That’s how you’ll be greeted in Taiwan! Instead of a basic ‘hello’ the conversation starts, and ends, with food. As you walk out the door, it’s not a boring ‘good-bye’, but rather “we should find some time to eat again”. I had the great opportunity to live in France on an overseas assignment and experienced a culture’s love for food, but the Taiwanese people take their admiration for the edible delights to new heights! On our first day in Taiwan (literally hours upon landing) we were given the news that we were not just here for the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge, but also the 3 Kilo (6.6 lbs) challenge. It was explained that 3 kilo’s was the average weight gain we faced while here for 3 weeks. Further, one fellow IBMer actually saw a 7 Kilo belt expansion reminding us the 3 Kilos were merely an ‘average’. Thinking this was a bit of humor our team laughed it off and chalked it up as a nice way to say we would enjoy the food while in the country. Then it began….the meals started with a breakfast buffet in the Shangri-la Far East Hotel which would embarrass even the finest Las Vegas buffet spread. A few hours later we were sitting at a lunch table with various options spread around us while talking about what dinner was planned for that night. You see, the entire trip has every night booked with dinner plans…thought through down to the meaning of the food. They were not kidding – food is engrained in everything that is done. Business meals are the epicenter of developing relationships and sharing time with colleagues, clients, and of course friends. The food is amazing and unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before….it’s a delicacy dance of textures, smells, and flavors that are pulled together in a way that makes your senses jump to life.
At a lunch we had at that National Palace Museum, the food was actually prepared to resemble the art pieces we had just finished looking at! Seriously – a lettuce Jade looking dessert?
Oh, and while we are on the dessert topic, the Taiwanese do not embrace the American palate wrecking super sweet tastes, but rather a delicate and subtle sweet made of natural red bean paste that has the ability to both relax and pleasure the taste buds after a 12 course meal. What? Yes – a TWELVE course meal, including 3 forms of soup and multiple deserts, which is what we had on Monday at a dinner we attended hosted by the Taichung government’s Deputy Mayor.
The Taiwanese eat out a lot I was told over lunch at a Japanese style meal. It was explained that on average a person will eat three full meals and two ‘snacks’ that are not really snacks at all. The example of a snack I was given of a snack perhaps a ‘fried chicken’. Another snack should be taken at the night market well into the evening after dinner. The average lunch here is at least 90 minutes, but could last up to three hours if you are out with friends. Oh – worried about food coma? – YES, that is common so it is not uncommon to grab a post-lunch nap. It was explained this is common and accepted, especially for government workers who simply lay their heads on the desk for about 30 minutes.
One would think that all this eating would prevent any work from getting done, but actually it’s quite the opposite. The work never stops. Just because you have food in front of you doesn’t slow down the business. In fact, it is starting to feel weird to be working without some kind of food sitting in front of me. Looks like I’m going to be one of those SCC participants who actually raises the average of the 3 Kilo challenge! Okay, off to grab something to eat now…..”we should find some time to eat again”!