By Peter Chao, a personal trainer living in Taipei and passionate about the local food and culture. Edited by Emma White
Anyone who’s been to Taipei will agree that this city is food-obsessed! When people arrive in the city and ask locals for advice on things to do in Taipei, they will most likely be told what to eat in Taipei and where to eat in Taipei before anything else. Advice on visiting popular attractions and monuments may well come after, but will always be second to food talk! There is so much great food to be enjoyed in Taipei, and as locals know, sampling Taipei night market food is no less of a must-do experience than climbing to the top of Taipei 101. With vibrant night markets, authentic eateries, purse-friendly prices and a fun and laid-back atmosphere, what’s not to love about Taipei’s food scene? Kickstart your culinary adventure with this Taipei food guide featuring a list of the must eat foods in Taipei.
Perhaps one of the most talked about must eat foods in Taipei is stinky tofu. True to its name, stinky tofu is a form of fermented tofu which has a strong and unpleasant odour. It is usually sold at night markets or Taipei street food stalls and is commonly eaten as a quick snack. Those who are unfamiliar with this dish are likely to be wondering why anyone would want to eat something so unappealing but I’m here to reassure you that it actually tastes quite delicious! It comes in two different forms, either fried or with duck blood. I do recommend trying the duck blood version if you can but the fried option is equally tasty and perhaps better suited to new visitors to Taipei who are experiencing the food culture for the first time. You can get stinky tofu pretty much anywhere in Taipei but the best places to order it are the night markets – my favourite for stinky tofu is at Lehua night market. This dish is guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows amongst tourists who will either love it or hate it but I urge you to give it a go. It’s a traditional, and very unique, Taipei street food that you must try during your visit.
Another popular mainstay of Taiwan’s street food scene is the classic oyster omelette. If you like seafood, and oysters in particular, then you’ll definitely want to find a street vendor selling these beauties. Unlike Western style omelettes, these Taiwanese versions are perhaps more similar to a pancake as they use flour and water, as well as eggs, to create the batter. Fresh, juicy oysters are fried before being covered with a layer of the batter mix and topped with crunchy vegetables and tangy sauce. A great place to try these omelettes is at the Ningxia night market. While Ningxia night market is a much smaller street food market compared to the famous ones such as Shilin and Raohe, it’s less touristy, it has more of a local atmosphere and, in my opinion, the food is of a much higher standard. There are a few different vendors selling oyster omelettes which all have their own way of making them. The most popular is probably Yuan Huan which also has seating space inside the store where you can rest your legs while you dig in to your omelette!
Looking for the ultimate Taiwanese treat? Taiwan’s beloved century-old snack, the gua bao, is the answer your hungry stomachs’ have been waiting for! The Taiwanese equivalent to the Western burger, these squidgy, clam-shaped buns are filled with juicy braised pork belly, pickled veggies, peanut powder and fragrant herbs. This timeless snack has long been a part of Taiwan food culture and is arguably Taiwan’s finest hand-held creation! Most locals agree that the best place to go for gua bao is Lan Jia Gua Bao restaurant in the Gongguan area. All gua baos are delicious but not all gua baos are created equal. These are probably the best in the entire city and probably the best you’ll ever taste, and at a price of just 60 NT$ it might just be the tastiest bargain you’ve ever had!
Not to be confused with the American version of pineapple cake, this beloved Taiwanese sweet treat is a definite must eat food in Taipei, and also makes for a great edible souvenir to take back to friends and family to give them a taste of Taiwan. They are lightly sweet, simple cakes featuring a tangy pineapple filling in the middle. Taiwanese pineapple cakes originated in the 1930s as a result of the pineapple surplus in Taiwan and are extremely popular with both locals and tourists in Taipei. As with the gua boas, not all pineapple cakes are made the same and it is important to choose a good store to purchase them from as the cakes can vary significantly in terms of quality and flavour. Sunny Hills is one of the most popular pineapple cake vendors in Taipei. Their cakes are tarter and less sweet than some versions which is generally liked by most people in the city. Chai Te bakery is also a favourite vendor amongst locals. Try both and see which style you prefer!
Beef noodle soup
Beef noodle soup is arguably more famous, or at least as famous, as stinky tofu, and is widely regarded as Taiwan’s national dish. This Taiwanese soup is in fact so popular that a competition and festival is held in Taiwan every year to determine which vendor makes the best beef noodle soup in the country! Tao-Yuan Street beef noodle shop is one of the best restaurants in Taipei and one of the only eateries to be able to lay claim to the title of “Best Beef Noodle Soup in Taipei”, so make sure to stop by during your visit for your chance to taste their award-winning soup. There are many beef noodle soup places on Taoyuan Street so don’t get confused! This hidden gem is hard to identify but look for the only shop with no sign, a side door entrance, and two floors with upstairs and downstairs seating. Choose between clear or braised broth and then enjoy your steaming bowl of silky noodles, tender beef strips and fresh veg, all bathing in the tasty and nutritious liquid. It’s the ultimate comfort dish which is perfect for all occasions, you simply can’t leave Taipei without trying it!
Taiwanese Hot Pot
Hot pot, also known as shabu shabu, is a staple dish in Taiwanese cuisine. Hot pot is a meal consisting of a personal pan of boiling soup, accompanied by dipping elements such as meat, fish, vegetables and tofu. All elements are served raw alongside your soup ready for you to then dip them into the boiling liquid to cook until they have reached your preferred cooking. Most locals won’t hesitate a moment if you ask them where you should eat hot pot in Taipei, their instant answer will most likely be Orange Shabu Shabu House. They offer a range of hot pot menus that come with super fresh ingredients and a great quality broth base. The portions are quite large and the value for money is unparalleled. For a slightly different experience check out Mala Yuanyang buffet-style hot pot restaurant. For about 650 NT$ per person, it’s all you can eat and drink for two hours! They have a wide variety of different meats, fish and vegetables which are all of very high quality. What’s more, the price also includes unlimited Haagen-Dazs and Movenpick ice cream and free flow of Taiwanese beer and bubble tea. You might want to make a reservation here - as you can imagine this place is pretty popular!
Taiwanese breakfast is something that every visitor to Taipei should experience at least once during their stay. A typical Taipei breakfast is often carb-heavy, featuring eggs and large glasses of hot soy milk. Fried bread sticks, or youtiao, literally translated as “oil stick”, are a must eat food in Taipei at breakfast time. These are long, twisted sticks of dough, friend until golden-brown, resembling Spanish churros. Youtiao are conventionally eaten at breakfast as an accompaniment for rice congee, soy milk or regular milk blended with sugar. Do as the locals do and dip these in hot soy milk, or simply enjoy it plain, but don't leave without ordering it. The best way to spot a good traditional restaurant serving breakfast is to look out for the baskets of fresh dough sticks strategically placed at the front of the store to tempt passersby!
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