August 29, 2015

Pineapple cake - OH so Taiwanese

May I offer you some pineapple cake?

The most important food souvenir there is from Taiwan? It might just be the pineapple cake, 鳳梨酥 - (fengli su). It's actually more of a shortbread, with a pineapple jam inside, and the pieces come individually packed, just enough for one bite, or maybe two. It's a common gift to bring to friends, and a common thing that tourists buy - fact is that pineapple cake is so popular and so important to the Taiwanese that I am told the country started to grow new types of pineapple to make sure there always are pineapples that are in season - what's in season is important to the Taiwanese. True or not, I don't know, but pineapple cake is always available - in nice gift boxes with a layer of individually wrapped little cake bits, or sold separately, bit by bit, to happy customers from all over the world. Where you get the best one? I can't say, but I know where I am returning to! 

Closeup of fresh pineapplesThe last time I was in Taiwan I spent the last day in Tamsui (Damshui), in Taipei, at the very end of the red line, by the water. It's, to be picky, in New Taipei, which basically is the extended Taipei, it stretches out beyond the old, central quarters of the city.

I had an older Swedish couple with me, and I was showing them around. On the way back from Tamsui, where we had looked at the boats, eaten special noodles, had ice cream from the Turkish ice cream vendor juggling with the ice cream cones before handing them over to the customer, we stepped in to a shop selling pineapple cake, a nice little shop on the tourist street, which is full of shops selling whatever the tourists may be interested in - and yes, that goes for Taiwanese tourists as well.  As I was explaining the pineapple cake and the importance to the Swedes, in Swedish, the young Taiwanese woman in the shop looked oddly at me - and then she started to talk to us, in Swedish! Very unexpected - and another reminder how small the world is, and how many amazing people and fantastic situations you may find yourself in if you just keep an open mind, and an ear open to what's going on around you.

Many different types of boxes, all containing pineapple cake Learning Spanish, French or German I can kind of understand, but in Scandinavia you will be fine using English, whatever you do, even if it is better for the social life to speak Swedish, in the long run. And despite English being so widely spread, I often meet people from other cultures who learnt one of the Scandinavian languages! I can't help but be amazed - the same way I am amazed I meet people who visited Sweden, or people who know a lot about Sweden or certain Swedish phenomenons without having a connection to Sweden. I'll always remember a fascinating discussion I had up in an odd corner in Manado, Indonesia, where we talked about Swedish badminton players without having much of a common language - but that's not the story for today. Today it's all about pineapple cake, pineapples and a bit about Swedish. 
It turned out that the woman had studied in Sweden for a while, and picked up Swedish - and she wasn't bad at it, either. A bit rusty, sure, but she had no problems holding a conversation. What are the odds? I even met Taiwanese people who studied Swedish in Taiwan! Where in Taiwan you can study Swedish, I don't know, but apparently it is possible. I am not sure why they do it, however it still impresses me when people make the effort! One of my reasons for choosing to study Mandarin was that it's a language spoken by a lot of people - but that can't be the reason to learn Swedish.

However this woman had learnt her Swedish in Sweden, and now she stood with us in a pineapple shop in one of the more busy streets in Tamshui, New Taipei, having a conversation with us, telling us about the family business and their pineapple cake, which, I might add, was exceptionally tasty.

Pineapple cake can clearly bring people together...

The word for pineapple in Mandarin
Talking about pineapple: In the word for pineapple cake it's the first two characters, 鳳梨, (fengli) that makes up the word "Pineapple". However the first character, 鳳, on it's own means phoenix, the bird who is reborn out of flames each time he dies. In simplified Chinese, in China the character is 凤*. The second one, 梨 (li in pinyin) means pear. Phoenix pear, such a beautiful combination making up the word Pineapple. In my world, a very fitting name, because if you cut the top of a pineapple - the fruit - you can plant it, and the new tree will grow out of the old fruit - just like a phoenix the pineapple is born again, and may eventually bear new fruits.

I use the traditional characters myself, when I have a choice, even if they are more difficult to write, I find it much more easy to find a pattern and figure out what the little drawing once upon a time meant. Not that I write an awful lot in Chinese, my Chinese isn't strong enough, at least not yet. But I have always, and will always continue to stress the importance of learning characters, for example in this post, about the different sounds in mandarin

*To show you the difference, in bigger font, as it is sometimes difficult to see what a character looks like in traditional Chinese, there are a lot of lines... I find the traditional Chinese really beautiful, I can see the phoenix in there, a bird waiting to be reborn, trapped in a cage:
in traditional Chinese, vs 凤  in simplified Chinese. 

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