If you’ve ever been to a Fujianese restaurant in New York, you’ll notice some menu similarities to Taiwanese restaurants. A lot of people immigrated to Taiwan from Fujian. The dialect and local foods of south Fujian and Taiwan are practically identical.
Yet during my stay here in Xiamen, I began to notice a lot of direct references to Taiwan: a influx of cutesy coffee shops with Taiwanese music and food vendors who marketed their food as authentically Taiwanese. Sooner or later, I even encountered an entire street of food vendors titled “Little Taiwan.”
After talking to some locals and a few college students, they told me the obsession with Taiwan is because Xiamen is as close as many mainlanders can get to Taiwan. It’s difficult for people from mainland China to obtain a visa to Taiwan and only recently have people from the mainland been allowed to visit the island.
The cultural and culinary similarities make it easy for locals to sell their items as Taiwanese. And because Taiwan is such a cultural hotspot in East Asia, businesses in Xiamen have used its appeal as a marketing strategy.
Truth be told, the foods we encountered in “Little Taiwan” were just as Fujianese as they were Taiwanese. Fish balls and meat skewers are not exclusively Taiwanese. But for the tourists in the area (mostly Chinese youths), it’s the Taiwanese appeal that draws them in.