A brief history

The Hakka are a unique people. They take full advantage of the land, mountains, and forests, utilizing and displaying their environment in their food and creating the uniqueness of Hakka cuisine. Hakka food also reveals their frugality and respect for heaven and earth. Prior to the invention of modern electrical appliances, their rural societies developed self-sufficiency by pickling foods depending on the weather. Thus, the Hakka have preserved a wide variety of pickled foods, rice products, and other food materials relating to the weather, creating a unique repertoire of food selection and cooking processes in the Hakka’s unique food culture.

In order to keep up their physical strength and replenish the water and salt lost through perspiration, the Hakka developed food that is generally salty, fragrant, and oily. Most of the dishes taste strong and fatty to add flavor to the large quantities of rice needed to increase physical strength. The Hakka invented all sorts of pickles using vegetables, fish, pork, sauces, yeast, and dried materials, using large quantities of salt for flavor and preservation . As the Hakka live in mountainous areas, fish and pork are difficult to come by and large amounts of salt are needed to preserve it, especially with the lack of refrigeration. Hakka salty pork is as famous as northern China’s cured pork, or ham from Jinhua, China. It tastes delicious with minced garlic and vinegar. Of course, salty fish is also delicious. Since the Hakka developed a cooking method of using large amount of oil and pickles over a long period of time in order to keep up their energy, they balanced their dishes using oranges, persimmons, ginger, and plums, bringing their skills into full play.

The Hakka are good at using natural resources to create sauces used in large quantities. Cordia, tree beans and kumquat sauce are three notable examples, with many people identifying them as unique Hakka foods. Sauce made of sour kumquat goes well with every meal, and its sour and tangy taste reduces the consumption of condiments and saves money. The Hakka love their sauces just like Italians love tomato sauce. For the modern, health-conscious eater, kumquat sauce is also an excellent organic food.

Hakka ancestors discovered that the Cordia tree, which grows in the wilderness and can survive extreme conditions, was edible. In Mandarin, the plant is called Pobuzi, or broken rag, because insects often chew at the leaves, causing it to look like a piece of rag. However, the Hakka did not ignore it just because it doesn’t look nice. Its fruit contains abundant water and pectin, and tasted delicious after pickling. In early settlement in Taiwan  Cordia was an important plant in rural communities. Although eating habits have changed, Cordia is still a good choice of seasoning for steamed fish, pork, and fried eggs.

The Hakka grow many plants suitable for the hillside, one of which is ginger. The Hakka place such an emphasis on this plant that place names with the word ginger are often places where the Hakka live. Many dishes are made with ginger. On days where there are no vegetables available, pickled tender ginger and rice porridge make a good meal. Ginger has the ability to make you feel warm on cold days, helps blood circulation, and increases physical strength.

Non-staple foods, snacks and Banzai (rice-based cake) developed to signify seasonal changes. Foods developed to celebrate nature and holidays display the Hakka’s life philosophy. In Taiwan, due to the differences in terrain and weather, Hakka foods of northern and southern Taiwan are slightly different.