Monday, 12 November 2012

Where to eat in Taiwan and delicious things you must try

New: Where to eat in Taiwan and delicious things you must try 
Whats up: Make your own cheese nibs

Seven days in Taiwan and 80 per cent of that time was spent eating. The streets of Taiwan are filled with food carts, food stands, restaurants—every form of food vending you can think of. 

Everything I ate was fresh and handmade on the premises, sometimes just as you order it.

Although it takes more than a mere seven days to explore the infinite eating opportunities, here are the top ten things and a few places you must try in Taiwan:

1. Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

A given yes, but make sure to ask for beef too when you order it. If you just ask for Taiwanese beef noodle soup you will get just that, noodles and broth. An amazing, flavourful broth yes, but the tender chunks of beef just make it so much better. Great at most places I tried, so you can’t really go wrong. If you’re unsure, just look for the place with the lineups.

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

2. Taiwanese Shaved Ice

One of my favourite desserts in the world. Taiwanese shaved ice is served with the freshest toppings at any shaved ice restaurant or stand. There are an infinite number of combinations from fruit, to chocolate or pudding to more traditional toppings such as taro, red/green beans, grass jelly and of course the most popular, mango. I tried King Mango’s red bean, taro and condensed milk flavour.

You can also get the shaved ice mixed into the topping for something like an icy ice cream. I tried the taro flavour—amazing.

Red bean taro shaved ice

3. Bubble Tea

Far better than 90 per cent of the bubble tea places in Vancouver and about 1/3 of the price. Don’t be afraid to try out some new flavours. I tried out grass jelly milk tea with pudding and bubbles and I have to say, I’ve found my new favourite. Also, most places use fresh fruit in the drinks instead of the powder mixes so they taste infinitely better.

Milk tea bubble tea with grass jelly
4. Green Onion Pancakes

My favourite place to get green onion pancakes was on the street. During the day, there are many food carts lining the streets ready to sell you everything from meat on a stick to deep-fried anything, to green onion pancakes. These pancakes are handmade, and rolled out, then pan-fried on the spot for you to enjoy. They have a crispy, chewy texture with a rich, flavourful onion taste. Make sure to slather on some of the sauce available.

Freshly made green onion pancakes in Taiwan
Green onion pancakes with eggs for breakfast in Taiwan

5. Shao Long Bao

Another very popular dish that’s well-known not only in Taiwan but Vancouver as well. These tasty steamed buns have a very thin skin on the outside and are stuffed with a tasty pork mixture inside. Make sure to slurp up the juices inside before devouring the whole thing.

Steamed Shao Long Bao

6. Deep-fried chicken steak

Probably the most popular item outside of any restaurant. There is always a lineup to get your hands on one of these. The chicken steak is about the size of your face. It’s a thin slab of chicken, battered with a tasty breading and deep-fried to perfection. Hot Star seems to be the most popular place to get one of these. There’s one in almost every food district and at all the night markets. You can also get different flavours, but original is also a great choice. Remember to watch out for the bone!

Deep-fried chicken steak from Hot Star at Shilin Nightmarket

7. Taiwanese bakeries

In my seven days I probably ate over a dozen different buns and pastries. Go in the morning to get the freshest buns. Although you may find a few familiar items that are popular in Chinese bakeries here in Vancouver, there are also a myriad of other delicious and unique goodies. Taiwanese bakeries seem to like making their buns extra large so just having one or two can really fill you up. Take your pick at anything because you can pretty much never go wrong! Be sure to try one of their pineapple buns (they don’t actually have pineapples in them). They are much flakier and tastier than the ones found in bakeries here.

8. Fruit

Yes, fruit! There are an endless number of fruit stands and produce markets around, so be sure to pick up some. It may seem mundane, but the taste (not to mention the price) is just incredible. Some of it is even grown in people’s own backyards so you know they are homegrown, organic and most importantly, fresh. If you’re up for trying out some new fruits, give the Sweet apple (aka sweet sop) or rose apples a try. Mangoes are also highly recommended there, but only when they’re in season.

9. Black pepper buns

Handmade and baked right before your eyes. These fresh and tasty buns are rolled out and stuffed as you order them then stuck to the side of a hot kiln (reminds me of a tandoori oven where they make naan) sort of device and baked. The buns are filled with meat and a heavy black pepper taste. Only somewhat spicy, and a definite must-try.

Black pepper buns being handmade at the Shilin Nightmarket in Taiwan

10. Nightmarkets

Nightmarkets are one of the best places to get food. You get the opportunity to try a little bit of everything and almost everything is delicious. Check back next week for my post on Taiwanese Nightmarkets including the Shilin Nightmarket and Xinmending.

