An opportunity has risen in Vancouver to learn and experience the food and culture of the Hakka people of Taiwan. This year’s TAIWANfest (Sept. 3–5), alongside the Vancouver Taiwan Hakka Association, sheds light on a people’s history with their Experience Hakka program.
Since 1990, TAIWANfest has been raising awareness to Taiwanese history and building communities through arts, music, food and storytelling.
“It’s interesting. There are a lot of people that are Hakka, but they don’t understand Hakka culture. They don’t understand their background,” says Wish Chou, an executive assistant at the ACSEA (Asian Canadian Special Events Association).
Farming and food
The center of this program is around the Peng family, a Hakka clan that moved to Canada from the Eastern Bamboo Mountain.
“They were also one of the first families that moved to Taiwan and developed the island. They have a long history in Taiwan,” says Chou.
Like many communities in history, the Hakka people migrated from one region to another. Due to this, Hakka heritage has trickled from China and Taiwan to India, Southeast Asia and around the world.
“When we bring out Taiwanese Hakka culture, we try to connect with Hakka culture in other countries,” says Chou.
The Hakka people were often new to everywhere because of their travelling. They were hardworking and a lot of people lived by farming (their main financial income) so they created their own cuisine in order to adapt to their constant travelling.
“They needed [food] that was quicker to finish and easy to bring out onto the farm. It had to supply the salt, and electrolytes needed for a day of farming,” says Chou. “Hakka food is actually heavier. It’s a bit oily and saltier than other foods because they need that food to supply their energy.”
While farming is a practice that has been done by everyone for centuries, Chou mentions the Hakka people were different from other Asian cultures.
“For example, Japanese people farm as well, but their food is much lighter,” says Chou. “It’s a way for the Hakka people to reflect their culture: through the food.”
Mochi and Lei Cha
A celebrated food in Hakka culture is mocha (in Hakka it’s called “ciba”), a sticky rice ball, and Chou says it is one of the most important foods in Hakka culture.
It is served to guests at important events such as weddings, festivals, or the Lunar New Year.
“I remember when I was younger. I went to my relative’s wedding. They always had ciba there. It would always be the starter,” says Chou. “Even before the wedding started, we would all eat the ciba while waiting for the bride to come in.”
A traditional drink in Hakka cultures is ‘lei cha,’ which is also known as thunder tea.
“Lei cha is a kind of tea in Taiwan. It is actually an energy drink. It includes ground nuts, seeds and tea leaves mixed with hot water,” says Chou. “You can drink it with ciba as well.”
The Experience Hakka program at TAIWANfest will include workshops for mochi, lei cha and other Hakka cuisine. There will be opportunities for the public to try these foods as well. They will also have visual arts exhibitions and story sharing with the Peng family.
“I, myself, am a Hakka. This is something that I’m excited to show Canada about Taiwan. How the Hakka culture has affected our food and how our architecture shows the culture in Hakka,” says Chou.
This year, TAIWANfest begins in Toronto (Aug. 26–28) and then comes to Vancouver’s Granville St. (Sept. 3–5).