Taiwanese restaurants face challenges in China market

Beijing, Feb. 12 (CNA) Investing in China's food market is no easy task for Taiwanese restaurateurs, as in addition to significant increases in the minimum wage and rental fees over the past few years there, there are even more challenges in maintaining original Taiwanese flavors. Taiwanese restaurants in China tend to opt for ingredients locally grown in China because some are not suitable for long-distance shipping. Therefore, delicacies served on the tables of their China branches may not taste very much like they do in Taiwan. This situation has made some Taiwanese businessmen decide to close some of their outlets there or even pull out of the China market altogether.
Tu Hsiao Yueh, which features its signature dish of fragrant tan tsai noodles with minced meat, is a store that first opened in 1895 in Tainan, southern Taiwan. It put a great deal of effort into finding stable suppliers for its ingredients before opening its first store in China in January this year.
Hung Hsiu-hung, the executive director and fourth-generation founding family member of Tu Hsiao Yueh, said that through participating in several food exhibitions organized by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, he found out that many dishes, such as oyster omelets and sausages, which are described as having Taiwanese flavor, do not taste as they should when they are served in China.
To make sure the restaurant would be able to present authentic local Taiwanese cuisine, its staff traveled between Taiwan and China several times over a half-year period to find stable sources of ingredients that taste truly Taiwanese. However, the restaurant still insists on using minced meat cooked in Taiwan and pork balls from northern Taiwan's Hsinchu County. A similar story can be told for the renowned dumpling house Din Tai Fung. Following the opening of its first branch in China in 2004, the company has opened seven restaurants there at a pace of one store per year in order to obtain a scale of operation that can allow it to source quality ingredients. Like its outlets in Taiwan, customers in the Beijing branch can watch the chefs showcasing their skills in making Din Tai Fung's famous hsiao lung bao -- juicy pork dumplings -- through the glass walls of the kitchen. Hsu Chih-chiang, who runs the restaurant's China operations, said that Ding Tai Fung is very strict in terms of its selection of ingredients, staff hiring, standard operating procedures and the quality of services it provides for its customers. Beijing resident Chen Lifeng, meanwhile, said Taiwanese food brands are more reassuring to Chinese people in terms of the selection of ingredients, as well as food processing and preparation. "Chinese care more about eating healthy, and price is no longer the top priority," Chen said. As competition in the food and beverage market becomes ever-more intense, Hsu suggested that Taiwanese businessmen who intend to tap China's food services market should first embark on field visits, gain an understanding of customers in China and ensure that their enterprises are properly oriented. (By Tsai Su-jung and Nell Shen)