Any hardcore backpacker worth their gourmet sea salt considers themselves an expert in the many delicious varieties of Asian cuisine. Yet hardly any have sampled the wonders of Taiwanese food, where they would find some of the most exciting flavours anywhere in Asia. This is a mistake any serious travel foodie needs to rectify, and quickly.
Centuries of history have seen traditional Taiwanese food blend with strong influences from mainland China, as well as Japan, South East Asia, and even the USA. The result is an endlessly varied menu that may seem familiar at first glance, but will quickly surprise you with new tastes and surprising recipes. Whether you’re looking for a hearty breakfast, a quick snack from a night market, or a slap-up meal, eating in Taiwan is never dull.
We’ve rounded up some of our favourite food in Taiwan, as well as a few tips on where to find it, so you can set about giving your taste buds a treat like no other.
Backpackers are often in need of a quick, cheap, and tasty breakfast, and youtiao comfortably covers all three. These sticks of fried dough are often as long as your forearm, and can be eaten on the go or dipped into soy milk and porridge (or whatever else you have to hand).
Where to find it: Available from cafes and stalls everywhere, but Fuhang Soy Milk – which specialises in breakfast food – in capital city Taipei offers the best. Just be ready for long queues.
These layered flatbreads, stuffed with a variety of fillings and topped off with sesame seeds, are another Taiwanese breakfast staple. The most common breakfast fillings are red bean or black sesame paste, but delicious savoury/meaty varieties are also available.
Where to find it: The aforementioned Fuhang Soy Milk offers delicious shaobing, but they’re widely available from street vendors throughout Taiwan. Get up early to taste them fresh.
Snacks and street food
Stinky fried tofu
As the name suggests, this Taiwan street food favourite may not have the most appetising aroma, but it’s worth enduring for the taste. Crispy, crunchy, and served with a spicy sauce, stinky fried tofu is a great cheap snack to grab on the go while you’re exploring any of Taiwan’s buzzing cities.
Where to find it: Literally everywhere, though the old family recipe at Shilin Night Market in Taipei is a good place to start.
Simple and flavourful, gua bao is a steamed flat bread traditionally filled with braised pork belly, pickled mustard, coriander, and ground peanuts. Many variations on this recipe have sprung up over the years, the versatility of gua bao earning it the colloquial nickname of the ‘Taiwanese hamburger’. You can even find fancier versions being served in restaurants.
Where to find it: Available everywhere, but one of the most popular is found at Lan Jia Gua Bao in Taipei – both the small restaurant and street food cart enjoy long queues of hungry locals and tourists alike.
Pigs blood cake
It might not sound appetising, but one bite of pigs blood cake and you’ll be hooked. Pork blood and sticky rice are blended together, soaked in pork soy broth, before the chewy result is served on a stick, flavoured with soy or hot sauce and rolled in peanut dust and coriander. It might be falling out of favour with locals, but this remains classic Taiwan food.
Where to find it: You can’t go wrong with Chen’s Pig Blood Cake in Taipei – the clue’s in the name!
These blackened eggs – stewed in soy sauce, often with the shell left on – feature in numerous Taiwanese dishes. Iron eggs are tougher and chewier than a standard boiled egg, but reward your effort with a unique sweet and salty taste. Often munched as a bar snack, you’ll also find them vacuum-packed in supermarkets or from street vendors.
Where to find it: Literally anywhere.
Bubble tea has only recently become trendy in the west, but Taiwan invented it way back in the ‘80s. Who knew milk tea loaded with tapioca marbles could have so many tasty varieties? Found across the country, Taiwanese bubble tea remains the original and best.
Where to find it: There are bubble tea cafes all over Taiwan, but chain outlet Chun Shui Tang claims to be the drink’s creator. Whether that’s true or not, their menu is vast and delicious.
It takes real skill to hand-fill a soft dumpling with soup. The result ranks among the tastiest and most satisfying food in Taiwan. Traditionally filled with pork broth (though many variations are available), you can guarantee one thing: they’ll be steaming hot! We recommend loading one onto your spoon and piercing the skin to let the soup drain out to cool before popping it into your mouth.
Where to find it: Want Michelin-starred dumplings? Then get yourself to Din Tai Fung in Taipei!
Taking its name from its traditional sauce made from one cup of rice wine, one of sesame oil, and one of soy sauce, the Taiwanese version of this popular Chinese dish is generally sweeter, with sugar added to the mix before it’s braised in an Earthenware pot. The meat comes out tender, crispy, and delicious.
Where to find it: Available everywhere, and always served slightly differently, it’s worth asking around and trying a few while you’re here.
Minced pork rice
Simple, hearty, and tasty, braised minced pork served on rice is some of the best-loved local Taiwanese food. You might eat a big portion of it by itself, or have it served with side dishes including stir-fried vegetables, soups, and tofu.
Where to find it: Jin Feng Restaurant in Taipei is widely considered the best place in Taiwan for minced pork rice. Expect it to be busy!
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