1999 / 4月
「現在的店面小了一半，又鄰近學校和住家，也不適合賣宵夜，就改為只賣午餐到晚餐時段，結果老顧客流失了一半，」店主李雲美說，以前在眷村的店面雖簡陋，但村子四周腹地較 廣，沿巷子搭棚子，客人來了就攤開桌子上菜，生意好的時候，可開到四、五十桌，加上賣的是下午到宵夜時段，常常一片暮色中，一長溜亮了燈的棚子內，擠滿團團圍桌而坐的人 影，像唱野台戲一樣，格外熱鬧與溫暖。由於這副生意景況，可媲美附近的凱悅飯店，便被客人稱做「小凱悅」。
「初時賣水餃和包子，很費手工，要調配菜餡、發麵、8皮，一個一個都是在掌心上捏、包出來的， 每天做到半夜兩、三點，才包得出三、四千個餃子，第二天中午一開門，就賣得精 光，根本來不及再趕做，日後就改賣比較不費人力的拉麵，像大滷麵、炒麵，」李雲美說，饒是如此，人手還是緊得很，父親三年前過世，目前店裡由三個姊妹一起打點，身為主要負 責人的她，平均每天還是要忙上十六個小時不說，讀國中的女兒放學後也要幫忙拌黃瓜。 竹籬笆內的鄉愁
民國三十八年，國民政府播遷來台，為了安置三軍的眷屬，從三十九年起陸續在全台各地興建以木頭為 柱標，竹枝糊上泥土、稻草為牆的克難房舍。這些眷舍因軍種、單位的不同，以 一堵牆與外在世界為界，各自形成聚落，便是今日通稱的「眷村」。
這些或流離、或隨軍隊倉皇來台避難的人們，驚魂甫定，「這時『三年反攻、四年掃蕩』之期已過，青春結伴還鄉之夢難圓，翹首鄉關，雲天渺渺。於是秋風起而興蓴鱸之思。親不親 故園情，人離鄉已久，最懷念的還是故鄉的吃食，」台大歷史系教授、飲食名家逯耀東曾為文指出，這樣的情懷一如當年從唐山過台灣的本省先祖，不僅帶來媽祖的神像，同時將鼎邊 趖、大鼎肉羹等小吃一併帶來。
逯耀東指出，除了療治鄉愁，大陸各地的小吃在台灣出現，也是為了維持生計，尤其當時軍人待遇偏低，許多軍眷以販售小吃、食品貼補家計，軍眷區便成為大陸 地方風味小吃的發祥 地。
講究地道的家鄉口味、實在的家常材料和平價的消費，就成了眷村飲食的主要特色，與當今講求商業設計、廣告促銷和流行趨勢的餐飲潮流相較，格外顯得 平實與經濟，因而許多外食 經驗豐富的人，都懂得尋找這類店家一飽口腹，只是隨著時代的浪潮，這類小吃也迭經變遷。 「反共抗俄」槓子頭
這些吃食有的是季節性的，有些則為主食，當中也有不少與本省小吃雷同。「那時本省、外省人都窮，大家怎麼便宜怎麼吃嘛！」 活動主辦人曹森說，仔細研究，這些吃食雖然林林總 總十來樣，所用原料卻不過三類，那就是麵粉、米和地瓜。
而即使是配了糧，一般眷村家庭還是奉行省吃儉用的原則，像炸麻花這種需要用到大量油，還得加雞蛋下去和的「高 級食品」，平常時候是吃不到的，只有過年時，大人手頭寬裕些， 媽媽才會炸上一大鍋，可是，還得分送左鄰右舍討喜氣。
「爆米香」也是只能偶一為之的奢侈零食。在當時，米、油都很貴，媽媽們既拗不過小孩吵，又 捨不得買爆米香，精打細算後，就想出自備米、油，僅支付小販工錢的方式，但還是要 考慮到配給也有定量，所以爆米香仍是久久才能實現一次的夢想。
除了這兩樣東西，其他吃食倒是眷村日常就可以吃到，像山東大餅、烤饅頭，尤其是「槓子頭」，又稱「火燒」，有的上面還 會印上「反共抗俄」標語，充分凸顯了北方食物的性格， 質地堅硬，既耐嚼又可久藏，因為軍隊裡常吃，來自北方的伙伕頭都會做，也就成為最早流行在民間，便宜又經飽的食品。
另外，同樣源自北方的「麵茶粉」，在早年的眷村生活中也扮演相當重要的角色。作法是將麵粉用乾鍋炒熟，之後再用熱水沖泡成餬狀，嚐 起來味道與米漿或麥片類似，平時可當大人 的早餐、孩子的點心，家中光景不好時，還可以代替奶粉，作為嬰兒的主食。
以現在的飲食眼光看來，這些口味難免偏單調或油膩、吃飽不吃巧的眷村飲食，其實已無法符合現今的美味標準，只是因為記錄了成長過程，以及那個悲歡時代的 甘苦，至今仍讓人格 外懷念。 菜市場風景
食品可口，賣食品的市集更有趣。早年軍公教眷戶雖有配給米糧，但青菜、魚肉和其他副食還是要靠買賣交易。早期眷村人語言不通，生活習慣也自成一格，很少到村子外的本省傳統 市場採買，往往是外面的生意人進來，就村子裡的空地、廣場上擺起市集，於是菜市場也成為眷村不可或缺的特色風光。尤其日後日子漸趨安定，大家手頭寬裕些，有點外食的能力， 去菜市場吃早點，便成了生活中主要的娛樂休閒。
