The eating scene in Taiwan is overwhelming yet exciting. In this post, I focus on the cheap eats of Taiwan. Most of the dishes below range from US$0.50 to US$2 per dish; only a few seafood dishes are pricier at US$5 to US$6. In fact, many of these dishes can trace their roots back to mainland China, sadly, it is difficult to find street food with the same quality in mainland China today. Taiwan has preserved the taste of old China and a part of its regional culture, and the quality of street food is impressive. Instead of massively sourcing their food from factories; many of these local food vendors are seen preparing their own ingredients in traditional ways.
To not overly lengthen this post, I did not include everything I ate here. But all of this is merely a peek into the vast food culture of Taiwan, there is just so much more to explore. Now, let’s start with the most important meal of the day – breakfast!
Yung Ho (永和豆浆大王) at no. 215 Zhong Zheng Road, Shilin District opens from 2 am to 2 pm. It has been serving the locals with fresh Taiwanese breakfast for decades. My passionate foodie friend Jamie, who is also a Shilin local, tells me how Yung Ho has been a family favorite and is filled with childhood memories.
This is their xiao long bao (小籠包) – soup dumplings. Unlike the typical xiao long bao with thinner skin and hot soup inside, Yung Ho’s version is more like a steam pork bun with chewy thick dough, accompanied by delicious pork meat.
Besides soybean milk (in white), try the Taiwanese specialty – rice milk (米浆). The brownish color of the rice milk is from peanuts, it’s a sweet drink with nutty flavor.
The hot sticky rice roll (飯糰) is prepared with rice, dry meat floss and eggs. It goes perfectly well with the sweet soybean and rice milk.
Egg Cakes(蛋餅) is a mixture of egg and flour. Just imagine eating thin layers of egg pancakes!
Baked layered flat bread with twisted fried bread stick (燒餅油條) is another traditional breakfast dish. Try dipping them into the soybean and rice milk first before devouring it.
Done with breakfast, let’s move on to lunch! We go to Emperor Foods (君悦排骨) – a fast food chain serving typical Taiwanese lunch, which includes dishes such as beef noodle soup, fried chicken and pork chop. The pork chop here (like most pork chops you will find in Taiwan) is thin, which allows plenty of flavors to sink in and is easy to devour. It is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Even though it is deep fried, it does not taste very oily.
Beef noodle soup at Emperor Foods
You can find the famous tube rice pudding (筒仔米糕) easily in Taipei. This particular one is from Yingge (鶯歌), the famous porcelain town that is 30 minutes away from the center of Taipei by train. The restaurant name is Gedi (哥弟筒仔米糕) at no. 85, Zhongzheng 1st Rd, Yingge District, New Taipei City. The tube rice pudding consists of ingredients such as sticky rice, mushrooms, pork and other seasoning. It’s stir-fried first then steamed into the form of a tube.
Braised egg and pigs ears at Gedi
This delectable and famous Taiwanese tradition at Gedi is braised pork on rice (滷肉飯). The sauce is made of garlic, soy sauce, onion, sugar, aniseed and wine.
Going back to the center of Taipei at the Ximending (西門町) where some refer to as the Harajuku (Japan) of Taipei, we line up for Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle (阿宗麵線). The broth is cooked with large intestines, bamboo shoots and dried bonitos. Even if innards are not your cup of tea, we highly recommend you to try the delicious noodles.
The sun is setting on the horizon, and it’s time to head to the night markets! The night markets of Taiwan is overwhelming, mostly due to it’s immense variety of food vendors. Below is a food hawker selling braised meats, seaweed and tofu at Shilin Night Market (士林夜市).
These pepper cakes at Shilin night market are buns filled with minced pork, scallion and pepper powder. Cooked by sticking them to the wall of a charcoal brick oven.
Eating a fresh pepper cake right out of the oven. Biting into the hot and crunchy skin, be careful not to burn your tongue!
Now let’s talk about the sausages at Shilin night market. What’s cooking below are small pork sausages and sticky rice in the shape of a sausage. The name for this snack is small sausage in large sausage (大腸包小腸) or simply call it a Taiwanese Hotdog.
The sticky rice is filled with condiments and sauces of your choice, it acts as the “bun”, then add the pork sausage on top, and you got yourself a Taiwanese Hotdog.
These giant sausages are cut into small pieces and served with raw garlic. The spiciness of raw garlic and the sweetness of Taiwanese sausages make it a perfect combination. Perfect beer food.
One of the most delicious foods I’ve tried at Shilin night market is from Kaohsiung Dongshan Duck（高雄東山鴨頭). Braised duck meat, innards, wings and tofu of your choice are flash fried in front of you before being cut into smaller pieces and served. The result is a heavenly mix of texture and flavors.
Just when I am trying to come to terms with the large amount of food vendors in Shilin night market, I discover an underground world with two basement floors packed with more food stands, it is still a part of Shilin night market, it’s just unbelievable, now, this is an eating culture! The first thing I find here is the Coffin bread (棺材板). It’s an overly thick toast, hallowed out in order to make room for the pork and seafood chowder.
