When the Hakka people first arrived in Taiwan, they toiled to open up new land and build new homes. The many hardships they faced led them to lead lives of frugality. To cope with adversities arising from migration and life in the mountains, they relied on farming and natural resources, processing and preserving foodstuffs through dehydration or pickling for future consumption. As a result, they developed a variety of special ingredients, sauces and dishes that are distinctive of the Hakka culinary tradition.

Hakka dishes are salty, savory and oily. Large amounts of salt are added to preserve food for storage as well as to replenish the salt lost through perspiration during work in the fields. Additional oil is needed to restore physical energy required to perform strenuous labor. Dishes are made savory and appetizing to increase the appetite and ensure fullness for a long time after eating. Most Hakka ingredients (such as dried squid) have a hard texture, which is also why it is important to make the food tasty and aromatic.

Hakka cuisine is usually simple and down-to-earth. The original flavor of food is retained, and spices and dip sauces are widely used. Another distinctive feature is the popularity of pickled vegetables, such as turnips and mustard greens. Hakka communities readily make use of natural resources to create seasonings and sauces. For example, a fruity sauce made from sour kumquats is delicious and strongly aromatic. It balances the oily richness of Hakka dishes and reduces the need for other seasonings. The many side dishes, snacks and rice foods created for festive occasions in the different seasons of the year reflect diligence, strength and perseverance—all parts of the Hakka philosophy of life.