出身新竹眷村、民國五十三年次的周兆青記得，她小時候每天一起床就向媽媽要兩塊錢去市場吃早 I，「那時市場裡不但有外省口味的燒餅油條豆漿店、餛飩麵店、饅頭、包子、蔥油 餅、韭菜盒子、小籠包、蛋餅，也有本省媽媽做的發糕、紅龜、碗糕、板條等食品，連外國口味的 麵包和蛋糕也有人賣，可以每天嚐一樣，有趣極了。」
眷村裡的菜市場也發揮了學習、融合各式吃食的交流功能。許多媽媽、伯伯拎著菜籃上市場， 路邊攤子上遇到，隨口聊聊、問問：「這菜，在您家鄉怎麼做？」就此交換了各家食譜， 周兆青說，她的媽媽就因此學會了不少可口食物，像糖薑、糖蒜、辣醬、粽子、香腸、臘肉、豆腐乳等。「那時候眷村裡的媽媽們表面上相處得很和諧，暗地裡也常有競爭的心理，最 明顯的就是比手工、飆廚藝，所以再平凡的媽媽，手上都可能施展得出幾省口味的菜式、食品。」 寧波年糕大陳好
如今因為眷村改建和都市發展，中、永和的大陳社區都已散遷，但是位於永和中正橋下的周家年糕E子，仍是大陳人備置家鄉食品的主要店家，店主周阿法的父親在大陳島時，主業打 漁，餘時就蒸年糕、晒魚乾貼補家計，周阿法到台灣後，沒得打漁，就以販製傳統食品維生，到如今已經三代同堂了，店面雖交給老三周國明繼承，自己還是每天起早趕晚的在店裡做 年糕。
周國明表示，不只大陳人，江浙、上海、溫州一帶也吃同樣口味的寧波年糕，由於他們的年糕完全遵照傳統方法製作，講求米質好，年糕的韌性高、嚼勁夠，所以不但平日銷路好，從 過年前半個月開始更是門庭若市，要磨將近兩千斤的米製作年糕，才夠應付需求。「以前的客人以附近眷村為主，現在全省都有，許多移民海外的華僑，也常親自或託人來買，帶回僑 居地。」 過橋米線未央歌
位於中壢龍崗附近的忠貞新村，則是雲南人的大本營。政府自大陸撤軍時，陸軍有一支軍團從雲南、緬甸邊境以游擊隊的方式逐漸撤離，來到台灣後，就有一大部分安置在這裡。不同 的是，由於距離市中心較遠，改建的腳步未至，這裡一直保留下傳統的飲食和生活形態，成為雲南口味最地道的吃食中心，小吃如過橋米線、米干、豌豆粉，餐廳菜如汽鍋雞、大薄 片、凍魚、乳扇，都是一般難得吃到的雲南菜。
「這裡的生活，好像幾十年來都沒變，」出身忠貞新村的胡瓊華，結婚後住在附近社區，每天早上還是習慣上這兒的菜市場買菜，順道上朋友開的小吃店吃碗米干，聊聊天，老村子、 老口味、老朋友，讓她很少感受到社會變遷的威脅。她的童年玩伴陳美蓮開的「禧年來米干舖」，就是她常逗留的地方，「她也跟我一樣，幾乎沒離開過村子，所以完全傳承了上一 代 的手藝，口味非常道地。」
民國四十八年出生的陳美蓮，媽媽在她五個月大的時候開店，自小在店裡長大的她，自然而然的學會了這些傳統食物做法，青少年時就可以幫忙掌廚，實踐家專家政系畢業後，也不出 外就業，直接回家幫媽媽做生意，媽媽的店後來傳給大哥，她就另外找了店面，開間分店，她絲毫不覺得這份行業老舊，「我對這些東西有興趣、有天分，加上從小參與創業惟艱的過 程，我繼承得很光榮。」 台灣的麥當勞——永和燒餅豆漿
不變，固然是一種對傳統的執著；改變，未嘗不是對現實存在的堅持。許多眷村小吃雖然失去了當年的時空背景，其實卻以更大眾化的形式深入台灣民眾的生活，燒餅油 條豆漿店即是 最普遍的例子。
燒餅油條和豆漿這套行檔，當初是山東老鄉的專利，由於手藝簡單易學，全靠半夜即起磨豆、 烤餅的刻苦精神，許多士官從軍隊裡的伙伕或同袍學到手藝，退伍後就開間燒餅店維持生 計。早年他們也不講究店面，反而是越簡陋的建築越省成本；沒有電烤箱時期，烤燒餅的爐子也相當克難，用一個上方開口的汽油桶，裡面鑲個陶製的大水缸當烤爐，缸裡燒炭 火，火 紅缸熱後，就把燒餅貼在缸壁四周烘烤，這套工夫叫「貼爐」。
最早在台北縣永和市開店的世界豆漿大王店主李雲增說，他是民國四十四年來到永和，當時永和的人口不多，生意並不好，做做停停，差一點就要結束生意，沒想到五十年左右，中正 橋拓寬工程，帶進了大量勞工，成為他的客潮，自此生意好轉，也吸引了其他業者競爭，到六十年，在中正橋下的永和路上，短短一百米內，密集開了十幾家燒餅豆漿店，成了永和市 著名的地標。
「民國六十四年的時候，因為客人越來越多，一天到晚川流不息，父親只好一直營業下去，店就很自然的變成二十四小時不打烊的形態，」目前接掌生意的第二代店主李慶餘說，當時 可能因為社會經濟日漸富裕，夜間休閒活動漸增，像許多民眾徹夜打麻將之後，就會出來找些宵夜、點心，因此在燒餅油條之外，店裡也順勢增添了其他點心，如蟹殼黃、蘿蔔絲餅、 馬來糕等。
