水果箱 : The Art of the Taiwanese Fruit Carton
new gift boxes and our holiday sale
I’m back again... today we kick-off our annual holiday sale, but also launch beautiful gift boxes that look like they came straight out of Dadaocheng, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Taipei. Read on to learn more about our carefully selected holiday gift sets, featuring friends and exclusive items, and the stories behind the traditional motifs that adorn them.
Newsletter subscribers, I’m notifying you first: the entire site is 15% off with code DUOXIE15. Enter this at checkout, or if you click any link in this newsletter, it will add it for you automatically (though please double check). It's a good time to pick up a Tatung 11-cup steamer.
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Alright... I need my tea.
I'm writing this the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, and I just cooked my family a four dish feast trying to use up all the surplus vegetables leftover from my impulsive shopping habits before we leave town tomorrow (all stir-fries: shrimp and celery, A菜 and bai ye tofu, charred garlic dashi broccoli, and black sesame ginger oyster mushrooms). I sat down to wrap the newsletter and realized that I needed to scrap the original intro that I wrote about turkeys (can’t knock them all out of the park) and am feeling the holiday burn. Last year I described the holiday shopping season as... let me look it up... red hot volcanic water. That was pretty good; where did I find the inspo.
So yeah, I need my tea. But it’s not just any tea. It’s Fall ‘23 Red Oolong by BANGtea. Pesticide free; grown on Shanlinxi’s mountainside in Nantou, Central Taiwan; and sent to me by purveyor Sam Tilney, as true-hearted a person as I’ve ever known. On BANGtea’s site, she discusses Fall teas, explaining what this time of year means for oolongs. The polyphenol (anti-inflammatory) content is high, which makes for a very nutritious tea. The amino acids also run high, creating stronger flavors that mask some of the delicacy that Taiwanese oolongs are known for. She goes on to say:
Fall teas are not recognized as the most impressive teas of the year, however they are incredibly nutritious… and I think delicious 🙂. For years I’ve been advocating for more folks to drink Fall oolongs.
See? True-hearted. Advocating for all seasons, with honesty and knowledge. I, for one, love the anti-establishment perspective. And I’d counter her claim that the tea is not impressive. The tea I’m drinking is bold and rich, like the coffee of oolongs; a welcome addition to the floral, vegetal, and honey notes in the teas I already have. And I’m already feeling calmer, sharper, and less inflamed. Can you tell.
Here’s the moment that this monologue turns into an actual intro. BANGtea’s exquisite Taiwanese oolong is just one of the many special items we’ve pulled into our holiday collection this year.
2023’s gift sets are extra-special, built around our friends (like Sam) and favorite things (like Sam’s tea). They come packaged in beautiful custom boxes with Taiwanese Ga Ji Dai and Fruit Carton motifs. Also featured are friends Clarissa Wei, Frankie Gaw, Win Son Restaurant, custom spice kits from Occo, engraved dumpling paddles, enamel Tatung pins, and limited edition candies procured by Lillian and her mom (who systematically cleaned out all the neighborhood 7-11s of red bean and taro caramels).
Building these was no easy feat. We collaborated with Taiwanese design studio and close friends O.OO to make custom silkscreened boxes. We made extensive spreadsheets to model all compositional possibilities, weighing weight, size, and value. We illustrated a gift box packing guide, because each assortment really only fits in the box one way. And (added bonus), we drop-tested every single set ourselves by letting it fall from hip height ten times to make sure things would survive the journey. I quote our Ops Manager Luke, as he was about to let one fly for the first time: “This feels wrong.” It was right; it is the recommended test. All sets passed and we’re ready to ship to all fifty states; just say the word.
In this email, I’m supposed to let you know about the following things:
We’re kicking off our annual holiday sale: 15% off sitewide with code DUOXIE15. Sale ends at midnight on Monday.
Don’t miss our new holiday gift sets. They are wonderful, see above.
Consider the rest of our assortment as well, we’ve got gift guides to help you navigate our growing collection.
And now that I’ve done my duty, we can move on to the good stuff.
Taiwanese Street Style
As mentioned, we produced beautiful gift boxes based on two icons of Taiwanese street life: the Taiwanese Produce Carton and Ga Ji Dai Totes.
Here are the backstories:
Produce Cartons of Taiwan
In my eyes, there aren’t many things more beautiful than a Taiwanese produce carton. They are silkscreened with two, maybe three colors, decorated with impressionistic illustrations of the delicacies inside and bright typographic phrases touting the selling points. Folksy, low key, but evocative too. Every time I’m in Taiwan, I find myself snapping photos of these boxes in the wild: stacked in scooter repair shops, strapped to the back of bicycles, or tucked under the back counter at a restaurant.
Take this box from the Meinong Farmers Association (who happens to be the producer of our preserved daikon radishes). It’s a box for wild lotus, or 野蓮, a beloved aquatic vegetable in Taiwan. The illustration, though only one color, is organic and dimensional, conveying the droopy tangle of stems; the small, almost inconsequential heart shaped leaves; and an overall gravity that suggests the plant was just lifted out of the water. When I saw this, I thought of Painting of a Cabbage by Ming Dynasty artist and poet Shen Zhou 沈周, part of the collection of Taiwan’s National Palace Museum:
The splayed stalks, the ragged roots, and the rough, wrinkled-like-a-newborn character of the leaves all convey a youthful freshness, the bounce just before the wither. The akimbo pose implies that it came from the garden of the artist himself, laid all unruly upon the table. This centuries-old cabbage was pulled from the ground but moments ago.
Though ages have passed since this cabbage was painted, to me, it feels connected to the fruit and vegetable boxes that are an everyday sight in Taiwan. My favorite wild lotus box may be the most impressionistic of them all, but the produce is often shown still attached to branch and leaf, suggesting the orchard or garden that it came from. The style, with its limited color palette, is resourceful with line, color, and negative space. Here are a few examples that inspired our new Fruit Gift Box.