Where to Eat in Taiwan

 Zhu Wei Yong He Do Jiang 

Breakfast is an even bigger deal than lunch in Taiwan. This meal isn’t just cereal, oatmeal, and toast. It’s a delicious mixture of fried dumplings, noodles, savoury and sweet buns, deep-fried goods and so much more.

My favourite restaurant for breakfast in Taipei was Zhu Wei Yong He Do Jiang tucked away on an inner street located just a few minutes away from the Zhu Wei station. They have the most delicious selection of traditional Taiwanese breakfast items I’ve ever tasted. They make their Chinese doughnuts right in front of you. Food was ridiculously inexpensive there. A full breakfast with four dishes plus drinks cost about five Canadian dollars. Some of their most popular items include:

Sao Bing

A fresh, crispy deep-fried Chinese doughnut stuffed inside a crisp, chewy Chinese pancake.

Green Onion Bun

Sounds simple, but it’s packed with flavour. This light, fluffy bun is filled with green onions and topped with sesame seeds. The onions are well cooked and baked into the bun for deliciousness in every bite.

Pan-fried vegetable bun

A spin on the traditional steamed Chinese buns, this veggie bun is pan fried for a little extra crunch in your breakfast. It’s stuffed with different vegetables and a handful of vermicelli. Definitely one of my favourites.

Turnip Cake (Loh Bak Goh)

They make one of the best turnip cakes I have ever tasted. This “cake” is made of grated turnips mixed with dried shrimp and green onions which is then pan fried. It has a great smooth texture and a light turnip taste.

Clockwise: Panfried vegetable bun, turnip cake, chive and veggie pastry, Sao Bing

Be sure to top off your meal with a fresh cup of hot or cold soya milk. You can also get a savoury bowl of unsweetened soymilk. It’s a bit thicker and green onions and a Chinese doughnuts are added to it. They also serve a variety of steamed and baked buns, pastries, shao long bao, and many desserts.

Din Tai Fung

This is one of the most popular restaurants in Taipei. It’s several stories tall and always has a line up, so be prepared to wait for a taste of this Taiwanese goodness.

Shao Long Bao
Hands down, my favourite dish there was their Shao Long Bao. One of the best I’ve ever tasted. These delicate little mouthfuls are carefully folded on the outside with a thin skin then stuffed with pork. Once they’re steamed, the insides fill with a delicious juice that you must suck out before consuming the entire bun. If you’re still unsure of how to eat this Taiwanese treat, don’t worry, there’s an instruction sheet provided!

Shao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung in Taiwan

How to eat Shao Long Baos

Wor Teep (Pan-fried Chinese dumplings)

These handmade and pan-fried bites of deliciousness are a must-try. A perfectly rectangular sheet of crispiness envelops the bottom to add an extra crunch to the shrimp and veggie-filled dumplings. Dip them in some Chinese vinegar for an extra kick.

Steamed vegetable dumplings

Not only are these beautiful to look at, but they’re incredible to taste. The mixture of vegetables used inside creates a flavourful experience with every bite. A very thin, translucent skin is used to hold together the vegetables inside. Few places I’ve tried have been so successful with this particular dish, so make sure to try it out when you’re there.

Red bean paste-filled rice dumpling

Yes you can have dessert even at lunch! This was my first time trying one of these sweet rice dumplings. I’m a huge fan of red bean, so I really enjoyed this. The rice is moist and sticky and filled with a thick, sweet red bean paste inside.

Other tasty must-trys here: Beef noodle soup, marinated bean curd, marinated cucumbers.


Clockwise: Veggie dumplings, a batch of steamed veggie dumplings,  marinated cucumber appetizers, Wor Teep

Notes about eating in Taiwan

  • Unlike with a few other places I visited in Asia, I was rarely ever concerned with the cleanliness in Taipei. This is one of the cleanest places I have ever visited and this cleanliness extends to their food and drink so I was never afraid to try the street food.
  • Those with allergies beware! There's a fair bit of cross contamination so if the stand sells something with an ingredient you're allergic to, I'd stay away from it.
  • Tipping: Tipping is not customary in Taiwan (or most of Asia), if you do, about 10 per cent is fine, but when eating out, the servers do not expect a tip.
  • Pictures and pointing are your best friend if you can't speak the language. If you need help, the locals are incredibly friendly and very happy to recommend places
Remember to check back next week for my post on Taiwan nightmarkets. 

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