Learing to Love Luwei

A luwei shop in rural Changhua county
A typical roadside luwei place in rural Changhua county.

When I first moved to Taiwan I did my best to keep to a slow-carb diet. This proved to be impossible without Chinese fluency—and even if I could read signs and find my way around I might not have bothered to stick to it. Instead I just relaxed my eating habits a bit and did my best to avoid eating too much bread, rice, noodles, and deep-fried stuff, which also wasn’t easy. At some point I was introduced to lǔwèi 滷味 (literally “briny taste”), one of the many kinds of Taiwanese street food, and the first to make it relatively easy for me to order a meal low in noodles and rice.

Some of the options at a luwei place in Changhua county
The spread at a luwei place.

Although you’ll find it in most (if not all) night markets, pretty much every neighbourhood will have at least one luwei place. At first glance some luwei places won’t look any different than the average barbecue joint. If you see anything with skewers you’re probably not at a luwei place. Most luwei shops and stalls offer a spread of the same stuff: processed mystery meat, various kinds of tofu, quail and chicken eggs, fresh vegetables, noodles, oil bread, and so on, usually displayed in a metal cart on the street. Some places also have little cards you can add to your basket (like the ones pictured below) but for that you’ll have to know a little Chinese.

How to order luwei 滷味
Little plastic bins at a rural luwei 滷味.

Ordering luwei is simple. Fill a basket with whatever seems appetizing and hand it to the staff. They’ll chop it up, braise it in broth, and package it for take-away. Usually they will ask you how spicy you want it: xiǎo là 小辣 (a little spicy), zhōng là 中辣 (medium spicy), bù yào là 不要辣 (don’t want spice). Sometimes your food will be served dry, drained of liquid but still saucy. At other places it will be served in broth. I’m told that this is actually málàtàng 麻辣燙 (spicy hot soup), but the sign still reads luwei.

Cooking up a storm at a luwei shop in rural Changhua county
Cooking up a storm.

Luwei is priced according to what items you throw into the basket but it’s never particularly expensive. Just be careful not to order too much—for some reason it’s easy to go overboard. My usual order: a whole lot of vegetables, especially bean sprouts, empty heart vegetable (sometimes called Taiwanese lettuce), green pepper, and broccoli; quail eggs; braised pork; and kimchi, of all things.