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Often lauded as one of the world’s best food destinations Taiwan must be on the bucket list of every serious foodie. This list of 5 foods to try in Taiwan is a tiny fraction of the delicious food on offer. It could very easily be 10 foods, 15 or 30!
As well as the obvious Chinese influences Taiwanese cuisine has been shaped by its period of Japanese rule in the early 20th century. Together these have created its own traditional dishes and unique variations of staple meals that would take a lifetime to fully explore.
In Taiwan a street food market is more than a weekly celebration it is an every day way of life. The capital, Taipei, has more than 20 alone and prominent markets are found in every city. Look out for Garden Night Market in Tainan and Feng Chia Night Market in Taichung as excellent examples.
Bubble Tea or Boba
The first of our 5 foods to try in Taiwan just has to be perhaps its most famous food invention. Bubble Tea invented in Taiwan in the 1980s has exploded rapidly over subsequent decades. There are now over 21,000 shops in the country and small stalls and shops in every major city across the world.
It has evolved to include hundreds of flavours and variations but in its most basic form it comprises black tea, milk, ice and the ‘bubbles’ of chewy tapioca pearls. Frequently served in a take away cup, lid and the all important fat straw with which to suck up the bubbles.
Whilst the tapioca pearls are white and hard to begin with they are boiled for hours in a sugary caramelised syrup. This unique texture is the all important essence of bubble tea and the source of its particular taste. The Taiwanese refer to this essence and measure of its rubbery, springy and chewy consistency as Q or QQ.
The most productive way to explore local foods is often to identify the stall apparently most popular with locals. For Taiwanese Bubble Tea aficionados this is often Xing Fu Tang and its famous Happiness Brown
Sugar Boba. The luscious dark and creamy complexion is incredibly rich with caramel but not as sweet as you may anticipate. The bubbles are certainly an acquired taste but far from unpleasant.
After its most famous food export Taiwan’s most popular and common street food must be the next of our 5 foods to try in Taiwan.
I do understand though if you’re now asking why an ordinary chicken cutlet should be so popular in an Asian country. Well, clearly this street market favourite is far from ordinary.
Fried chicken is a beloved fast food dish the world over but unlike anywhere else we’ve visited Taiwan is known for its large fried chicken cutlets. These plate sized treats may not be the healthiest of options but boy are they tasty.
Traditionally deep fried twice for a crunchier tempura style finish the cutlet is then tossed in salt, pepper and Chinese five spice. This coating provides its exceptional and addictive taste.
For the less hungry more traditional cuts such as wings and breasts are also available together with small popcorn bites. Also prepared with a salt, pepper and Chinese five spice finish the popcorn is especially moreish.
Available throughout Taiwan our favourite chicken cutlet stall can be found in Raohe Street night market in north eastern Taipei.
Beef Noodle Soup
Whilst Chinese in origin the national dish of Taiwan is often considered to be beef noodle soup. Taiwan loves this dish so much it has even been rewarded with its own national festival – the Taipei International Beef Noodle Festival.
Slowly braised beef served in a rich broth with noodles seems so simple. However the Taiwanese have elevated their variation to new heights by adding elements such as pickled mustard greens and that all important five spice powder. The sound of slurping this incredibly deep tasting dish is almost Taiwan’s national sound!
Beef Noodle soup dishes are served in almost every restaurant in the county, each with their own broth recipe a closely guarded secret. Our own experience of Taiwan beef noodle soup came in the famous Din Tai Fung chain of restaurants. These are found across Taiwan and branches are now also open in London and the USA.
However, the restaurant perhaps most popular with locals can be found in Taipei’s Tao Yuen Street near Ximen Station. Just head for the longest queue!
Creme Brûlee Puff
Prior to our visit to Taiwan we were fully expecting two weeks of solely Asian inspired dishes and the odd sticky rice dessert or fresh fruit. However, we instead came across this French inspired pastry delight.
Our first sight came whilst queueing for at Tamsui pier north of Taipei for a ferry to Fishermans Wharf. I even risked missing the ferry to wait for one of these made to order morsels.
This puff comprises traditional choux pastry filled with a velvety, smooth rich vanilla custard or ice cream. This is then coated with icing sugar and a blow torch used to create the crunchy caramelised layer.
Don’t event think about the calories just wallow in the sweet joy. It is without doubt my new favourite pastry and I’m confident it will be yours too.
We end our list of 5 Foods to Try in Taiwan with pineapple cake, undoubtedly its most famous food souvenir, prized pastry and gift.
A result of a large pineapple surplus in the 1930’s requiring pineapple centred food innovations resulted in these small pineapple jam filled shortcrust tarts. The Taiwanese pronunciation of pineapple sounds like ‘Ong Lai’ or coming luck suggesting wealth and prosperity.
Simple but elegant these are tasty gifts to take home to family and friends. We bought ours at the incredible Miyahara store in Taichung in the south of Taiwan. This store resembling something from the world of Harry Potter offers beautifully packaged pineapple cake and other food treats. A visit here is a definite must, especially for the famed ice cream stall.
Any review of Taiwanese food must make reference to Sticky Tofu. Walking the countless food markets of Taiwan it is impossible to escape its pungent smell. Made from fried fermented tofu traditionally served with chilli and soy sauce Taiwanese believe the more smellier the better.
However, we have to be completely honest and admit that we cannot comment on whether this adage is true or just a myth. The smell was so off putting that we couldn’t bring ourselves to try a sample.
Perhaps next time…..
Paul was born and raised in Solihull, just outside Birmingham in the centre of England. After university he moved to London in the mid 1990s to become a Chartered Surveyor and has lived there ever since. Paul’s initial travel experiences were family holidays to the Mediterranean although a school cruise to Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Israel was a childhood highlight. Concentrating on his move to London his next travel adventure wasn’t until 1999 and a backpack trip to Thailand and Hong Kong. It was love at first sight. He was immediately enthralled by Hong Kong, the skyscrapers, the city buzz, the food and the language. His love for Asia continues to this day although Japan has overtaken Hong Kong in his affections.Paul is definitely a city person and ideally would visit New York, Tokyo, Sydney and London every year. Just don’t push him to pick a favourite! He loves all things sport and still follows Birmingham City despite 40 years of mostly pain. On autumn and winter Sunday evenings you’ll find him somewhere in front of a TV with his favourite bottle of red enjoying NFL.
The Two That Do
The Two That Do blog, founded by husband and wife Paul & Nicki Rought aims to share experiences of their world wide travels. An active couple constantly seeking new experiences and always learning The Two That Do includes city and country guides, Van Life tips and blogs on their various adventures. Highlights include paragliding over Cape Town, pasta making in Italy and sand-boarding in Namibia.
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