A Gastronomic Journey Through Taiwan: Unveiling the Pearl of the Orient’s Culinary Secrets
Welcome, to the ultimate guide to Taiwanese cuisine. I’m excited to help you navigate the vibrant, complex, and utterly delicious world of food in Taiwan. So, grab your chopsticks and your appetite, because we’re about to embark on a delectable culinary adventure.
Introduction to Taiwanese Cuisine
The food scene in Taiwan is a mouthwatering blend of its rich history and diverse cultural influences, which include Aboriginal, Hoklo, Hakka, and Chinese cultures, as well as Japanese and Western influences. The result? A culinary smorgasbord that tantalizes every taste bud and satisfies every craving. Now, let’s explore some of the island’s most iconic dishes.
Street Food & Night Markets
Street food is at the heart of Taiwan’s food culture. Night markets, bustling with people, are the epicenters of this street food paradise. Here you’ll find everything from quick snacks to full meals, desserts, and beverages.
1. Shilin Night Market, Taipei
Shilin is the most famous night market in Taipei and a must-visit for any food lover. Here are some delicacies you should not miss:
Don’t be discouraged by the name or the pungent smell wafting through the air. Stinky tofu, fermented tofu deep-fried to perfection, is an integral part of the Taiwanese street food culture. The contrast between the crispy exterior and the soft, flavorful interior is simply amazing.
This iconic Taiwanese snack combines eggs, oysters, and a special, slightly sweet sauce, creating a melange of flavors that is simply irresistible.
2. Raohe Street Night Market, Taipei
Raohe is another beloved night market in Taipei. Some highlights include:
Hu Jiao Bing (Pepper Buns)
Hu Jiao Bing are meat-filled buns with a twist. The doughy pocket is filled with juicy, marinated pork and a generous dose of black pepper, then cooked in a tandoor-like oven. The result? A crispy crust and juicy filling that packs a flavorful punch.
Traditional Taiwanese Dishes
While street food is central to the Taiwanese culinary experience, the country also boasts a range of traditional dishes that are worth exploring.
Braised Pork Rice (Lu Rou Fan)
This simple, home-style dish features tender, soy-braised pork belly served over rice. Each mouthful promises a comforting blend of savory and slightly sweet flavors. An absolute must-try when in Taiwan.
Beef Noodle Soup
Beef noodle soup, or Niúròu Miàn, is considered by many as Taiwan’s national dish. It is a heartwarming bowl of noodles, chunks of tender beef, and pickled vegetables in a rich, spicy broth that’s been simmering for hours.
Taiwan’s tea culture is internationally renowned, with a history stretching back over 200 years. Taiwanese teas are celebrated for their quality and variety, ranging from green and black teas to the famous oolong.
Arguably Taiwan’s most famous beverage export, bubble tea (also known as pearl milk tea) was invented in Taichung in the 1980s. It is a delightful concoction of milk tea and chewy tapioca pearls that has taken the world by storm.
High Mountain Oolong Tea
Taiwan’s High Mountain Oolong is highly regarded by tea connoisseurs. If you’re a tea lover, consider taking a trip to one of Taiwan’s tea-growing regions like Alishan or Lishan for a tea tasting experience.
Being an island, Taiwan boasts a thriving seafood scene. Whether it’s grilled squid on a stick from a night market, or a sophisticated sashimi platter in a high-end restaurant, Taiwan offers a range of seafood to satisfy every palate.
Vegetarian and Vegan Options
Taiwan is also a haven for vegetarians and vegans, thanks to the influence of Buddhism. There are many vegetarian and vegan restaurants around, and the Taiwanese are experts at making flavorful and creative vegetarian dishes.
Let’s start our day on a Taiwanese note. Breakfast in Taiwan is a feast of flavors and textures, a delightful way to kick-start your day. Let’s delve into some breakfast classics you must try when you’re in Taiwan.
Soy Milk (Dou Jiang) and Chinese Donuts (Youtiao)
Dou Jiang and Youtiao is a quintessential Taiwanese breakfast. Warm, slightly sweet soy milk, served either hot or cold, pairs perfectly with Youtiao, a lightly salted, deep-fried dough stick. The crunchy Youtiao dunked into soy milk is a match made in heaven.
Rice Rolls (Fan Tuan)
Fan Tuan is a rice roll that packs a punch. Sticky rice is wrapped around Youtiao, pickled radish, and pork floss, creating a compact, handheld breakfast bursting with varying flavors and textures. Vegetarian options are also available.
Sweets and Desserts
Let’s talk about something sweet. Taiwanese desserts are just as exciting as the main dishes, and they range from traditional sweets to innovative delights.
Pineapple cake is a must-try for anyone with a sweet tooth. These small, rectangular pastries consist of a buttery, crumbly crust enveloping a tangy pineapple filling. They make great souvenirs, too!
Originally brought over by the Japanese, Mochi has become a favorite dessert in Taiwan. Made of glutinous rice, the soft and chewy Mochi can be filled with a variety of sweet fillings like red bean, peanut, and sesame paste.
Baobing (Shaved Ice)
Baobing is a refreshing dessert perfect for Taiwan’s tropical climate. Shaved ice is generously topped with a variety of ingredients like fruit, jellies, tapioca pearls, sweet beans, and condensed milk. It’s a delightful cool treat on a hot day.
Taiwan’s Unique Fruits
Taiwan, with its subtropical climate, is a fruit lover’s paradise. Markets are filled with a variety of fruits, some of which you may have never seen or heard of.
Taiwanese mangoes are among the sweetest and juiciest in the world. Enjoy them as is, or in a delicious mango shaved ice dessert, another Taiwanese classic.
Also known as Buddha’s head, custard apples are a creamy and sweet fruit with a unique, bumpy exterior. It’s a fantastic fruit to try when you’re in Taiwan.
While Taiwanese people are generally very forgiving towards foreigners, it’s good to know a few basic dining etiquettes when you’re in Taiwan:
Never stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice, as it is reminiscent of incense sticks burning at a shrine and is considered bad luck. Also, try not to point chopsticks directly at people while talking or gesticulating.
Taiwanese meals, particularly in restaurants, are often communal. Dishes are placed in the center of the table for everyone to share, so don’t be shy and dig in!
From its diverse, flavorful street food and traditional dishes to its sweet treats and exotic fruits, Taiwan truly is a food lover’s paradise. Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or just a curious traveler, the island’s culinary delights promise to satisfy your taste buds and leave you craving more. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your culinary adventure to Taiwan today!