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  • I'm kind of burning my hand.

  • Oh.

  • Even though it's a little early for fried chicken,

  • and not the kind of thing I'd expect to eat at

  • a funeral, it's pretty unbelievable.

  • The island nation of Taiwan is known for

  • its incredible food culture.

  • And Taiwan's outdoor banquets known as bando.

  • And one of the countries oldest food traditions.

  • Prepared by village chef Sidon Po Si who

  • specialize in cooking for hundreds of people at

  • a time, outdoor banquets can be a celebration of

  • any occasion, from weddings and

  • birthdays to festivals, elections and funerals.

  • Let's get some food.

  • I like stinky tofu.

  • This is pretty heavy on the stink.

  • If I think of eating at a funeral in Canada or

  • the states,

  • it's pretty much bland catering sandwiches and

  • soggy fruit plates that come to mind.

  • But it Taiwan,

  • they do things a little differently.

  • My friend, George, invited me to attend

  • his grandfather's funeral and eat at

  • the outdoor banquet prepared in his honor.

  • He had already been filming the lead up

  • to the funeral and hoped that our film could be

  • a record of his grandfather too.

  • Lin He Xiuju was the village chef in charge

  • of the funeral feast.

  • At 4 AM the morning of the funeral,

  • I joined her at the largest fish market in

  • northern Taiwan, where she threw down the cash

  • on sushi-grade salmon, shrimp and shellfish.

  • It's unusual for

  • a village chef to be a woman, but Xiuju,

  • who also runs a small restaurant,

  • was clearly on top of her game.

  • I wanna point out that the stack of seafood we

  • bought is taller than the woman cooking it.

  • When we arrived in George's hometown of

  • FomeS, it was cold, damp and rainy.

  • People were paying their respects to George's

  • grandfather, who had been a town council leader.

  • Why do you need to stand next to the coffin?

  • The relatives have to keep the deceased

  • company.

  • One person on either side.

  • Does someone have to be here all the time?

  • Yes, you can't leave the coffin alone.

  • They're cooking outside because it's

  • traditionally really important for all of this

  • funeral stuff to happen as close to the home as

  • possible and we're basically like ten steps

  • from where the family of the deceased lives.

  • The first order of business is preparing

  • food for

  • all of the people who have come early.

  • Their job is to make food for

  • people that will fill them up and

  • maybe make them feel a little bit better.

  • So, yeah.

  • It's food made with love.

  • In Taiwanese custom,

  • we eat a pig's head and tail at a funerals.

  • It symbolizes respect for your elders.

  • This is Sesame Oil Chicken,

  • a dish I made specially for the pallbearers.

  • For a coffin this size,

  • it's gonna take 16 to 20 men to carry it.

  • The young ones might hurt their back carrying it,

  • so they will eat this beforehand.

  • It's got chicken and pork in it.

  • You can't drive after eating this, though.

  • It's got lots of alcohol in it.

  • I sat down with the team of pallbearers who were

  • having lunch before getting to business.

  • There was a lot more food than I was expecting.

  • Yeah the chicken is super, super tender.

  • Its got a little tingly from the alcohol.

  • The broth is basically just like booze with

  • some chicken juices in it.

  • Like when you sip it,

  • kinda is like doing a weak shot almost.

  • There's basically like something for everyone.

  • You got the mayotte, which is the traditional

  • thing that you have to eat if your gonna

  • be preparing to carry the coffin.

  • But everything else is just like people like

  • to eat good food and some might like the pork

  • more some prefer to eat fish or other seafood.

  • They wanna make sure that no one goes hungry and

  • everyone's satisfied.

  • So this is the spread.

  • This is the kinda dish that I like.

  • The pork belly.

  • Me too.

  • A lot of these guys aren't young either and

  • they definitely need as much warmth and

  • energy as they can get before the hard

  • work that's about to come.

  • After eating all of this stuff,

  • carrying a coffin up a hill in the rain is not

  • necessarily the first thing that comes to mind.

  • All the while, the rest of the funeral guests

  • were tucking into lunch.

  • I sat down to eat with George when he returned.

  • Admittedly, he wasn't that hungry.

  • My grandfather specifically asked us to

  • make sure the funeral guests are well and

  • get plenty of food.

  • A lot of old people tend to pass away at

  • the end of winter between Chinese New Year and

  • the Mazu Festival.

  • So there are a lot of funeral feasts around

  • this time.

  • Mm.

  • The food tastes good, but it's also really sad.

  • Would you say the tradition is in decline?

  • It's frightening to think about.

  • These old village chefs don't have students to

  • pass their skills on to.

  • As people from the older generation pass away,

  • this tradition will eventually die out.

  • We don't want to see this happen, so

  • we'll try our best to keep the tradition alive.

  • Funeral feasts are a tradition of remembrance,

  • it brings families and neighbors together,

  • and creates a bond between us.