Below is one of Taiwanese’s favorite snacks – Oyster omelet (蚵仔煎). This dish is a traditional dish from southern China. When people from southern China migrated to places like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, they also brought this dish along with them.
This is a snack called da bing bao xiao bing (大餅包小餅), it literally means a small bun wrapped in a big bun. What it is is a deep fried bun wrapped in a soft pancake. You have the choice to make this snack sweet or salty by adding black sesame, peanuts, taro, red beans, zaoni, curry, black pepper etc. I choose sweet sesame. The first bite is confusing because the pancake does not have much flavor and the taste of sesame is subtle. But after a few more bites, I begin to like the combination of the soft pancake skin and the crispy bun, I get it, and I like it.
You can’t say you tried Taiwanese snacks without trying the most famous of them all – the smelly tofu.
Smelly Tofu at Shiln night market, not so smelly afterall.
You can also find plenty of non-traditional snacks in Shilin night market. Since they look so good, I just have to try them. This is egg omelet with mayo, cheese and corn.
They even have fried Oreos in Taiwan!
Fried Oreos in Shilin night market.
The best pan-fry pork buns in Shilin is Zhongji (鍾記原上海生煎包) with over 30 years of history.
More pepper cakes cooking in the brick oven. They look so beautiful, don’t they?
I had no idea rice can be made into so many different dishes. This is a rice cake cooked in layers in Jiufen (九份) – a hillside town about one hour away from Taipei.
The texture of the rice cake is smooth and silky.
A specialty of Jiufen is taro cakes. The super soft taro cakes is made of sticky flour and taro. There is a smaller version of taro balls which is the most famous in Jiufen. Taiwanese love to add these amazing sticky balls into their desserts. You will find plenty of cooked ones to try in Jiufen, or you can buy the uncooked ones by the bulk. Once you take them home, all you need to do is to boil them and serve it with dessert or fruits.
Freshly made fishballs in Jiufen. I am very glad these handmade fishballs still exist! Fishballs are a very popular snack food in Hong Kong and southern China, but most of them are highly processed with unpronounceable additives and with almost no fish in it. Whether it be taste or texture, these fresh fishballs are much better than the instant ones.
Making fishballs in Jiufen.
Between Taipei and Jiufen is a major port town called Keelung (基隆) which is located in the most northeastern region of Taiwan. Because of its proximity to the ocean, the Keelung night market (of course it has a night market) is famous for seafood and a special type of sandwich called the nutritious sandwich (營養三明治).
So how does these nutritious sandwich (營養三明治) taste like? Imagine a doughnut that has just been fried, the skin is still crispy and hot, now imagine eating that doughnut with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, ham, sausages and mayo. You get the idea right? Hardly “nutritious” in my books, but delectable.
Grilling giant snails
Grilled corn and squid
I stumble upon a seafood vendor in Keelung night market, where in the front hangs a photo of the owner and Anthony Bourdain. Anthony Bourdain is my idol, and since I share the same birthday with his daughter, I know we must have a special connection (crazy alert). I have to try something here because of Anthony Bourdain. I proceed to order a large raw oyster and some sea urchins.
Only in Taiwan, where I can eat oysters and sea urchins as snacks. They are very reasonably priced and fresh.
The Taiwanese sea urchin has a thicker texture, it’s less sweet but more buttery with slight saltiness.
So much food, what about some healthy mushrooms?
For sweets, this is the famous strawberry candies from Keelung night market.
Besides pearl bubble tea, papaya milk is also very popular in Taiwan.
Never knew bitter melon juice can taste this good, but yes it can and it is refreshing when mixed with lemon juice and honey. Another recipe inspiration for my home juicing!
It’s time for desserts! Shaved ice, shaved ice and shaved ice! Everywhere you turn, people are eating shaved ice! I have no doubt this is the national dessert. Shaved ice comes in many different toppings. Try Ice Monster, a very popular shaved ice dessert place in Taiwan. You can find out about their locations at www.ice-monster.com
Shaved ice with mango
Crushed ice with peanuts and yam
My favorite dessert from this trip is tofu pudding at Dinxiang (丁香豆花) at Qingguang Market(晴光市場), Lane 12, Shuangcheng St, Zhongshan District.
There are so many toppings to choose from: tapioca, taro balls, yam balls, lotus seeds, beans, peanuts and fruits.
The tofu pudding is cold and very smooth. The toppings are delicious sticky flour balls with sweet flavors. I love the combination, the only problem is that I wish the serving size was bigger. But with a price of just US$ 2, I may just order another one!
And…that’s it. Still hungry? In all seriousness, the food in Taiwan is very enjoyable and I still have a long list to explore. I also need to thank Jamie, the Taiwanese foodie who took me around town! If you are into food, Taiwan should definitely be on your radar to visit! My stomach and I cannot wait to go back!