The content of Hakka food is very much in line with the customs of the Han majority if viewed from the food eaten during Chinese New Year. This proves its close relation to the Han majority in ancient times. However, if researched from the cooking techniques and the flavoring methods, it can be seen that the Hakka minority’s unique food culture content derived from the adaptation to the environmental changes and from overcoming life’s hardships. Regarding the Hakka dishes mentioned in the research of Hakka culture, they have the following features: First, emphasizing mountain delicacies and very little seafood: because most of the Hakka minority lived in mountainous areas, there were more mountain delicacies and meat than seafood and fish. Second, emphasizing the content and disregarding presentation: There are a large number of Hakka dishes and they do not think about how the food decorates the plate. This is a representation of the Hakka people’s practical characteristics, nothing over-the-top just very down-to-earth. Third, emphasizing the original taste, paying attention to the original taste of dishes so therefore, not adding many flavorings. The combination of dishes is also simple and uncomplicated. Some people think this is the Hakka people’s way of emphasizing the original taste and individual tastes, but researchers believe this might be because they lived in remote mountainous areas for a long time and weren’t influenced by other cuisine nearer the sea and so reserved the natural, original cooking style which has become so popular today. Finally, the love of eating organs and other foods, which may have been caused by their living environment and conditions and which also promoted Hakka’s capability of cooking organs.
The Hakka minority in Taiwan has experienced an evolution of more than two hundred years. They have lost the support of their original hometown’s material system, and they have been developing along with the development of Taiwan society and industries. For the development of their food culture, we might only preserve and restore a limit of the aspects that the current Hakka food industry represents. However, in the numerous food representations, we can still clearly see the soul of traditional Hakka food culture. The practical significance contained in it will be explained from the following aspects:
i) Aspect of the pickling culture
Pickled food is an important essence of Hakka food. The food custom of the Hakka minority is similar to that of the Han majority in Southern China, but in comparison to the taste, Hakka food has always maintained its feature of being “salty” and they have developed advanced pickling techniques. Therefore, Hakka pickled food has become an important and changing ingredient in Hakka dishes. Many scholars believe that the development of Hakka pickled food is mainly for the convenience of transporting it and preserving it for when the minority moved. Some think that it is because the Hakka minority work hard, their bodies lose a lot of sweat and salt and therefore the salt must be replenished. For this, it can be regarded as the Hakka people’s “strategy in adapting to unstable environments and a representation of being economical.” (Chuang Ying-Chang, 2003)
From many pieces of literature, we can also see that in order to store harvested fruit and vegetables, the Hakka minority eventually developed advanced pickling techniques and created various classic Hakka ingredients such as fermented mustard, soy bean paste, soy-preserved radishes, sour pickled cabbage and bacon etc. In times of frequent wars, everything was full of uncertainty, so it was especially important to store food. What is especially worth mentioning is that apart from meeting the basic objective of filling a person up with rice and other dishes, Hakka ingredients also perform the function of supplying salt. Other minorities around at the same time used techniques that were a far cry from their technique. It is really one in a thousand.
Even nowadays in the 21st century, we can still see old women drying radishes and radish leaves in the sun and hanging fermented mustard in front of their houses in Hakka villages. Whether harvesting taro in summer or storing radishes in winter, they all use the free time after cultivation to grow and harvest the ingredients for pickling. These methods distinctly reflect the Hakka’s wisdom in fully utilizing the land.
ii) Hakka’s rice culture – rice cakes:
Rice cakes are an important feature of Hakka food and are similar to the rice culture of the Han majority. However, what is important is that Hakka rice cakes are mainly made with glutinous rice and there are not many products made with indica or japonica rice. Glutinous rice contains a lot of amylose and is very glutinous. The products are quite filling and a person can last for a long time without feeling hungry.
In addition, apart from eating rice cakes at festivals, rice cakes such as Mochi, Hakka salty balls, Hakka vegetable filled steamed buns and rice ball soup etc. are also the best food women can prepare for when their family goes out to work. The fillings in Hakka rice cakes are mainly shallots, meat and dried radishes and they are big! The snacks still have the feature of being “oily, aromatic and salty” and have the practical representation of being “big, thick and filling”.
iii) Hakka’s dish culture
Hakka people’s well-defined features of being hard-working and economical are sufficiently represented in the features of their dishes. In the past, the three meals a day of the Hakka people, breakfast and lunch consisted mainly of rice and supper was usually porridge. Most dishes were made from fresh vegetables grown in their gardens and pickled products, and the cooking techniques were usually boiling, stir-frying, frying and stewing (braising) with an emphasis on the tastes of oily and salty. At festivals or during celebratory events, they would kill livestock to enrich the dishes on the table. Even living in poor times, Hakka dishes could still sufficiently represent their wisdom of the changes in the combination and application of ingredients.
Hakka classic dishes “four braises and four stir-fries”: Pork Tripe Soup with Sour Pickled Cabbage, Hakka Braised Pork, Braised Rib and Vegetable Soup, Fatty Braised Bamboo Shoot Soup; Hakka Stir-Fried Pork; Stir-Fried Pork Intestines with Ginger Juliennes, Stir-Fried Pork Tripe with Leeks, Stir-Fried Pork Lung and Pineapple with Agaric (salty, sweet and sour). Both the inside and the outside of a pig including the blood is used. They rarely kill chickens or pigs but when they do kill them they use water to stew the meat and make a big pot of oily soup. Then they put dried bamboo shoots into the soup. Not only does the soup remove the sourness and bitterness of the bamboo shoots but the bamboo shoots also absorb the fat on the soup, making it a dish suitable for all ages, from children to the elderly. Dipping boiled chicken into a special orange sauce; adding soy sauce to pork to make braised pork, the sauce of which will then be used with vegetables so not even a drop is wasted. This food content contains an extremely rich practical spirit. Compared to the current rapid waste of resources around the world, the Hakka minority promotes an ecological outlook on food with “making use of everything”. This spirit is worth thinking about for all of us.