Written by Sophie X. Song
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Diana Chang, Adriana DiBenedetto
Story shared by Taiwan Porridge, a partner of the Very Veggie Movement: “Young people in the Bay Area love having spicy hot pot and Sichuan-style cuisine — food that is heavier, with stronger flavors. I hadn’t noticed that before, myself, but now that I have a child, I realized it’s kind of difficult to find Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area that are more suitable for children and older people like my parents. […] Most of our dishes at Taiwan Porridge are not spicy. They are suitable for the whole family.”
When COVID-19 began to sweep across the United States, the restaurant and foodservice industry was dealt a significant blow as doors closed to safeguard the health of communities. And in halting business temporarily, many found they were forced to close for good. Taiwan Porridge, located in California’s Bay Area, however, has experienced relatively good fortune during this difficult time. In fact, Liu Hao, the second-generation owner of Taiwan Porridge, has been busying himself with completing paperwork for a third branch of the restaurant in Fremont, CA.
“We have done slightly better than other restaurants, but I think we barely managed to survive the pandemic,” Liu Hao said modestly. With two decades of consistent hard work and love serving as its foundation, Taiwan Porridge has stayed afloat. Hoping to do more for their community, they’ve also graciously joined the Very Veggie Movement as valued partners.
The Original Porridge
Liu Hao’s father first opened Taiwan Porridge in Milpitas, CA, in 2000. At the time, Taiwan Porridge was a small, traditional Chinese restaurant. Yet, it tended to stand out among the competition rather quickly. Unlike many other Chinese restaurants, Mr. Liu had a unique focus for his menu: Taiwanese porridge served in humble portions with modest cookware. The homestyle dishes exude a sense of calm, and are quite a rarity in the bustle of the Bay Area.
“Young people in the Bay Area love having spicy hot pot and Sichuan-style cuisine — food that is heavier, with stronger flavors,” Liu Hao said. “I hadn’t noticed that before, myself, but now that I have a child, I realized it’s kind of difficult to find Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area that are more suitable for children and older people like my parents.”
Therefore, Taiwan Porridge values light and healthy fare. Taiwan Porridge is also different from other Cantonese-style porridge restaurants in that it serves one key type of Taiwanese porridge: rice porridge cooked with sweet potato chunks, accompanied by delicate side dishes for a lighter taste. Many of the most popular dishes — like their smoked dried bean curd, cold shredded potato, cold lotus salad, and quail egg and tofu — are all vegetarian. More than 20 years after the first Taiwan Porridge opened for business, the old Milpitas location has indeed remained a reliable favorite in the Bay Area.
The Liu family is originally from Jiangsu province, China, and the region is known for its lighter dishes as well. After learning about Taiwan’s distinctive porridge dishes, Mr. Liu was inspired to further explore these recipes. While the family could have pivoted to include more popular dishes on their menu, their passion and dedication to light, wholesome foods has earned many regular guests.
“Most of our dishes at Taiwan Porridge are not spicy. They are suitable for the whole family,” Liu Hao said.
Befriending Tzu Chi
The friendship between the owners of Taiwan Porridge and Tzu Chi can be traced back to more than ten years ago. The first-generation proprietress is a kind-hearted woman from Taiwan. She is very humble and asked her name not to be mentioned in the interview. The truth is, she has known Tzu Chi for years and knew all about Tzu Chi’s good deeds in Taiwan. She herself has also always been a member of Tzu Chi in the United States. In addition to participating in fundraising events over the years, each winter for Tzu Chi’s drives to raise winter clothes for the needy, this generous lady would visit each house in her neighborhood to raise awareness for Tzu Chi’s charitable events, and ask for her neighbors to contribute. After that, she would personally deliver the winter clothes and other donated objects to Tzu Chi volunteers. At the same time, Taiwan Porridge has also always had a Tzu Chi donation box installed, so that guests and employees alike can put their changes in and do their part for the community. When the box is full, the proprietress would notify the volunteers to come collect it and leave an empty box in its place.
“It’s a pity that our customers can’t dine in during the pandemic, and it hasn’t been possible for volunteers to pick up the donation box either,” said the proprietress.
This year, when she saw the Very Veggie Movement flyers a volunteer dropped off, she immediately mobilized her husband to join and help Tzu Chi promote vegetarian food. Their support has not wavered now that the younger owner has taken a more active hand in the management of the restaurants.
“From what I know about Tzu Chi, this movement is without a doubt for a great cause,” the first-generation proprietress of Taiwan Porridge said.
A Culinary Inheritance
Liu Hao had graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and earned a solid background in economics and management in school and was well-versed in modern business models. For the first few years, he strived to transform the traditional porridge restaurant into a more contemporary eatery with a distinctive personality that would be appreciated by young people and families alike. Employees at nearby businesses, too, were grateful for the convenience of placing an order while at the office and having their meal ready by the time they arrived at the restaurant. For young office workers dining with friends, Taiwan Porridge’s affordable side dishes offer helpings of approximately 16oz for just $7 or $8. With moderate portions, each table would order a few more dishes and share them. With the reputation built by his father’s brand and Liu Hao’s skillful management, the second restaurant quickly took off in Cupertino, becoming popular in its own right.
Liu Hao has also expanded to include takeout orders through WeChat groups during the pandemic, which became popular among Chinese guests. Now, with seven platforms and the ability to order through their WeChat group, Taiwan Porridge’s business spans downtown San Francisco and nearly the entire Bay Area. This has been hard work, said Liu Hao, requiring him and his team to cover a large area when out for delivery. But because of this, Taiwan Porridge has withstood the many challenges brought forth by the pandemic. With a third location about to open, work has become even busier for the restaurant.
In recent years, healthy, vegetarian, and vegan diets have become more popular among young people in California. And with more options available than ever before, that number can only grow. Taiwan Porridge has upheld its philosophy of serving customers healthy, light fare from the very beginning. Now that the pandemic in the United States is gradually easing its grip, Taiwan Porridge has begun to serve customers indoors again. Liu Hao plans to pause group ordering on WeChat for the time, concentrate on getting the third location on track as soon as possible, and hopefully, restore the other two locations to their thriving states.
Learn more about the Very Veggie movement and join us by transforming your diet into a vegetarian one, or take part as a partner of the movement!