A lot of great food in Taiwan is pretty inexpensive. Therefore, I propose a Pokemon approach, try to catch ’em all. Here is a scavenger hunt list, download a simplified version in hard copy here.
1. Fresh soymilk with fried crullers
I am most nostalgic about breakfast food in Taiwan. On the few trips there when I was a kid, I remember waking up to find my mama already returning from a morning stroll to get Taiwanese breakfast for us, featuring crunchy-flaky fried crullers and fresh warm soymilk, maybe with green onion pancakes.
A hot place to get fresh soy milk in Taipei is: FuHang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿). Expect a long long line, but it’ll be even tastier for having waited. I showed up early and was in line from street-level, up a flight of stairs, and into the food court where they were taking orders.
2. Green onion pancakes
Happiness can be so affordable! When I went, a very good green onion pancake at 北方油餅 (Beifang Green Onion Pancake) was 50NT, about $1.66 USD. I got up early on a Sunday morning to catch one of the first ones and skip the line, and I put on my dorky foreign tourist hat to take a video so you could experience in full color video, the making of a 北方油餅 (Beifang Green Onion Pancake) -with egg! Video is at the bottom of this post so as not to disrupt the flow of your reading.
Check the foursquare link at the bottom for my notes on their business hours according to the owner. Yes, these were different and worth a separate trip vs. any old ones you’d find with listing #1 above. I killed time before they opened by surreptitiously spectating the retired folks doing tai chi and using the government-issued gym equipment at the nearby park. Adorable and instructive.
3. Bubble tea
Also known as pearl tea, or boba milk tea, Taiwan is the originator of this chewable drink. The origin is hotly disputed between my parents, who both claim it originated in Taiwan or Hong Kong, depending on who you ask and their respective home towns, but wikipedia confirms Taiwan.
4. LuRouFan (滷肉飯): braised pork over rice
One of my favorite comfort foods. The only reason it’s not higher on this list is that I can make a semblance of it at home in my Instant Pot (riffing on this recipe from Ice or Rice), or on stovetop.
5. Tropical fruit
When you go to a tropical country, eat the amazing and varied fresh tropical fruit! Unless you hail from another tropical country, the stuff in grocery stores back home will be a far cry from whatever juicy delectable fruit you get here. Obvi, observe the usual local tap water caveats to avoid a stomach bug in your foreign digestive system. Pro-tip: cut fruit can make for a great bullet train snack.
6. Stinky tofu
+5 in bonus adventure points for still eating this after smelling it from a block away
I thought about titling this entry “I do not wish I could take a picture of this smell!” In tribute to the empanada post, and also in reference to the stinky tofu I finally tried in Taipei. If you watch any travel shows about Taiwan, they love to highlight stinky tofu as a local specialty, due to its shock to the olfactory senses (something like ‘smells like feet’, due to the double-fermenting process). The night market is where after 30+ years of avoiding it, I finally tried stinky tofu, and it was delicious.
7. Random night market street food
See: any night market’s exciting offerings, including some of the other items on this list.
8. Ou au jin (蚵仔煎): oyster omelette
This is a classic dish found at many Taiwan restaurants. As a non-seafood-eating kid, I loved the first taste I ever had of this dish on my first visit to Taipei.
9. Beef noodle soup
Another classic comfort food dish, lower on this list since you can get echos of it at restaurants abroad. Often spicy, sometimes with tasty pickled mustard greens.
10. Lunch on Yong Kang Street (永康街)
This is That Thing Tourists Do That You Wish You Did Too: go to the original Din Tai Fung, the most well-known soup dumpling restaurant from East Asia, near Yong Kang Street. Reserve extra time to wait in line.
Now, back to that 北方油餅 (Beifang Green Onion Pancake)
More fun multimedia: the Ever Venerable Tony Bourdain in Taiwan (the Travel Channel)
See a few hot spots for these foods and other recommended sights on my foursquare list (you do not need a foursquare account to see it, and the map function from info sections should plug you into whatever you use on your phone to get around).
This has been part 3 of theTaiwan “Going Home” series.