現年二十八歲，在加拿大完成高中、大學學業、經濟系出身的李慶餘，四年前接手後，則引進了現代經營手法，除了重新裝修、擴大店面，以及設立公司，讓員工入股分紅等改變外， 他最近也展開開設分店的擴充計畫，儼然有本土麥當勞的姿態。「燒餅和豆漿雖然是傳統的食品，可是還有很大的發展空間，像豆漿現在就被國內外視為一種健 康飲料，燒餅的接受度 也還很高，我們也致力開發、增加了一些新產品，如蘿蔔糕、葡式蛋塔，以迎合一些年輕客潮。」 台灣的四川牛肉麵
然而，陳美蓮和世界豆漿店的例子只是少數，五十年來，台灣社會變遷迅速，一來眷村遷徙、改建的腳步越來越烈，使得這些特殊飲食失去棲身之所，像高雄左營，因為海軍基 地所 在，加上明德、建業、自立等眷村林立，在中山堂附近就麇集了東北酸白菜、南京的如意菜（七、八種菜混合炒）、歡喜 團（類似鍋巴）等各色各樣的吃食，成為主要的娛樂中心，近 年卻因為街道拓寬，迫使這些商家搬遷，如今鬧熱不再，令許多食客抱憾不已。
價值觀的改變，第二代眷村子弟缺乏接班意願，也造成手藝失傳，後繼無人。「老一輩雖然本分務實，滿足於溫 飽，但這種飲食行業畢竟利潤微薄，是個辛苦僅次於黑手的勞力工作， 一般都不鼓勵孩子接手，反而鼓勵他們好好讀書，將來出人頭地。因此許多人在眷村改建、或師傅年邁無力為繼後，就趁勢收手，」在左營實踐路上開設以賣「蟹殼黃」小燒 餅為主的 「五六小店」店主馮志仁說。
然而值得慶幸的是，眷村小吃並未從此花果飄零；這些飲食的種子不覺中播入了「外人田」。像國內的燒餅豆漿店 業者中，有一個「四海」系統，經營者就多為客家人。「客家人吃苦 耐勞能力不輸山東人，手藝更巧，這些吃食在他們手上施展開來，往往更勝一籌，」逯耀東說，他住家附近的燒餅豆漿店就是客家人掌爐，據說他們一家七個兄弟都在不同社區開燒餅 豆漿店。
一些受歡迎的飲食如牛肉麵、點心店甚至發展出加盟或連鎖經營的形態，經營者自然不限眷村或外省出身。於是，現今也常看到打著四川招牌的牛肉麵店裡，掌廚、跑堂的卻都是操著 閩南口音的本省人。反而是許多台灣成長的第二代子弟，到原鄉探親、旅遊時，才發現原來四 川並沒有台灣人習慣的「川味牛肉麵」。
「這是近幾十年台灣飲食發展，非常重要的轉折。經過這次百味雜陳，各自表現自身不同的獨特風味之後，互相吸收與模仿，然後更進一步與本土風味匯合，逐漸形成新的口味，」逯 耀東指出，飲食是一種生活習慣，最容易隨著生活的環境換變，歷史悠久的中國飲食本身就已經過不知多少次的匯合、改變，不僅消除彼此飲食的差異，同時也消蝕地域的藩籬，很難 去追究正宗與傳統的定義。
標榜四川口味的牛肉麵就是一個典型的例子，嗜食牛肉麵的逯耀東曾對此下過一番考察工夫。由於國內牛肉麵冠以川味，他去四川成都旅行時，特地去尋覓地道的川味牛肉麵，結果穿 街過巷兩個小時，竟無所獲，原來四川境內並不興此味，只發現川味小吃中，有小碗牛肉湯，他推想可能當年四川人來台後，傳入了牛肉湯的烹調法，在某種機緣下，有人想到添入麵 條，兩者結合而成牛肉麵。如此說來，牛肉麵倒應該是台灣獨創的。 平淡中見真滋味
Daisy Hsieh /photos courtesy of Pu Hua-chih /tr. by Robert Taylor
The large numbers of ordinary servicemen and their families who came with the ROC government when it moved to Taiwan at the end of the civil war brought with them all kinds of local dishes from every Chinese province. Such dishes not only staved off these displaced mainlanders' hunger and provided a focus for their homesickness, but also enriched Taiwan's cuisine, transforming our little island into a gourmet paradise. The strongholds from which this culinary conquest began were the military dependents' villages, where service families lived in the greatest numbers.