These boxes are part of the day-to-day streetscape. Vendors stack them up to create their merchandising displays, flatten them as rain mats, or use them as sun shades and windscreens. You can order them in bulk from various carton makers—for a fun overview of what’s out there, check out this printer’s catalog.
To celebrate the two (!) year anniversary of our dried fruit line, we are introducing a new fruit-carton-themed gift box, with a letter from us printed on the bottom face. The box set contains one each of our dried fruits: Irwin Mango, Pearl Guava, Golden Diamond Pineapple, Wax Apple, and Green Mango. We’re so excited to present these gems in this new context, and to celebrate the anonymous commercial artists that have shaped day-to-day experience in Taiwan.
The Ga Ji Dai Gift Set Collection
The literal fabric of daily life in Taiwan, the ubiquitous Ga Ji Dai bags 茄芷袋 are a traditional market tote that comes in many sizes and a technicolor palette. The most common style is green-blue-red stripe, but here they all are, strung up in the arcade on Dihua St in Dadaocheng, Taipei. We love the versatility, sturdiness, and style of these bags, and have carried them on our site and in our store since early days.
This holiday season we channeled our love for the Ga Ji Dai (and all they stand for) into a gift box with the iconic green-blue-red motif. It’s all the gift wrap you need to telegraph Old Taiwan.
As mentioned, we’ve painstakingly assorted five sets celebrating Taiwanese food and its champions. Every set highlights a different aspect of Taiwanese culinary culture, like heritage Taiwanese food, Taiwanese-American dumpling, and esoteric Taiwanese sweets. As follows:
Inspired by Clarissa Wei’s cookbook Made In Taiwan—an absolute frolic through the Taiwanese culinary tradition—this gift set pulls together hard-to-find, classical Taiwanese ingredients that represent that nostalgichomestyle flavor. For good measure, we’ve thrown in a Tatung rice cooker pin, because what is Taiwan without its steam cooker?
In honor of Frankie Gaw’s cookbook First Generation—a culinary-literary manifestation of what it was like to grow up Taiwanese-American—this bundle has everything you need to make great dumpling sauce with a good measure of third culture thrown in. Third culture refers to the experience of living with two cultures that blend (explode) into a third. The ingredients in this set reflect Taiwan's cultural hybridity, born of a long history of colonization and migration.
Win Son is a Taiwanese-American restaurant in Brooklyn. They're good friends of ours and are as entwined with the history of Yun Hai as you could get without actually being us. This bundle is dedicated to them and our long friendship. With it, you can recreate the flavors of signature Win Son dishes, from Stir-Fried Pea Shoots to Lu Rou Fan. We hope to see you in our little corner of the world one day soon.
Firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and tea. These elements have defined Chinese diasporic foods since ancient times, and were considered as essential to life. In many Taiwanese households today, they still make up the foundation of the cuisine. This kit is packed with Taiwanese necessities, plus some can’t-live-withouts of our own (yes, chili crisp is the eighth essential element of life).
Rock sugar, sweet beans, fig seeds, herbal jelly, glutinous rice, taro root… dessert culture in Taiwan is still characterized by a selection of earthy ingredients that are prepared into beautiful assemblages of texture and flavor. They quiver and shine, and aren’t too sweet. Do you dream of scarlet beans bejewelling a mountain of black-sugar-sweetened shaved ice? This kit's for you.
I recommend these bundles as the easiest way to send a home-run of a holiday gift, wrapping and all. Ship direct to recipient and include a gift note. Any set over $100 will ship free. And, like everything else, these holiday bundles will be 15% off during our holiday sale.
If you are into customizing, or just want an empty printed gift box, you can buy these individually. We can’t guarantee the fit of any assortment, but check out the images of our gift sets as a guide.
All the Launches of 2023
Just in case you missed one of these 2000+ word newsletters I like to send, here is a list of all that we launched in 2023, in chronological order:
Wu Yin Vinegar
Empress Smokey Hibiscus Hot Sauce
Taiwanese Solar Salt
Ai Yu Jelly Kit, New Packaging
Tatung 11-Cup and Tatung Minis
Made in Taiwan and other Cookbooks
Preserved Daikon Radishes (Cai Bo)
Organic High Mountain Mushrooms
Taiwanese Fruit Jam
Ga Ji Dai Gift Boxes and Taiwanese Fruit Box
In Other News
We’re excited to be hosting Taiwanese artist Emilie Liu’s next show in our Williamsburg shop, entitled English as a Second Language. We hope you’ll join us at the reception on December 7th, from 6-9 pm.
ESL - English as a Second Language explores my experiences as a non-English speaker living in New York. Through my established dog character, I convey the emotions of awkwardness, nervousness, and occasional comfort that arise from being an outsider.
You may notice that our website has an updated look and is running faster. Please let us know if you have any feedback or encounter any errors by emailing us at email@example.com.
And finally a few suggestions on what to cook this weekend: sticky rice stuffing for tomorrow, Taiwanese turkey rice for the day after that, and maybe some of these cocktails for the times in between.
As we enter the busy season of cooking and consumption that is the endcap to every year, I hope you find a quiet moment to yourself and your loved ones. You’re as perfect as the wild lotus, each and every one.
Gobble gobble (the verb not the sound),
Lisa Cheng Smith 鄭衍莉
Research and editorial assistance from Amalissa Uytingco, Jasmine Huang, Luke Miller, and Lillian Lin. If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with friends and subscribe if you haven’t already. I email once a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. For more Taiwanese food, head to yunhai.shop, follow us on instagram and twitter, or view the newsletter archives.