10 Recommended Tastes of Taiwan 2016-11-28
Writer: Mauricio Monzón

One of the most important things while traveling is to try local food, and in a country like Taiwan, it is definitely a must. Taiwanese cuisine is as rich as its history, a blend of Taiwanese local tribes, Chinese, Japanese and nowadays Western influences. A visit to one of the numerous Night Markets, shopping mall food courts or even the little stalls you will find walking on any Taiwanese city’s streets will be as eye-opening as gastronomically gratifying.

When I first got to Taiwan, going out for food was honestly a challenge; scared (or maybe even disgusted) by the funky smell of Chinese Marbled Tea Egg in convenient stores and the not-so-pleasant fragrance of stinky tofu filling most of the streets; yet intrigued and overwhelmed by the many options that did look yummy; made every meal an interesting cultural experience.  Helped by many local friends, Chinese language teachers, and even expats I got to try a wide variety of foods that otherwise I wouldn’t have had the guts to take the risk and order.

Before starting this top 10 must try foods, I would like to give you some pointers about Taiwanese food and also some pieces of advice for when you adventure yourself among the many nooks and crannies of Taipei and other Taiwanese cities on the prowl for food.

First, before coming here I had the misconception of “Chinese food” being healthy and full of vegetables, and even if you can find healthy food on this island, most of the local food is stir-fried or even deep-fried (one of the reasons why it is delicious), and if you are looking for a light meal full of vitamins and low fat, you will pay more and it is not going to be that easy for you to find.

Second, my veggie friends! You are lucky! Because of religion, Taiwanese people working in the food industry understand what vegetarian means, but since the big majority of vegetarians here are vegan and they also don’t eat onions nor garlic, you will need to specify what you’re looking for when you go to a restaurant; beware of saying I don’t eat meat! Some foods can have lard or seafood!

And third, if you go with a friend, try to get different things and share them, therefore you will get to try more food, and if you don’t like something, you won’t need to waste so much food (this goes especially for my fresh of the boat fellows), and of course, and you have to try as many different types of food as possible during your stay in Taiwan.
 
Sesame paste noodles/MaˊJiangˋMianˋ (麻醬麵)

The name says it all, a very simple yet incredibly tasteful and filling food, if you are lucky enough it’s going to come with some veggies on top, but don’t expect consistency; sometimes it could come with shredded carrots, cucumber, soy sprouts, it is really up to the creativity of the chef (or the availability of the veggies). And for hot days, when you want something refreshing and you realized how hard it is to get a nice salad in this country, there is a cold version of it called “cold noodles”, my personal drunk food, widely available in night markets and convenient stores; 100% recommended.
(Picture source: https://blog.pylin.org)

 

Hot pot/Shabu-Shabu/HuoˇGuo (火鍋/涮涮鍋)

When I was a kid, my mom used to say: “Don’t play with your food”. Now I can finally do it without feeling guilty because this is the whole point of it. In case you are not familiar with what this is; hot pot or also called Shabu-shabu is a kind of stew consisting of a metal pot at the center of the table, and several types of meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, and basically everything that can be boiled. Food is both cooked and served at the table. From relatively cheap personal versions to not-so-cheap fancy all you can eat places with ice cream included, you will surely find them everywhere in Taiwan. Vegetarian and vegan options are normally available, too.
(Picture source:https://news.readmoo.com/2015/09/30/sodom-150930-how-to-do-a-hot-pot/)

 

Fried rice/ Chouˇ Fanˋ (炒飯)

You would probably say: “Why should I order fried rice if I can have it back home from any Chinese restaurant”, the answer is simple, you have to try the authentic one. Also a good drunk food after a long night of clubbing in Taipei. You can get it vegetarian and vegan, too.
(Picture source: http://reader.roodo.com/peifish/archives/2146096.html)

 

Bubble tea/Zhen Zhu Naiˇ Chaˊ(珍珠奶茶)

This unusual drink embodies the chewy food texture that is so popular among Taiwanese. The most common version comes with milk tea and tapioca balls cooked in caramel. It might feel a bit weird to chew a drink, and sometimes the little balls will go directly to your throat, don’t worry, it’s just part of the learning process. Variations on the theme include just milk (my favorite), milk chocolate and many others, it can be served cold or hot.
(Picture source: http://standy0121.pixnet.net/blog/)

 

Stir-fried restaurants/RehˋChaoˇDianˋ (熱炒店)

This is more than a meal, it’s part of the local culture. They are normally crowded places where you share food with your friends, no matter what you order, you are going to have fun and eat a lot, those are perfect places for a very traditional pre-drinking with greasy food and Taiwanese beer at a reasonable price. Just make sure to order Kung Pao Chicken, Water Spinach, Cabbage, and if you are lucky enough, rice is going to be included in the price.
(Picture source: http://8301.tw.tranews.com/)

 

XXL Fried chicken cutlet/Ji-paiˊ (雞排)

The first time I saw this huge chicken cutlet I thought that I’ve never seen a chicken of that size, I guess now you can picture it. This big piece of chicken cutlet sprinkled with salty and spicy powder is typical of night markets, especially of Shilin. The bones are kept, so be careful when you are eating it, I would recommend you buying it if you have someone to share with, otherwise you would be too full to keep exploring the night markets and keep trying other things.
(Picture source: http://www.dealmoon.com/localdeals/los-angeles-hot-star-large-fried-chicken-2082.html)

 
 
Soup dumpling - Xiaoˇ longˊ tang bao (小籠湯包)

When it comes to westerners trying Taiwanese food, we either love it or hate it, but this is one of the few dishes no one hates. These thin-skinned dumplings filled with pork and steamed are so popular among the foreigners, and in case you don’t eat pork, you can find the chicken and vegetarian version. There is one famous restaurant that would pop first if you google this dish, which is good but my personal recommendation is to go to small places and try the real ones without so much refinement. And don’t forget to deep them in rice vinegar with a bit of soy sauce!
(Picture source: http://taichung.tranews.com/)

 

Tainan Coffin Toast Bread/Guan Caiˊ Banˇ(棺材板)

So fatty! So yummy! The dish is a piece of extraordinarily thick toast that normally holds a seafood, pork, mushrooms, peas, and carrots; but honestly, I’ve seen stores that offer this dish with many other fillings. Even though it’s traditional from Tainan, you can also find it in Taipei. I’ve never seen a vegetarian version of it but I’m sure there must be.
(Picture source: https://ifoodie.tw/restaurant/559829e740b5e30894d71e61-%E8%B5%A4%E5%B4%81%E6%A3%BA%E6%9D%90%E6%9D%BF)

 
 
Taiwanese breakfast

If it’s your first day in Taiwan, you are still jetlagged, but you are eager to explore the city, you need to stop by a breakfast restaurant and get something, don’t expect a continental breakfast, though. The most common combination is cold milk tea and cheese egg crepe (danbing). But I also encourage you to try the toasts, breakfast hamburgers and radish cake (vegan).
(Picture source: http://www.b-kyu.com/2012/09/breakfast-chinatown-sydney-in.html)

 
 
Oyster omelet/Eh Ah Jian (蚵仔煎)

Available in basically any night market at a very low price, if you are not a big fan of oysters, you can normally order it with shrimps. It has a chewy texture and it can be a bit hard to eat with chopsticks, especially if you are not very handy with them. The best part of it: the mysterious red sauce that it is drenched in; which is apparently a non-spicy sweet chili sauce.
(Picture source: http://tw.gigacircle.com/648123-1)