Today, as more and more military dependents' villages are being redeveloped, where has the wind carried their cuisines?
After plans to redevelop 44 South Village were confirmed, the "Little Hyatt"-or, to use its official name, the "South Village Cafe"-moved to a spot opposite Hsinyi Junior High School, to become just another regular eatery among the ground-floor shops of a long row of tall buildings.
"Now we only have half the space we used to, and we're in a residential area and close to a school. It's not suitable for late-night business, so we've gone over to only opening from lunchtime till dinnertime. But that way we've lost half our old customers." Owner Li Yun-mei says that back in the village their premises may have been dilapidated, but there was more free space outside, and along the alley they had rigged up an awning under which they could set up folding tables for customers as the need arose. When business was good they could serve as many as 40 or 50 tables, and they stayed open from late afternoon until well past midnight. The long row of crowded tables in the lamplight under the awning made for as lively and heartwarming a sight as the throng at an outdoor theater performance. It looked as bustling as the nearby Hyatt Hotel, so customers called the cafe the "Little Hyatt."
Although its old atmosphere is gone, the cafe still offers a handsome selection of dishes. Noodles, luwei (foods stewed in a spicy gravy), steamed crabs and gherkin salad are the specialities of the house. They hand-roll their noodles themselves; the flavors of their luwei beef, duck wings, chicken livers, seaweed and tofu skin are just right; their steamed crabs taste fresh, sweet and natural; and the sesame sauce with which they top off their gherkin salad gives it an enticingly rich and mellow aroma.
Li Yun-mei, whose parents came from Shandong Province, says that about 20 years ago when her father retired from the army, his military pension was very small. With six children to feed, her parents decided to set up an eatery in the village to make ends meet. They had never studied under a chef, so the dishes they served up were all ones they often cooked at home. Because they prepared the food carefully, used good ingredients and did not skimp on the portions, they attracted a large clientele, mainly from among nearby Hsinyi District office workers.
"At first they sold jiaozi [ boiled filled dumplings ] and baozi [steamed stuffed buns]," recalls Li Yun-mei. "It took a lot of work, all by hand. First you had to mix the filling, make the dough and let it rise, and roll the skins. Then you had to take the skins in the palm of your hand one by one, fill them and pinch them shut. We worked till two or three o'clock every morning, but we still only made three or four thousand jiaozi. When we opened up at lunchtime the next day these would sell out in no time, and we were too busy to make any more. Later, we switched to things that were less work, such as hand-stretched noodles, with which we made thick noodle soup, fried noodles and so on." Even so, says Li, it was hard to keep up with all the work. Her father died three years ago, and today she runs the cafe with her two sisters. As the one in charge, she has to work 16 hours a day on average, and when her daughter comes home from junior high school each day she too has to help by making gherkin salad.Compounded nostalgia
In 1949 the ROC government relocated from mainland China to Taiwan, and from 1950 onwards, to accommodate married servicemen and their families, all over Taiwan makeshift shelters were built with wooden frames and walls of bamboo lattice daubed with a mixture of rice straw and mud. Each unit in each branch of the armed forces would build its own compound, separated from the outside world by a wall. These were the settlements known today as "military dependents' villages."