  • I wanted to learn more

  • about the origins of village chef cuisine,

  • so I traveled to its birthplace,

  • the small town of Niemen in southern Taiwan.

  • Hi, Mr. Lin.

  • Hi.

  • You look American.

  • I'm Canadian.

  • Oh, Canadian.

  • Liu Ruizhang has been a village chef for

  • more than 40 years.

  • He works with his wife and youngest son

  • catering outdoor banquets and serving local

  • specialties from the front of his apartment.

  • When I arrived Lin's son was preparing

  • the family's signature pork leg.

  • The flavor isn't quite there yet.

  • Yeah Oh I see.

  • It's still a bit salty right now.

  • Once we bring out the sweetness

  • of the the pork, it won't be as salty.

  • While the pork was cooking the elder

  • Lan showed me his take on sweet and sour fish.

  • I'll make some fish.

  • Just keep frying it til it gets golden brown.

  • Okay.

  • It's super crispy and they just put it back in

  • the wok for a second to kinda flash fry it again.

  • Then we add some seasoning: sour, sweet,

  • spicy.

  • A bit of garlic, onions, white pepper and vinegar.

  • Then some broth.

  • And finally, to make it sweet and

  • sour, we add a bit of sugar.

  • It's ready.

  • The flavor is pretty well-balanced.

  • Now we'll make a gravy.

  • Put it on slow heat.

  • Then a bit of ketchup.

  • To make it sour.

  • Let's pour it on top.

  • Here it is, Sweet and Sour Fish.

  • Sour, sweet, spicy, salty.

  • It's got everything.

  • Shall I bring it to the table?

  • Yes, we're gonna eat it.

  • Okay. Now drink with me!

  • Happy birthday.

  • Whose birthday is it?

  • Whenever a friend from faraway comes for

  • a visit, we say "happy birthday" to celebrate

  • Oh yeah.

  • It's a Taiwanese folk tradition.

  • Oh, I was still pretty full from the previous

  • day's funeral feasting but it wasn't hard to

  • convince myself to keep eating.

  • Why am I passing this to my son?

  • I pass it along to him so

  • that he can have the means to make a living.

  • Otherwise he might end up becoming a construction

  • worker or something,

  • he'd be lost in a different profession.

  • It's the same for you.

  • If I ask you to try a different profession,

  • you might not succeed.

  • Like father, like son.

  • He likes this profession so

  • I'm passing the torch to him.

  • I've been watching him cook since I was little.

  • My Dad cooks so well,

  • I should really learn from him.

  • I'll try my best to reach his level and

  • add my own interpretation into some dishes.

  • What's the difference between traditional

  • outdoor banquets and

  • a meal you'd get in a restaurant?

  • At a restaurant you have a lot

  • of frozen ingredients.

  • Here, everything is fresh.

  • Everything is prepared fresh at every step.

  • What do you think the culture of outdoor

  • banquets will become in the future?

  • They used to be a real sense of community in

  • Taiwan.

  • Oh.

  • When we used to have a neighborhood gathering,

  • everyone in the neighborhood would come

  • help out with the kitchen work.

  • You don't get that anymore.

  • Outdoor banquet culture is in decline not because

  • of the dishes or anything.

  • It's because we don't

  • have that sense of community anymore.

  • Even if the traditional role of the village

  • chef risks slowly fading away, interests in

  • the old-school culinary masters and

  • their outdoor banquets is

  • seeing something of a resurgence.

  • I wanted to see what the future of village chef

  • style food could have in store.

  • So I went to meet Wen Guozhi,

  • an expert in traditional Taiwanese recipes at

  • the culinary school where he teaches in.

  • Being a Village Chef is a very traditional

  • profession in Taiwan, but recently there have been

  • some development in the cuisine.

  • What do you think about this.

  • Traditional Village Chefs either only had a primary

  • school education or weren't educated at all.

  • These days we have apprenticeships,

  • which has helped raise the level of education

  • for young chefs.

  • Today we're making Scallops with

  • Shredded Bamboo Shoots and Egg Skin,

  • it's one of the village chef's specialities.

  • We start off with the carrots.

  • We peel of its rough skin.

  • This is a regular cleaver,

  • and a bone cleaver.

  • We prep 90 percent of the ingredients using just

  • these two knives.

  • Maybe it's because resources were scarce

  • back in the day.

  • So people did all their cooking with just these

  • two knives.

  • I thought I was a decent cook but

  • next to Wen Guozhi, I felt pretty inept,

  • even when it came to frying an egg or

  • stir frying some vegetables.

  • How is it.

  • It's so good.

  • This is the part where the music is supposed to

  • come on.

  • It's got a light scent of bamboo shoot and

  • shiitake mushroom.

  • We have the scallop which is soft, and

  • the bamboo shoot which is crispy.