Changhua and Nantou. According to Tai­chung’s Economic Development Bureau, their collective expend­iture here amounts to NT$120 million per month.

We start with the produce stalls on Chenggong Road, at the side of ASEAN Square.

The owner of the largest vegetable stall here is Taiwanese born and bred, whereas his wife is Cambodian and the stall’s other workers are likewise from Southeast Asia. It’s the same situation at many of the other businesses hereabouts. Most days the stall’s customers are mainly immigrants, along with a few buyers from Southeast-­Asian restaurants. Although the prices aren’t cheap at NT$30‡50 per bunch of herbs, the stall is still mobbed. 

Stepping up close, one finds an expanse of green. Yet apart from the water spinach and Thai basil, the varieties would be unrecognizable to most Taiwanese natives. Even after a typhoon recently brought ­damaging rains to central and southern Taiwan, resulting in poor-quality produce at traditional Taiwanese markets, these vegetables native to tropical climes are unafraid of water and look as healthy and unblemished as ever.

With Wang’s guidance, we move slowly from near complete ignorance toward a better understanding of the Southeast-Asian fruits and vegetables on offer: Apart from lemongrass, pandan leaves, mint, perilla, and galangal, there are also elephant ear stalks, the sewer vine Paederia lanuginosa, ambarella, banana flowers, rambutan, and gac. The herbs that Southeast-Asian cuisines rely on heavily—such as fish mint, Vietnamese coriander, lemon leaves, and rice paddy herb—are also plentiful. 

It’s at this point that we realize that the water spinach that is produced in large quantities in the summer in Taiwan is in fact originally from Southeast Asia, and that many foods associated with the tropics here, such as curry, laksa, and krapow, are actually named after plants.

Exploring Southeast Asia through food

Though relatively empty during the week, ASEAN Square draws crowds at the weekend, when additional shops open. Some of the immigrants call it “the Pyramid”—after the metal and glass pyramid in the plaza.

Even if one can’t distinguish between the sounds of Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Tagalog, one can enter these cultures through their cuisines. When Wang was a real estate agent, he learned that the best way to start to bridge a culture gap is with food or discussions of food.

Snack stalls are most numerous here, and they provide a great variety of choices. CLC Mart is filled with Vietnamese and Thai restaurants, along with a smaller number of restaurants offering Filipino cuisine. They are found mostly on the first and third floors. Because most Indonesians are Muslims, their restaurants strictly observe Halal principles, so most have located themselves in individual retail spaces on nearby streets, to prevent their food from being tainted. 

“I don’t just like plants; I also like to eat them,” says Wang. “I’ve tried all these restaurants, sat down for a full meal in each of them.” He guides us to an understanding of them beyond the usual Indonesian satay, Vietnamese pho, and Thai tom yum soup and krapow meat dishes.

Getting to know Southeast-Asian food step by step through plants is indeed a good approach. The color of the black broth in Indonesian rawon beef soup comes from the fruit of the buah keluak tree. The green-and-white-­speckled klepon glutinous rice balls get their color from pandan leaves and the freshly grated coconut sprinkled on their surface. The balls are filled with coconut milk. Vibrant halo-­halo ice gets its colors from purple yam, nipa palm fruits (attap chee), banana and nata de coco. Then there is krapow pork stir-fried with holy basil, as well as the vibrant Vietnamese fried cake banh xeo, which is given its bright color by turmeric. Apart from bean sprouts, there are also un­familiar herbs such as perilla and rice paddy herb….

But don’t get the idea that Taiwanese visitors are encountering the fruits and vegetables of Southeast Asia for the first time here. Water spinach, for instance, is an authentically Southeast-Asian plant that has become a mainstay in Taiwan after being transplanted here long ago. Many cash crops that Taiwanese farmers take pride in growing come from the tropics. Take mangoes, which are native to India and were brought here by the Dutch, or rose apples, which came from Malaysia and Indonesia and have a Taiwanese name that comes from the Malaysian jambu.

The more one learns, the more one should want to broaden one’s horizons. Long before the ROC government made the call to “go south,” Taiwan and Southeast Asia were quietly engaging in cultural fusions. Let’s all step beyond the familiar, embrace diversity, and expose our palates to the culinary adventure of a meal at ASEAN Square! 

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