Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food for the gods in Taiwan

I was in Taiwan for Tomb-Sweeping Day, a weekend that has the locals heading to the outdoors and sprucing up the graves of their relatives. It's also a popular time for heading to the temples, it seems.

I've seen a lot of temples on this trip, and I've seen a lot of offerings at said temples. Bags of rice in Malaysia, bottles of sake in Japan, every country seems to do it a bit differently. But at Longshan Temple in Taipei they don't bother with token offerings--they go all out with all types of random assortments of food.

"On a large table near the altar, the faithful will place offerings to the deity.  Different methods are used to propitiate different gods.  While sandalwood incense is more usual, lit cigarettes are commonly left on the altar of the “Dog Temple” (十八王公), on Taiwan’s North Coast.  Matsu and Guan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy) accept only vegetarian food offerings, while whole pigs are splayed before the Hakka ancestors at Yi Min Temple in Hsinchu.  Some gods like a little wine, and tea may be offered to almost any deity." Taiwan Touch Your Heart Tourism

Piles of processed foods like ChocoPies, Saltines, and other delicious treats. There was also more than a few bottles of soybean oil.

But there were also piles of homemade food as well. Horrified by all of that lovely food going to waste, I was pleased to see a very elderly woman sneaking around and swiping steamed buns and putting them in her bag. She did it in a very respectful manner,  though, giving a little bow to whatever deity she was taking it from. I also saw some monks who appeared to be packing up food, possibly to distribute to the needy (I hoped).

As I was leaving the temple I saw a long line of people, and garbage bags of empty bowls and spoons. It looked promising. I have learned that generally when you see a long line in Asia the best bet is to get in it, because there's usually some pretty delicious street food at the end of it.

As it turns out, the line was for tangyuan, glutinous rice balls in a thick, ginger-flavored broth. And best surprise ever, it was free! I was not able to ascertain why it was free, nor who was distributing it, but apparently this tasty little snack is served during special events such as the Lantern Festival and Winter Solstice.


  1. Is tangyuan sweet or savory? And did they look at you funny for being in line?

  2. Lina,Temple is an organisation - they don't give out free food for nothing. For major festivals like Tomb-sweeping Day where worshippers flocking in for the special occasion - temple workers give out food - usually cooked vegetarian food - most commonly stir fry noodle/noodle soup in return for your donation. Which is expected to be placed into a big wooden box/stand usually nearby.


  3. Oops! That's very embarrassing. I loitered around looking to see if there was somewhere I was supposed to pay, but I didn't notice the box (or anyone else contributing, for that matter). I will definitely be back so next time I will donate double. :)

  4. Ha! No worries - Longshan temple is very well-off!! The left over goodies probably all went back in their kitchen or 7-11! :-)