Delicious, appealing, and fun
Muslims consider family life to be very important, and mostly travel in family groups. Aside from having special dietary and prayer requirements, Muslims in fact hope for the same things as everybody else from travel, including opportunities to appreciate the natural scenery and experience local culture.
Shangrila Leisure Farm, located in Yilan County, was part of the first group of tourism businesses to receive halal certification. Some of its buildings are in the Southern Fujianese style, and each room is fitted out in fragrant Taiwan cypress wood. You can pick fruit and vegetables or admire the scenery on the 18-hectare farm. The delicious halal meals served there are all creative Taiwanese dishes made with fresh local ingredients, earning great word of mouth among travel agencies and enabling the farm to attract 200‡300 Muslim visitors a year.
At an elevation of 250 meters above sea level, Shangrila Leisure Farm offers scenery that varies with the seasons but also from hour to hour on any given day. Sometimes it is clear in the morning followed by showers in the afternoon, and the mists that envelop the farm after rain lend their own kind of romance. By day, Muslim travelers who come to Shangrila can explore the nearby Wuxinshi Trail, while at night the farm stages a variety of activities for visitors, including watching puppet theater performances, spinning Chinese tops, making tangyuan (glutinous rice balls), and releasing sky lanterns. Staff explain to overseas guests that in Taiwan tangyuan symbolize “completeness” or “family unity,” and are considered essential for Lunar New Year celebrations and other joyous occasions. The staff provide individual cooking pots to allow guests to experience the fun of preparing tangyuan. Releasing sky lanterns represents wishes for good fortune; this activity has no religious significance and is popular with Muslim visitors. The farm has continually worked to give Muslim guests first-hand experiences of Taiwanese culture.
Authentic Taiwanese flavors
When the subject of halal-certified or Muslim-friendly restaurants in Taiwan comes up, we tend to think of places specializing in foreign cuisine, such as Turkish or Indonesian restaurants. “It was as if Muslims coming to Taiwan could only eat the food of other countries,” says Louis Tsai, project manager at the Super Qin Group. “We wanted to get halal certification so that Muslims can eat food with an authentically Taiwanese flavor.”
The core business at Super Qin is chicken slaughterhouses, and chairman Cho Yun Yu, who has been in the poultry industry for 40 years, takes great pride in the quality of chicken meat from Taiwan. Super Qin turned part of their slaughterhouse operations over to Muslim staff to slaughter the birds in the prescribed Islamic manner, and in 2015 received halal certification, enabling them to supply fresh chicken meat to Muslim consumers.
Taking advantage of this opportunity, the restaurant chain “Fried Chicken Master,” a subsidiary of Super Qin, began working to become Muslim-friendly. This was not simply a matter of switching over to halal-certified ingredients. To ensure that their products retained their original flavor, researchers at the company had to adjust the flour mix, marinade, and spices, and only arrived at a satisfactory taste after continual trial and error. Take for example Fried Chicken Master’s classic “Taiwanese-style salt and pepper” flavor. Freshly deep-fried yansuji (Taiwanese popcorn chicken) is put into a container, then salt, pepper, garlic, and hot peppers are added, and finally the mixture is shaken (in imitation of Taiwanese-style stir fry) to spread the ingredients evenly. They had to try many different ratios of pepper to salt, not to mention considering the saltiness and spiciness of the dish.
After a year, at the end of 2016 the Nangang branch of Fried Chicken Master led the way in getting halal certification. One Muslim family living on Yangmingshan, hearing that Taiwan finally had fried chicken that Muslims could eat, made a special trip by car to try it out. As other branches received certification one after another, Fried Chicken Master’s fame began to spread among Muslims. The Gongguan branch, for example, draws Muslim students from nearby National Taiwan University and National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, as well as worshippers from the Taipei Grand Mosque, so it’s no wonder that 40% of sales revenue there is from Muslims, giving an indication of the restaurant’s popularity with the Muslim community.
Today Fried Chicken Master has branches in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia. They have continued to adhere to the brand’s original goal of “giving everyone the opportunity to eat delicious Taiwanese fried chicken, regardless of race, gender or religion.”