In the words of Professor Lu Yao-tung of National Taiwan University's history department, by the time these refugees who had been driven from their homes by the fighting, or had simply panicked and fled the mainland with the retreating government forces, had begun to get over their terrifying experiences, "the days when people believed the mainland could be retaken from the communists in 'three years of counterattack and four years of mopping up' were over. Youthful dreams of returning home with their comrades were fading, and their homeland itself seemed ever more dim and distant. When autumn winds blew they would be struck with nostalgic melancholy. As time went on, in many cases their interest in events back home may have waned, but what they missed most was the food of their native place." Lu, a well known epicure, comments that these newcomers differed little in this respect from earlier settlers-the ancestors of the "Taiwanese"-who came from the mainland bringing not only statues of Matsu, the guardian spirit of sailors, but also various downhome recipes.
Lu Yao-tung notes that when snack-type foods from various parts of mainland China made their appearance in Taiwan, they served not only as an antidote to homesickness, but also as a means of earning a living. Armed forces pay was rather low at that time, and many servicemen's families supplemented their income by selling snacks and other foods. Thus the military dependents' villages became a repository of local snack cuisines from various parts of the mainland.
Serving cheap but generous portions of good-quality, simple food with the authentic flavor of back home became the forte of dependents' village eateries. Compared with the fashion in today's catering industry for creating a trendy marketing image through commercial design and advertising, they seem to give especially good value for money, which is why so many experienced eaters-out are always on the lookout for them. But with the march of time, many of these little eateries are closing down or moving.Edible propaganda
Four years ago, a "Dependents' Village Everyday Culture" event was held in the Peiyuan neighborhood of Tainan City, which is made up mainly of military dependents' villages. One of the items featured was a display of "Mother's Secret Recipes." A long table was filled with all kinds of dishes: deep-fried mahua (dough twists), gangzitou (hard wheatcakes), wheat-flour porridge, puffed-rice cakes, lardy rice, roasted sweet potatoes, cold noodles, huibing (soft wheatcakes cut up and cooked in soup), dough drop soup, rice gruel with mung beans. . . .
Some of these dishes are seasonal, while others are staple foods, and quite a few are similar to local Taiwanese snacks. "Back then both Taiwanese and mainlanders were poor, so everyone ate whatever was cheapest!" says event organizer Tsao Sen. Over a dozen dishes were on display, but on closer inspection, he says, they were all based on just three main ingredients: wheat flour, rice and sweet potatoes.
With a wry smile, Tsao explains that although these three ingredients are very cheap today, foods made from wheat flour or rice did not become common in military dependents' villages until after 1953, because it was only then that their residents began to receive grain rations. If they wanted to eat rice or noodles they had to barter their valuables for them. Their staple food was mostly sweet potatoes, which they ate steamed or in rice gruel.
Even after they had grain rations, most service families still continued to scrimp and save. For instance, it takes a lot of oil to fry mahua, and the dough is made with eggs, so this "high-class food" was rarely eaten. It was only at Chinese New Year, when the grown-ups loosened the purse-strings a little, that Mother would fry up a big batch. But even then many would be given away to neighbors to add to the festive spirit.
Puffed-rice cakes were also a luxury snack which was only made once in a while. In those days rice and oil were both very dear, so although mothers couldn't stop their children pestering them, they couldn't bring themselves to buy puffed-rice cakes either. Later someone came up with the idea of providing one's own rice and oil, and only paying the vendors for their work. But even then, because the rice ration was not very large, eating puffed-rice cakes was a dream which only came true once in a very long while.
However, many of the other items were everyday fare in the military dependents' villages. Such things as large Shandong flatbread, roast mantou (steamed bread), and especially gangzitou-sometimes imprinted with such slogans as "Fight communism, resist Russia"-were thoroughly typical northern Chinese foods. They were hard, took a lot of chewing, and kept well, and because they were often eaten in the armed forces, army cooks from north China could all make them. Thus these cheap, filling items were the first to become popular among ordinary people in Taiwan.
Another northern Chinese food, wheat-flour porridge, was also a mainstay of dependents' village life. It is made by stir-frying wheat flour in a dry wok, then adding hot water to make a porridge-like mush with a taste similar to rice milk or oatmeal porridge. Wheat-flour porridge was usually eaten for breakfast by adults and as a snack by children, but if times were hard it could also stand in for milk powder as a staple baby food.
From a modern culinary perspective, these foods tend to be bland or greasy in flavor-belly-fillers at best. They would not really live up to today's gourmet standards, but having been a part of people's childhoods, they are a reminder of the joys and sorrows of those difficult years, and as such they still have a very special place in people's memories.To market, to market
If the food seemed tasty, the markets where it was sold were interesting places too. In the early years, the families of servicemen, civil servants and teachers were allotted grain rations, but vegetables, meat, fish and other non-staple foods still had to be bought in the ordinary way. Back then the inhabitants of military dependents' villages did not understand Taiwanese dialect and had their own distinct lifestyles, so they rarely went out to shop at local traditional markets. Instead, traders mostly went into the villages and set up markets on squares or empty plots of land, and as a result vegetable markets became an obligatory part of the dependents' village scene. Especially later, as people's lives became more settled and they had more money in their pockets, they could afford to eat out now and then, and going to the market for breakfast became one of their main leisure activities.
