Food is a Serious Business

Breakfast in Taipei

I spent nearly 20 years of my career in the news business. Sometimes people ask me: What was your most popular story? Which one attracted the most attention? My answer is a bit embarrassing, though it probably shouldn’t be.

As a foreign correspondent, I got to cover a lot of big breaking news — presidential elections, Olympics in Beijing, global summits, riots, suicide bombings, earthquakes, plane crashes, and economic booms and busts.

But the story that got the most feedback from readers was a travel feature I wrote in 2004 about what’s for breakfast in Taipei. I began the piece by pointing out that most people around the world have a good idea of what’s on the menu for lunch and dinner at a Chinese restaurant. But few might be aware there’s an entirely different menu for breakfast. And it’s absolutely delicious.

My story described with great detail and enthusiasm tasty morning delights such as egg pancakes (danbing, 蛋餅), twisted crullers (youtiao, 油條), soybean milk (doujiang, 豆漿), rice wraps (fantuan, 飯糰) and – my all-time favorite – baked wheat cakes with egg (shaobing jia dan, 燒餅夾蛋).

I was working for The Associated Press wire service at the time, so my story was sent to newspapers all over the world. The company likes to say that more than half the world’s population sees its content every day. And it seemed like half the world really did read my story.

For nearly a year, I received clippings in the mail every week from papers that printed the story. Readers sent me plenty of letters and e-mails about how much they love eating breakfast in Taiwan or how they were intrigued by the unfamiliar morning cuisine.

I guess I shouldn’t feel embarrassed – or surprised – that my most popular story was about what’s for breakfast in Taiwan. Food is a serious business. And it’s a big business. It also tells you a lot about a country’s history, culture, and character. Appreciating the food of a place brings you closer to understanding the people – and that’s crucial for commerce.

I’m sure TOPICS readers are already well aware of this connection, and that helps explain why our annual Wine and Dine issue is so popular. Food is best when shared, so I encourage our readers to share these stories with their friends.