Lunchtime in Taipei's Ximending district is a test of wills and patience as tourists and locals jostle at restaurants and street stalls to choose from steamed and fried dumplings, flat and thin noodles, stuffed pancakes, grilled foods and desserts.

In this foodie haven, one item makes only an occasional appearance on menus and on plates: rice.

Once a staple of Taiwanese diets, rice consumption per person has fallen more than two-thirds in 50 years, according to the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization, as "smart crops" and "superfoods" muscle their way onto plates.