“Sweets” are quite different in Asia. You rarely see baked good like cookies the size of your face and outrageous milk shakes topped with slices of cake. Rather, you find rice and bean based treats like mochi and taiyaki as well as pre-made short bread and dry cakey items that have just a touch of sweetness.
One Taiwanese dessert that you see everywhere in Taipei is fengli su, which means Pineapple Cake. It’s a crumbly shortcake stuffed with a sweet pineapple filling that is slightly sweet and fairly dry. The pastry doesn’t get my tastebuds wild in a flavor frenzy, but the fact the treat scores the nation over $1 Billion in revenue speaks for itself.
Taiwan has the perfect climate for growing pineapple, and it first boomed during the Japanese colonial period as almost 2 million cases of canned pineapple were being pumped out a year from 1938-1940. Production declined as land went towards grain cultivation during WWII, but it picked back up in the 1950s as they tapped into the global market. Southeast Asian countries got privy to the potential profits, and began to overtake Taiwan’s pineapple lead given the competitive advantage of cheaper labor. Taiwan was left with an excess of pineapple in the 1970s, and people got creative, leading to the birth of the Pineapple cake.
In Chinese culture, the pineapple means “prosperity arrives”, and the fruit symbolizes luck and good fortune. Meaning combined with profit and accessibility has made the pineapple cake a Taiwanese classic, and it’s certainly a must try when visiting!