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September 22, 2017

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Universiade athletes are loving this Taiwanese treat

The 2017 Taipei Universiade is bringing together athletes from over 50 countries to Taiwan, known as the "kingdom of food." In the Athletes' Village, over 90 percent of the food is sourced from this kingdom. Taiwanese pepper popcorn chicken has proven to be the most popular menu item, with over 100 kilograms consumed every day, followed by beef noodles in a close second. Athletes eat about 900 bowls of beef noodles a day, an impressive 90 kilograms, officials said.

The Universiade's catering team on Wednesday gave an insider's look into what the athletes were eating and how these foods were being prepared. The team includes Da-cheng Qu, director of the Universiade's department of food and beverage; Australia's Global Hospitality Group CEO Peter Wright; Zhang-fang Wu, chef of Asian cuisine in the Athletes' Village Canteen; and opening/closing ceremony catering partners Imperial Hotel Taipei, its executive chef Shi-qi Lai and its chef of Western cuisine Zhi-wen Lin.

Da-cheng Qu said that the most popular Taiwanese foods were, in order: pepper popcorn chicken, beef noodles and scallion pancakes, of which athletes consumed 500 a day. The top three international foods were pizza, fried rice and grilled sandwiches. The most popular beverage was water, and enough cartons of bottled water were being moved to "make the hands of the staff bleed." Zhang-fang Wu said that perhaps pepper popcorn chicken was a hit because foreign athletes loved fried food. Pepper popcorn chicken is more flavorful than chicken nuggets -- it's less oily, less salty and typically processed through a degreasing machine, making it delicious and better for you, said Zhang-fang Wu.

Peter Wright is the CEO of Global Hospitality Group, which is responsible for food prep in the Athletes' Village. He said that Taiwanese food was delicious, which made it easier to present meals. The athletes need a tremendous amount of food because they expend a tremendous amount of energy, Wright said. To date, the village has already dished out 250,000 servings of food including 120,000 servings of sliced fruit, Wright said, adding that kiwis and papayas were favorites.

The Taipei Universiade has a total of 141 delegations comprising 7,639 athletes and 3,758 staff. Zhang-fang Wu said that in total, 8,000 kilograms of fruit and 2,000 kilograms of vegetables were being consumed daily, and that each breakfast called for 20,000 eggs. Statistics show that the best-loved fruit so far has been the banana: 2,500 kilograms of it were being eaten in a day. Laughing, Da-cheng Qu said that the staff were faced with an endless supply of fruit to slice and that boxes of bananas were flooding in but were still too slow to meet demand -- proof that Taiwan was indeed the "kingdom of fruit."

For the press conference, the catering team reproduced the menu offered at the Universiade's opening ceremony, which included wild duck, drunken chicken, pork in aspic with ginger, and garlic diced beef steak. Shi-qi Lai, executive chef of the Imperial Hotel Taipei, said his team had wanted to present the best of Taiwanese high-end cuisine and that planning and preparation for the dishes took 150 days. Highlights of the menu included American beef prepared with Chinese culinary techniques and a watermelon sculpture bearing the Universiade logo.

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