Chou Chao-ching, who was born in 1964 in a military dependents' village in Hsinchu City, recalls how when she was little, every morning when she got up she would ask her mother for NT$2 to go to the market for breakfast. "In those days the market not only had stalls selling mainland-style foods like shaobing [sesame-covered wheatcakes], youtiao [deep-fried twisted dough sticks], soybean milk, wonton-and-noodle soup, mantou, baozi, congyoubing [thick, oily pancakes with chopped scallion], jiucai hezi [fried pasties filled with Chinese chives etc.], xiaolongbao [small open-topped steamed meat dumplings] and egg pancakes, but also local Taiwanese foods like fagao [sweet steamed rice-flour sponge cake], honggui [red, turtle-shaped glutinous rice cakes], wan'gao [glutinous rice cakes molded in a bowl] and broad rice noodles, and even foreign foods such as bread and sponge cake. You could eat something different every day-it was great fun."
Another function of the village market was as a place where culinary knowledge was exchanged and where cooking styles merged. As housewives and older men, shopping basket on arm, chatted with whoever they met at the market or at roadside stalls, they would ask: "How do they cook this back where you come from?" Thus they swapped all kinds of recipes. Chou Chao-ching says that in this way her mother learned to make all kinds of tasty foods, such as candied ginger, candied garlic, chilli sauce, zongzi (steamed glutinous-rice dumplings), sausage, cured pork and fermented beancurd. "The women in military dependents' villages in those days all seemed to get along very harmoniously on the surface, but secretly many were very competitive, and this was revealed most clearly in the way they tried to outdo each other in the kitchen. Even the most ordinary housewife might be capable of making dishes in the style of several different Chinese provinces."Dachen rice cakes
Most military dependents' villages contained a mix of people from all over mainland China, and were culinary melting pots. But some were well known for being home to people from a single region.
For instance, after mainland China fell to the communists, Dachen Island off the coast of Zhejiang Province was used by the ROC government as a base from which to launch counterattacks. The islanders were organized into a guerrilla force to help the ROC forces attack the communists on the mainland. But in 1954, in the face of heavy communist bombardments, the government decided to abandon the island and move its more than 10,000 residents to Taiwan, where they were settled in various cities and counties, particularly Taipei, Ilan and Hualien. Thus many Dachen military dependents' villages came into being.
They too brought with them their traditional local cuisine, such as white, unsweetened new year rice cakes in the style of the Zhejiang city of Ningbo; fish noodles, made with fish meat as an ingredient of the noodles themselves; and dried eels. In the early years the residents of the Dachen villages around Chungho and Yungho in Taipei County used to dry fish and fish noodles on the dikes along the Hsintien River. The rows of drying frames stretching for many yards, and the aroma of fresh fish, seemed to authentically recreate the scene of life in a Dachen Island fishing village.
Today, with the redevelopment of military dependents' villages and the growth of the cities, the Dachen communities in Chungho and Yungho have been scattered. But the Chou Family New Year Rice Cake Shop under Chungcheng Bridge in Yungho is still one of the main places where Dachen islanders and their descendants go to stock up with the foods of their old homeland. The shop's owner, Chou A-fa, relates how back on the island his father lived mainly by fishing, but supplemented his income by steaming rice cakes and drying fish. After Chou A-fa came to Taiwan he couldn't go fishing, so he made his living by making and selling traditional foods. Today, he lives three generations under one roof with his children and grandchildren, and although he has handed over the running of the business to his third son Chou Kuo-ming, he still works in the shop from morning till night making rice cakes.
Chou Kuo-ming says that not only the Dachen islanders, but also people from elsewhere in Zhejiang including the Wenzhou area, along with Shanghai and parts of Jiangsu, eat new year rice cakes in the same Ningbo style. The Chou family make their rice cakes completely in the traditional manner, and take care to use good-quality rice, so the cakes are properly pliable and chewy. Hence as well as doing good business throughout the year, in the fortnight before Chinese New Year they do a roaring trade, and have to grind nearly 1200 kilograms of glutinous rice to cope with the demand. "In the past most of our customers came from nearby military dependents' villages, but now they come from all over Taiwan, and even people who have emigrated overseas come in person or send someone to buy rice cakes to take back abroad with them."Over the bridge and far away
Chungchen New Village, near Lungkang outside Chungli City in Taoyuan County, is a stronghold of people from Yunnan Province. During the withdrawal from mainland China, one army regiment slowly retreated from the border area between Yunnan and Burma, fighting a guerrilla campaign as they went. When they eventually arrived in Taiwan, most were settled around Lungkang. Being well away from Chungli city center, these villages have not yet been affected by redevelopment. The traditional lifestyle has been retained to this day, and the Yunnan cuisine is still thoroughly authentic. Here one can eat many Yunnan foods which are difficult to find elsewhere, including snack foods such as "over the bridge" rice vermicelli (rice vermicelli and other ingredients cooked at the table by dipping them in hot chicken soup), migan (rice flour cakes cut into strips) and pea jelly, and restaurant dishes like steamed chicken, pork skin, fish gelatin and deep-fried milk curds.
