Authentic Chinese and Taiwanese street food gets the spotlight at Telus TaiwanFest

Hot-dog vendors that usually line Granville Street downtown didn’t stand a chance this weekend (September 3 to 5)—not with Telus TaiwanFest taking over. If the chance to catch Taiwanese pop star Della in a free outdoor concert wasn’t the reason why thousands of festival-goers headed downtown, it was most likely because of the food.

This year, the Asian Canadian Special Events Association, which organized the three day-long event, celebrated Vancouver’s 125th birthday with the first-ever Taiwanese-style street banquet, right in the middle of the 700 block of Granville Street. Four Vancouver-based Taiwanese associations made a total of 16 dishes representing different culinary traditions in Taiwan, including the Hakka people, veteran’s village, and contemporary street food. Meanwhile, red plastic stools and communal tables within the enclosed street banquet area set the mood for an authentic Taiwanese experience.

I tried three dishes available at the Vancouver 125 Banquet (all were $5 each). The first dish was sausage on rice "bun" (shown above), a popular Taiwanese street-food dish made by the UBC Formosa Reality Club. The dish actually directly translates from Chinese into English as “big sausage, little sausage”, and consists of a flame-grilled sweet pork sausage, sliced and nestled into a “bun” made from sticky rice. The sausage is about the size of a bratwurst and is topped with a crunchy relish and a spicy-tangy orange sauce.

Salty sticky rice balls.

The next item I tried was the salty sticky rice balls, made by the Vancouver Taiwan Hakka Association. This was possibly my favourite dish—glutinous rice balls served in a mushroom vegetable broth with flat rice noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, salty dried shrimp, and lots of green onions. It reminded me of a comforting, home-cooked type of dish. The green onions and dried shrimp made the broth very aromatic, while the sliced Chinese mushrooms gave the dish an earthy taste.

Sweet sticky rice balls.

I couldn’t try the salty rice balls without then having the sweet, so I also ate the sweet sticky rice balls made by VTHA. The small rice balls were once again served in a broth, but this time, a sweet honey-flavoured one. At the bottom of the bowl was a bed of red beans, a sweet bean that’s often used in Chinese desserts. Also, there were two pink-coloured rice balls in my bowl, which I was told symbolized good luck.

Candied cherry tomatoes.

Over on the 800 block of Granville Street, about a half dozen Chinese and Taiwanese food vendors set up shop, each one selling something a little different, from Cantonese-style dim sum dishes (such as steamed barbecue pork buns, prawn dumplings, and pork dumplings), to bubble tea, flame-grilled squid, and corn on the cob. A stand selling skewers of glistening red balls caught my attention. Turns out they were candied cherry tomatoes.

Stinky tofu.

If you’ve never had stinky tofu before, the smell of the dish has as many people running in the opposite direction as it has tofu-lovers salivating. However, be warned, this isn’t a typical deep-fried piece of tofu. What makes the tofu particularly “stinky” (some have compared the smell to rotting garbage—yum!) is in the fermentation process. The tofu dish is then served topped with pickled vegetables and a chili sauce.

Barbecued squid.

What might be a bit easier for most people to swallow is barbecued squid. These delicious squid heads are grilled over an open flame for a few minutes to give it an intense smoky flavour, and then served piping hot with two sauces: a red, sweet and sour sauce, and a darker soy-based sauce.

For the hours I spent at TaiwanFest, it seemed that everywhere you looked, people were standing street-side, hunched over a dish, and with hot summer weather finally in full swing, you really got a feeling that you were eating on the streets of Asia—the sights, the sounds, and the smell of the stinky tofu.

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