the latest craze in Taipei, 1998 - already historic now

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Location: Taipei, Taiwan

Tuesday, August 20, 2002


Rolf-Peter Wille, 1998

We are becoming cosmopolitan: About 100 years ago the
Empress Dowager believed that Portugal (accidentally the Chinese pronunciation of Portugal means ‘grape-tooth’) was a mysterious country where grapes grew teeth. Today—just while I am writing this—‘Portugal’ is in everybody’s mouth and it is our own teeth munching fresh Portuguese egg-tarts.

The Portuguese were the first European sailors to spot the exotic island of Taiwan and in fact gave it the Portuguese name ‘
ilha formosa,’ or ‘formidable island’ because of its great beauty (which irrefutably proves that they never landed here).

But I doubt that we are devouring egg-tarts because of nostalgia or any sophisticated consciousness of historic identity. Egg-tarts, in fact, are the latest craze. About two weeks ago it was ‘cool’ to line up for seven hours without being able to buy an egg-tart. Today—just while I am writing this,…and by the way—I am typing only with my left hand, because my write one is holding a fatty egg-tart… (but let me continue my thought!) Today not only every single bakery in town features Portuguese egg-tarts, but I just happened to witness a ‘cabby’ who calmly opened the door of his taxi and instead of spitting red
betel-nut juice he actually… anyway—I don’t want to spoil your appetite for egg-tarts.

Egg-tarts? Yes, I understand. The ‘latest craze’ could disappear so rapidly that you may have forgotten all about egg-tarts by the time this article appears in print. A professional writer has to write about the latest craze before it even happens. A while ago it was dark beer, imported from Germany. Where is it? Then some clever entrepreneurs decided to ‘fry’ French red wine. When I discovered a ‘Latour 72’ bottle at my neighborhood
Yungho soybean-milk shop, I knew that the craze was over.

But egg-tarts are different. People have been flying to Macao for a taste of fresh egg-tart, but so far nobody has sold an egg-tart for—let’s say—20,000$$ yet. In other words: Most people actually enjoy eating them.

Yesterday my friend Bobbie Wang took me on an egg-tart gourmet’s contest tour. We went straight into the first bakery. ‘PORTUGUESE EGG-TARTS’ blared the banners in front of the window. And—sure enough—the delicious golden pastry was seductively displayed on a baking-tin. There was no line and we became quite suspicious. I pretended not to be interested, while my Bobbie commenced with the inquisitorial procedures:

"Are these egg-tarts?
And—are you sure they’re fresh?
How much?
That expensive?
And—are you sure they’re Portuguese?
My friend here is from Portugal, you can’t cheat him."

(I am German and—though I have stayed in Portugal for several months—I have never seen an egg-tart there, but I surely began to appreciate my significance as a judicial authority.) We stuffed a number of tarts into our mouth while my Prof. Wang spontaneously evaluated the product:

"Not bad! Quite authentic. But not enough egg-custard… kind of cheating…"

"But the puff-paste is á la crispy croissant—pretty scrumptious stuff…" I suggested.

"Too oily." Was the laconic answer.

By that time quite a crowd had assembled around us curiously observing our ritual and ready to buy and verify the result of our diagnosis.

"Look at all these people," Bobbie said,
"they can hardly wait to put all this delicious gold into their stomach."

We repeated the performance with various variations in a number of bakeries around town and when I came home I had to follow the example of that cabby. But—strangely—when I woke up this morning I felt like going out and having some egg-tarts for breakfast.

Actually they always had egg-tarts in Taiwan. They may not have been Portuguese but they must have been delicious. Strangely—I never bothered to even look at them. Just a week ago I was so scared at cholesterol that the name ‘egg-tart’ would have reminded me of cyanide. Yesterday I delighted in precious golden creamy egg-custard.

What happened?

Somebody must have found a switch: I became a ‘connoisseur’ overnight. All the ‘egg-tart hype’ apparently illuminated an awareness and curiosity in my brain that must have been slumbering unnoticed before. Instead of

egg-yolk = cholesterol = cyanide

somebody must have changed this to

egg-yolk = gold = scrumptious.

Unfortunately this new equation will fade very soon from the memory of my cerebral hard disc. Already I am becoming bored: Shouldn’t they use French crême brullé rather than simple egg custard? And how about stuffing the crispy puff-paste with Beluga caviar and selling it for 10,000$$ per tart? Hm, hm…

But isn’t this hype terribly superficial? Lately a crazy
Australian pianist, who can hardly play ‘do, re, mi’ was hyped in a corny film. He went on a world tour. Tickets were sold out everywhere and audiences went wild over his idiotic mannerism while thousands of fantastic pianists are completely ignored and have to bribe an audience to pretend listening to them. Should we not stay critical, calm, cool, and sober?

On second thought:

Isn’t it wonderful to enjoy something as a connoisseur? Why should it only be egg-tarts or crazy pianists from Australia? What if we would become connoisseurs of Turkish movies, or tried to find the most beautiful street in Taipei County? What if we would make a private contest of spending the most perfect day in our life and why not become an aficionado of the most elegant chopsticks in the world. Why—in fact—not become an aficionado and connoisseur of everything: of life in general.

Where is the magic switch?

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