I’m a strong believer that there are few ways to get to really know a country’s culture more than by eating the food. And I also think that in order to make the most out of your time in Taiwan out of all places, you should be spending at least 50% of your time eating, eating, and eating. Your stomach and taste buds will thank you. Here I’m sharing all the new dishes I tried in my time in Taiwan as well as some good ol’ favourites that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.
Dou jiang + You tiao (Soy milk + Chinese “doughnut”)
The quintessential Taiwan breakfast. You’ll see small shops lining the streets selling an array of soy milk (yes, there’s an option of sweet or salty), deep fried Chinese “doughnuts”, pancake-egg rolls, and more. You can’t leave Taiwan without trying this authentic breakfast.
Tip: eat like the locals by dipping the Chinese doughnut into the soy milk!
Fish noodle stew
I never figured out the official name of this dish, but what I do remember is that this dish was extremely satisfying on a cold day, especially after doing a lot of walking. Deep-fried fish with cabbage, noodles, and a thick broth made for a great, quick lunch to refuel and continue our walking adventures around the city.
This is not a dish itself per say, but I took this picture while strolling through the streets of Taiwan, watching the locals preparing and weighing it, and I thought to add it to this post because it’s a staple in Taiwanese cuisine. Dried shrimp is used in a variety of dishes including vermicelli, stir-fried vegetables, and more and is a key ingredient in some of my favourite Taiwanese dishes.
“Dang gui ya”
This was a complete surprise. This is one of the lesser known dishes of Taiwan, hence why I didn’t think much of it when my dad wanted to stop by this food stall one day. However, just after one taste of the broth, my taste buds were turned completely upside down by how flavorful and incredible this dish was. Even better, the broth boasts great health benefits for blood circulation because of the herbs that are slow-cooked inside, making this all the more impressive and a must-try.
What is the first thing you think of when someone says the word “Taiwan”? It’s likely that the image of busy, crowded nightmarkets popped up in your head, with the well-known stench of smelly tofu, grilled meats and seafood galore, and the most interesting desserts and “small snack” foods you’ve ever seen. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sights, smells, and noises of it all, but within these infamous nightmarkets are some incredible-tasting foods that are worth weaving through the chaotic crowds for.
Some things that you should definitely try in these nightmarkets:
- Smelly tofu (once you can get over the very unpleasant smell, I promise you it actually tastes a lot better than it smells -I recommend getting it deep-fried and with a heaping pile of garlic sauce and pickled vegetables)
- Grilled squid (this one’s tricky -the key is to get it fresh, so skip the food stalls that have already cooked them through and opt for the ones that you see are freshly grilling them on the spot)
If you’re going to have one indulgent food to eat while you’re in Taiwan, this is it. The literal translation of zhu jiao is pig leg, and this specific part of the pig is stewed for a long period so that it is rich in flavour and super tender, and also contains a large amount of collagen.
Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung is probably the most famous restaurant known in Taiwan, and for good reason. Xiao long bao is taken to a completely higher level, with so many varieties of filling (including shrimp & vegetables, the traditional pork filling, and even a dessert version with taro!). Aside from the xiao long bao, I highly recommend getting the smaller vegetable dishes as seen in the picture above -they’re cooked simple, but oh so good.
Tip: Because Din Tai Fung is just as good as everyone says it is, be prepared for crowds and lineups! We had to wait 90 minutes before our table was ready, but thankfully, the restaurant is located inside a mall, so we were able to walk around and shop a bit until our number was called.
“Dan mi ge”
This dish is not so well-known and is a hidden secret many locals of Taiwan pride themselves on. In fact, every time I come back to Taiwan, I always find my dad and all my relatives eating this up. That’s when you know a dish is super authentic and very good. Dan mi ge is essentially glutinous rice with meat and mushrooms topped with an incredible spicy-sweet sauce and cilantro. Probably one of the best dishes I had on my trip!
