Food in Taiwan (Part 1)

I was reading the NYTimes and there was an article highlighting the virtues of Taipei. It definitely made me remember the many awesome adventures I had in Taiwan while visiting my family there. Taiwan has some of the most amazing food I’ve ever tasted as well as beautiful and extremely varied landscapes. Plus, the transportation system is very well-developed so you can basically get around without a car (though I recommend renting a motor scooter for a few hours, just to see how fun it is to ride one). In this post, I’ll highlight some of my favorite things to eat (things to do will be in the next post).

Taiwan has the coolest fruits; be sure to go to a fruit and vegetable market and try all of the foreign looking fruits. Taiwanese guava usually has white flesh and is very crunchy and refreshing. I love the lian wu, which looks like a waxy red pear, and tastes crisp and sweet. Starfruit is a juicy, yellow fruit that looks like a star when you cut it. Somehow my parents always cut off the edges of each fin but I don’t know if you have to do that. Also get some asian pears, which have a similar texture to Bosc pears. The flesh is crunchy and very sweet.

Northern chinese breakfast is something I look forward to every time I’m in Taiwan. This usually involves some soy milk, sesame flatbread, fried savory crullers, and rice balls filled with pork floss and pickled vegetables. The most famous place to get Chinese breakfast (and justifiably so!) is Yong He Dou Jiang Wang at 102 Fuxing South Road, Sec. 2. They are open 24 hours so try to get there early to avoid the lines for breakfast.

I also love the beef noodle soup at Lao Wang Beef Noodle Soup (15 Taoyuan St). The meat is super tender and you can choose from a spicy broth or not spicy broth (I like the spicy broth). Whenever I’m feeling sick, I try to recreate this dish at home, but somehow it just is never quite the same.

In Taiwan, you can also have dim sum for dinner (win!). I like Chao Ping Ji in the San Want Hotel, 2 FL – No. 172, Zhong Xiao East Rd., Sec. 4. They have all-you-can-eat dim sum; you order from a menu and the dim sum comes out hot and fresh. There char siu pork in pastries are crisp and the perfect blend of sweet and savory. Be sure to end the meal with xi mi lu, which is a dessert soup (I just realized that dessert soup seems to be an Asian thing) with small clear tapioca balls and taro chunks.

I also love hot pot. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, I will now explain. You and your friends gather around a pot of usually 2 broths (one spicy and one not) on a portable stove. Your table is filled such goodies as lamb, beef, enoki mushrooms, watercress, tofu, fish balls… you get the idea. You put whatever you want into the broth and then retrieve your now edible goodie and place it in your bowl, which is filled a sauce, likely made from a mix of sha cha sauce, soy sauce, cilantro, and spring onions. This concept is perfectly executed at Mala Yuanyang Hot Pot (No. 62, SiNing S. Road, 2 FL).  You pay a set price and they have a wall of goodies for the taking and freshly cut meat so that you don’t get anything icky. Oh, and all-you -can-eat Haagen-Daz.

One of my favorite foods is free-range mountain chicken. The chicken tastes super fresh and can be made into a soup or steamed and served with soy sauce. The best place to get this dish is in YangMingShan National Park at YangMingShan Old House (No. 29, Alley 81, Lane 25, DongShan Road). They also serve a variety of other Taiwanese dishes such as pork belly and stir-fried mountain vegetables. As an added bonus, as you drive along the road in YangMingShan National Park you will also see beautiful views of Taipei (note that you will likely also see a number of comically large satellite dishes on your drive).

Taipei from YangMingShan

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of going to Taiwan are the night markets. The night markets are packed with stalls serving delicious food and also random stalls selling anything from electronics to hair accessories to t-shirts. My aunt lives near the Shilin night market (it’s next to the Shilin stop on the MRT) so that is the one I’ve been to most often. It gets quite crowded but that’s part of the fun I think.  I love just wandering around and then going to eat at all the random stalls when I get hungry. Pretty much every stall is good and the dishes to get are oyster noodles (“oh ah mi shua”), oyster omelette (“oh ah jian”), stinky tofu (smells like garbage but you have to try it once!), and the scallion pancakes (the dough sort of spins out in a spiral for a flakier pastry than one gets in the US). You can wash everything down with a glass of grass jelly tea (it’s made from a plant related to mint). For dessert, get the shaved ice with all of the toppings (seriously, they are all good!) and the red bean cake. The red bean cake is cooked by filling a metal thing that kind of works like a waffle iron. Both sides are filled with batter and then the filling is put onto the batter on one side and the other side flips on top of it to cook. The most popular filling is adzuki but you can also get it with custard or strawberry as well.

Shilin Night Market
Making Oyster Pancakes at Shilin Night Market, photo by jirka matousek

Last but not least, be sure to get some snacks to take home: pineapple cake (tart like objects filled with pineapple marmalade) and beef jerky from Tsin Tung Yang (they have this at the airport) and tai yang bing (sun cake, flaky pastry with honey filling) and lu dou bing (green bean cake) from LiJi (No. 73, Section 2, Cháng’ān East Road).

This turned out to be uber long but I just kept remembering all the food I like. Hope you enjoyed it!

Featured Image by YIM Hafiz

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