"Life here doesn't seem to have changed in decades," says Hu Chiung-hua, who was born in Chungchen New Village but has lived in a nearby neighborhood since her marriage. She is still in the habit of going shopping at the market in Chungchen every morning, and while she is there she goes to her friend's cafe for a bowl of migan and a chat. The old village, the old flavors and her old friends mean that she rarely feels threatened by the pace of social change. The Hsinienlai migan shop, run by her childhood playmate Chen Mei-lien, is one of her favorite haunts. "Just like me, she's almost never left the village, so she's carried on completely in the same tradition as her parents, and she cooks really authentic Yunnan food," says Hu.
Chen Mei-lien was born in 1959, and her mother opened an eatery when she was five months old. Growing up in the shop, she naturally learned how to make all these traditional foods, and as a teenager she was able to help in the kitchen. After she graduated from the home economics department of Shih Chien College she didn't go out and find a job, but went straight back home to help her mother with the business. Later, when her mother passed on the shop to her eldest brother, she found other premises and opened another branch. She doesn't feel at all that this line of business is outdated. "I'm interested in these things and I have a talent for them, and as a child I lived through the hard early years of the business, so I feel proud to be carrying on with it," she says.A homegrown McDonald's
No doubt rejecting change is a way of maintaining tradition; but to survive in the real world one may have to embrace change. Despite the disappearance of their former environment, many military dependents' village snack foods have found a wider appeal and entered the life of the Taiwanese public at large. Eateries selling shaobing, youtiao and soybean milk are the most widespread example.
This trio of products was once the monopoly of people from Shandong Province, but because they are easy to make-all that is required is the willingness to get up in the middle of the night to crush soybeans and bake the shaobing-many NCOs learned to make them from army cooks or their fellow officers, and on leaving the forces opened a shaobing shop to earn a living. In the early days they paid little attention to decor-in fact the more ramshackle the premises, the less they cost. Before they had electric ovens, they would bake the shaobing in makeshift furnaces made from a large earthenware water pot set inside an oil drum with the top cut off. They would light a charcoal fire inside the pot, and when the coals were glowing and the pot was hot they would stick the shaobing against the inside of the pot to bake.
When one talks of shaobing and soybean milk shops today, the name Yungho takes pride of place. In the streets and alleys of communities throughout Taiwan, one can find shaobing and soybean milk shops which claim to have their roots in Yungho, and which stay open from breakfast time until late into the night, or even right around the clock.
World Soybean Milk Magnate, the first such shop in Taipei County's Yungho City, was opened by Li Yun-tseng after he first came to Yungho in 1955. In those days, he recounts, the city did not have a large population. Trade came in fits and starts, and he was on the verge of closing down. But then around 1961 the project to widen Chungcheng Bridge and Yungho Road brought large numbers of construction workers into the city, and they became his clientele. From then on business picked up, and other operators were attracted to start up in competition. By 1971, along only a 100-meter stretch of Yungho Road under Chungcheng Bridge, over ten shaobing and soybean milk shops were concentrated, and these became a well known Yungho landmark.
"With more and more customers coming in all day, Father had to stay open longer and longer, and in 1975 he started opening 24 hours." Second-generation owner Li Ching-yu, who now runs the business, says that at that time growing prosperity was bringing an increase in night-time leisure activities. After, say, an evening's mahjong, people would come out looking for a midnight snack. Thus in addition to shaobing and youtiao, Li senior also started selling snacks such as xiekehuang (a type of small, refined shaobing with flaky pastry and a sweet or savory filling), deep-fried shredded radish cakes, and Malay steamed sponge cake.
Twenty-eight-year-old Li Ching-yu went to senior high school and university in Canada, and graduated in economics. After he took over his father's business four years ago, he introduced modern management methods. He not only redecorated and enlarged the premises, set up a limited company and instituted a profit sharing and stock ownership scheme for employees, but recently also embarked on an expansion plan calling for opening new branches, like a home-grown McDonald's. "Shaobing and soybean milk are traditional foods, but they still have a lot of potential. Soybean milk is seen as a health food both here and overseas, and shaobing are well accepted too," says Li. "We're also working hard to develop and introduce new products such as fried radish cake and Portuguese egg tarts, to attract a younger clientele.""Sichuanese" beef noodle soup
However, examples like Chen Mei-lien and World Soybean Milk Magnate are the minority. Over the past half-century social change in Taiwan has been rapid, and military dependents' villages are being relocated and redeveloped at an ever-increasing pace, so that these special foods are losing their "habitat." For instance, because Tsoying in Kaohsiung City is home to a naval base and is surrounded by military dependents' villages such as Mingte, Chienyeh and Tsuli, eateries sprang up near Tsoying's Chungshan Hall selling all kinds of foods like northeastern-Chinese pickled cabbage, Nanjing-style ruyicai (a stir-fried mixture of seven or eight different vegetables) and crispy rice balls. The area became a major leisure attraction, but a road widening scheme a few years ago forced the vendors to move away, and the area has lost its previous liveliness, much to the dismay of former patrons.