This one may be a bit more difficult to find in the metropolitan regions of the big cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung, but if you venture down to the south of Taiwan (we just happened to drive down to Kenting when we ate this, but it can be found in other towns in the south too), you can find this hidden gem of a dish called ban tiao. Just think freshly made rice noodles with heaping piles of garlic, onions, and bean sprouts. Yum. I absolutely love this dish because it is the specialty in my dad’s hometown, so every time I eat ban tiao, it reminds me of home and of my roots.
Fun fact: The rice noodles in this dish are particularly good because farming and growing rice is the prominent industry and occupation in the south of Taiwan. So if you ever eat this dish in the south, you’ll probably be able to taste how freshly made the rice noodles really are.
Taiwan is an island that enjoys warm and humid weather all year-round, naturally making for an abundance of tropical, sweet fruits ready to eat wherever you go. Some must-try fruits that aren’t your typical apples and oranges include:
- “Lian wu“: also known as “wax apple”, this is my personal favourite and while I was in Taiwan, I’m pretty sure I would eat 3 of these every single day without fail. Yes, it’s just that good. I would describe it as tasting like a cross between an apple and a pear!
- “Sweetsop”: also known as “sugar apple”, this was my first time encountering this fruit going back to Taiwan this year. It’s the most exotic-looking fruit I’ve seen with the outside appearance looking like that of a green, scaly dragon’s egg while the inside is creamy white and quite sweet, making for a great way to end off a meal.
- Passion fruit: while this can be found occasionally in North American grocery stores, this delicious fruit is ubiquitous in all of Taiwan, and in my opinion, tastes even better than those found North America. My favourite way to eat passion fruit is literally cracking it open and eating the inside with a small spoon, or scooping it all out and mixing it with some hot water.
Fresh fruit juices
Bubble tea is the most well-known drink in Taiwan, but I highly encourage you to try some of the fresh juices the country offers -and get it with no sugar! Taiwan has so many tropical, ripe fruits that can’t be found in North America, so you should take advantage, especially because it’s super affordable here. Some of my favourites are mango, passion fruit, papaya, and watermelon.
“Dou hua” -Tofu dessert soup
One of the most underrated desserts in Taiwan! While shaved ice is all the craze these days, I highly recommend trying some tofu soup because it’s super light yet will guaranteed satisfy your sweet tooth -you can get it with various toppings, but my personal favourite is with peanuts.
Honourable Mentions (not pictured above, but are a must-try when you visit Taiwan)
- Dan zai mian: out of all the noodle dish variations you can find in Taiwan, dan zai mian is without a doubt my favourite. I love how simple of a dish it is -composed of noodles, deep-fried scallions, minced pork, green onions, and a light chicken broth, I could probably eat this every day of my life and never get sick of it.
- Lu rou fan: minced pork with rice. Nothing else really needs to be said here, it’s simple yet the flavours are truly addictive, it’s no wonder that this is one of the most well-known dishes in Taiwan.
- Wheel cakes: you can find these food stalls throughout all of Taiwan -just follow the mouthwatering waffle-like aroma of these wheel cakes being freshly made. My favourite fillings are red bean, custard, and savoury radish.
- Oya misua: this dish is easily recognizable by the thick, starchy soup with oysters and pig intestines -don’t get turned off by that last ingredient! This is also another local favourite and is packed with flavour and will leave you wanting to order another one.
- Teppanyaki: while teppanyaki is not unique to Taiwan, this is on my list of recommendations because I was surprised by not only how delicious each dish was, but by how stinking affordable it is. I was able to order a grilled chicken and egg course that comes with bean sprouts and cabbage, and unlimited soup and tea all for only $6! (There are more expensive versions, but stick with the cheaper teppanyaki restaurants -they’re just as good!)
- Beef noodle soup: I couldn’t end this food post without mentioning this Taiwanese classic. Probably one of my ultimate comfort foods, the slightly spicy beef broth with the noodles, tender beef slices, and pickled vegetables bring together a beautiful marriage of flavours.
And there it is! Thanks for reading about my food adventures during my time in Taiwan and I hope that you can find an opportunity to visit this beautiful country some day and try a few of these dishes yourself!