Restaurant: Taiwan Cuisine
City: Fremont, California

Whenever we have a family get together at a Chinese restaurant, soup is a must! At home, soup is usually served first. However, at restaurants, it may not be the first dish served, depending on how long it takes to cook.

The soup we had was chicken soup with pineapple and bitter gourd. The soup is unique to Taiwan, and it was my first time having this particular soup! If you can’t handle bitterness, this soup isn’t for you. The bitter gourd makes the soup bitter, even though there’s a hint of sweetness from the pineapple.

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Here’s some info about the soup, from Food Culture in Taiwan:

Chicken soup with pineapple and bitter gourd—a Taiwanese-style soup—is made with free-range chicken, pineapple bean sauce, and bitter gourd. It is popular in restaurants specializing in free-range chicken dishes.

This dish was first available only at suburban restaurants featuring free-range chicken dishes, where the emphasis was on simplicity and the natural flavors of the ingredients. Many of such restaurants also offer wild game dishes unique to Taiwan.

In earlier times when Taiwan was still an agricultural society, pineapple was one of its top exports. While pineapple yields were large, however, cold storage equipment was not readily available. So as not to waste the pineapples, a number of processed pineapple products were invented, including pineapple bean sauce.

Nowadays, the pineapple used for pineapple cake filling and pineapple bean sauce is usually the Tainong No. 3 varietal, which has a more old-time flavor and a higher degree of acidity. Some businesses use Tainong No. 17 to make pineapple bean sauce, which is a combination of salt, fermented beans, sugar, and pineapple pickled for around six months. If the proportions are incorrect, the sauce may not produce juice or become moldy, both of which are desired ends. The flavor of fermented beans, which are the source of the sweetness, varies with the time and the fermentation process. Therefore, different businesses produce sauces with their own unique flavors, which can be used in soup or as a side dish with congee. Both sweet and salty, this sauce goes well with rice.