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This year’s Taiwanese American cultural festival will be bigger than ever

Once a year, the West Coast’s largest Taiwanese-American cultural celebration takes over Union Square for a day of lion dance performances, acrobatics, live music, local art, and of course, lots of delicious food. We’re talking about beef noodle soup with hand-pulled noodles. Silky, sweet tofu pudding. Candied fruit skewers at the night market.

With all the discourse surrounding the restaurant and retail apocalypse in downtown San Francisco, maybe this is exactly what Union Square needs to bring some life to the neighborhood.

At least that’s what Alan Ma, co-director of this year’s Taiwan American Cultural Festival, hopes. The festival, organized by the Bay Area chapter of the nonprofit Taiwanese American Professionals (TAP), kicks off its 31st annual edition on Saturday, May 11 — minus a several-year hiatus during the height of the pandemic.

Unlike some previous incarnations of the festival, this year’s version does not have a specific theme. Instead, Ma explains, the focus will simply be on “reviving San Francisco’s traffic and noise pollution, given the big news of people leaving.”

“I just want to bring back what’s still here, what’s still alive in San Francisco,” he says.

Women in nostalgic period costumes perform a choreographed Chinese yo-yo dance.
A choreographed Chinese yo-yo performance at last year’s festival. (Peter Chu, courtesy of Taiwanese American Cultural Festival)

Part of the way Ma and his fellow organizers hope to generate that sense of excitement is by offering the widest variety of Taiwanese food and drinks in the festival’s history. In recent years, the only hot food options have come from the tent at Liang’s Village, a longtime South Bay mainstay. But as delicious as Liang’s is — and the restaurant will be back this year to serve hand-pulled beef noodle soup, lu rou fan and other classic Taiwanese dishes — there’s no way a single supplier can capture all the depth . width and overall liveliness of the kitchen.