Before we went on holiday, a mate asked what there was to do in Taipei. I thought, what a funny question! What else would anyone do in a big city in Asia? Eat, eat and eat! Of course there are other things to do, like go to museums, see shows, etc. but we generally travel to eat and with only 4 days in Taiwan, we had to try and cram as much as possible into our little bellies. We stuck to the local street food, which meant the portions were smaller (even smaller than Japan) and gave us more room to try a wider variety of food.
Warning: This list is heavy on the carbs but if you walk everywhere like we did, you burn it all off and don’t have to worry about ruining your figure!
1. You must start the day off with a proper Taiwanese breakfast — nice fresh cuppa soymilk (served hot or cold), light fluffy egg crepes, fried breadsticks (in Chinese, it’s literally called an oil stick, or youtiao, 油條), which are often also eaten with shaobing (燒餅), a sort of light and airy flatbread. There are so many different establishments in Taipei, my favourite being Yong He (永和豆漿).
More fresh tasty soymilk and egg crepes from a local shop — breakfast for one can be as low as 80TWD (well under 2 quid)!
2. Another common Taiwanese breakfast is rice porridge served with various side dishes, but you can also have this for lunch or dinner. There were at least 30 different sides to choose from in the porridge house we visited. Taiwanese porridge often is cooked with sweet potatoes or yams. I absolutely love the stewed bamboo and seasoned kelp varieties that we can’t get in Japan.
3. Stinky tofu (yes, you read that correctly) or 臭豆腐 is generally served deep fried and garnished with sweet and sour pickled vegetables. The stinkier the tofu, the better it is! Generally foods tend to taste like they smell but the flavour is really just that of deep fried tofu. So the stink really is more for ‘atmosphere’.
Stinky tofu pictured centre row on left; oysters with thin noodles pictured centre row on right; Taiwanese cherimoya upper right.
4. Oysters with thin rice noodle soup (蚵仔麵線) — a savoury soup with lots of fresh oysters.
5. Taiwanese cherimoya fruit. Not too sweet, just amazing and different from cherimoyas grown in other regions in Asia. You just have to try them when you’re there!
6. Beef noodles (紅燒牛肉麵). Enough said! There are so many beef noodle shops in Taipei it’s hard to pick one. I would say that ramen is to Japan as beef noodles are to Taiwan — you have to just keep trying different shops until you find the best one! The one we tried is on Taoyuan Street (桃源街), called Taoyuan Jie Zheng Zong Shandong Beef Noodles (桃源街正宗山東牛肉麵), known for its hand pulled noodles. The noodles were cooked to perfection but the broth was just okay. I’ve had my share of beef noodles growing up and these were good, but there are tastier places in Taipei. We were pinched for time so just chose what was close by.
7. Fresh clam soup with ginger. These clams were so sweet and fresh — none of that gritty slightly poopy taste you get from clams that are not at their peak freshness. It’s such a simple dish, but SO delicious!
8. Another Taiwanese classic: the oyster omelette (蚵仔煎)! The oyster omelette, pictured above, is often sold in night markets and has constantly been ranked by many foreigners as the top cuisine from Taiwan.
9. Short rice noodles in clear broth (米苔目) and boiled pork cheeks. More simple but absolutely delicious dishes. This shop is in the old town area on Dihua Street (迪化街).
10. More clammy goodness — these are mini clams marinated in soy sauce, garlic, fresh chilies and lime, a kind of ceviche if you will, but the clams are raw.They’re a bit salty because of the soy sauce and are probably best eaten with some porridge. One taste of this brought make so many childhood memories. It’s hard to find these babies due to well, food safety reasons, but we were lucky to happen upon them as we passed a random back alley street and I just had to have some. The hubs didn’t know they were raw when he sampled one (oops). I had a few more before our flight home and wish I had eaten the whole lot, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be sick so had to play it safe!
There are obviously more than 10 things that belong on this list, such as all the wonderful local fruits and vegetables, squid pottage, sweet peanut soup, as well as pork blood and chitterling soup, but these dishes will give you a good taste of local Taiwanese cuisine. What are your favourite Taiwanese eats?