Due to changing values, second-generation residents of military dependents' villages are not eager to take over their parents' eateries, so that the skills are being lost and businesses are closing for want of a successor. "The older generation were pragmatic and content to be clothed and fed. But the kind of hard work required in this business is second only to heavy manual labor, so few encourage their children to carry on in the same trade. Instead they urge them to study hard and go up in the world. Hence when military dependents' villages are redeveloped, or the chef gets too old to carry on, many close down." So says Feng Chih-jen, owner of Five and Six's Little Shop in Tsoying, which mainly sells xiekehuang.
Happily, however, this does not mean the end of dependents' village snack foods, for their seeds have been quietly spreading to neighboring fields. For instance, among Taiwan's shaobing and soybean milk vendors, many of those associated with Ssuhai Village near Tsoying are Taiwanese Hakka. "The Hakka are no less industrious and willing to endure hardship than Shandong people, but they are even more skillful, so that in their hands these foods often turn out even better," comments Lu Yao-tung, who says that a shaobing and soybean milk shop near his home is run by a Hakka man whose six brothers also all have shops in different neighborhoods.
Today, craft skills can be learnt by many avenues-they are no longer passed down only within families. In former times, to learn a trade which was not practiced in one's own family one had to serve an apprenticeship, working as well as studying, and it would be years before one could become a master craftsman and set up on one's own. Today, more stress is laid on specialization, and there are teachers available to teach all kinds of skills. Anyone can enroll at a catering school or attend cookery classes, and there are both courses and professional services available in everything from cooking and business management to wholesaling.
With some popular foods such as beef noodle soup and various other snacks, restaurant chains and franchise operations have appeared, and naturally these are not restricted to people from military dependents' villages or of mainland Chinese descent. Thus in beef noodle soup restaurants which present themselves as "Sichuanese," the people in the kitchen and serving the customers are mostly southern Fujianese dialect speakers of Taiwanese descent. Meanwhile, when many second-generation mainlanders who grew up in Taiwan go to the mainland to visit relatives or to travel, they find that in Sichuan itself there is no sign of the "Sichuanese beef noodle soup" to which people in Taiwan are so accustomed.
"This is a very important change which has taken place in Taiwan's catering industry over the past several decades," says Lu Yao-tung. "At first you had all kinds of cuisines coexisting, each with its own distinctive flavors. But then they began to draw on each other, and later combined with local Taiwanese cuisine to gradually develop new flavors." Lu says that as food and drink are habitual components of everyday life, they may easily change as the living environment changes. Chinese cuisine itself, over its long history, has undergone countless amalgamations and changes, not only eliminating dietary differences between people but also eroding regional differences, thus making terms such as "authentic" or "traditional" difficult to define.
"Sichuanese" beef noodle soup is a case in point. Lu Yao-tung, who is very partial to this dish, once checked this out. In Taiwan the most popular style of beef noodle soup is Sichuanese, so on a trip to Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital, Lu went out in search of authentic Sichuanese beef noodle soup. But after tramping the city's streets and alleyways for a full two hours, he drew a complete blank-there was no sign of such a dish. He merely discovered that snack foods in Sichuan include small bowls of beef soup, and he surmised that when Sichuanese came to Taiwan years ago they brought with them the recipe for beef soup; later, someone had the idea of adding noodles. If this is so, beef noodle soup may be a purely Taiwanese invention.The simple life tastes sweetest
In fact, what has been passed down with these foods is not only their taste. "When I was little I often saw how those men in the village, young and old, worked themselves half to death every day for the sake of a few hundred NT dollars, but they still seemed to be happy and enjoying life," recalls 43-year-old Feng Chih-jen, who grew up in a military dependents' village near Tsoying. When he was an ambitious young fellow with his sights set high, this baffled him.
But three years ago, after a series of setbacks in his career, he opened a shaobing shop at the suggestion of a friend who taught him how to make them. Now he spends his all days in his little shop selling shaobing at NT$10 apiece. Yet he is usually very happy, and now he understands how the older generation felt: "Not having to ask anyone for favors, not having to suck up to anyone-carefree and content!"
Perhaps what people miss most about the foods of the military dependents' villages is the taste of that ordinary but vanishing lifestyle!