When visiting Taipei, one must always think about food. In fact when visiting any region, food is very important. Coming from Canada, it isn’t as important to find a good restaurant or local food when travelling in North America as food tends to be very similar in each region. When visiting Europe, we tend to think about food more so when visiting the continent versus England itself. France is well known for its cheeses and Italy is well known for pasta. Even each region of a country has its own specialties. After moving to Japan, I slowly got into the food culture. Japan is well known among Japanese people for being a place with various regional dishes. Each city has its own local foods that have been around for either centuries or just a few decades. Taiwan is well known for Xiao Long Bao, and beef noodle soup, among other foods. It has always been important for me to try everything so I can get the full experience of any place I visit and food is definitely one of those things.
The most famous food to come from Taiwan is Xiao Long Bao. Xiao Long Bao is a type of Chinese dumpling that is akin to the Cantonese dim sum dumplings. It is meat, traditionally pork, wrapped in a dough wrapper. It is steamed and served piping hot. While Xiao Long Bao may have originated in Shanghai, it is still very famous in Taiwan and an integral part of their food culture. When eating Xiao Long Bao, you have to be extremely careful as when you take a bite into it, the juices just squirt out burning the inside of your mouth if you aren’t careful. The way I was taught to eat it “properly” is to pick it up by the top and dip it in vinegar. Then place it in your spoon where you take a bite off the top. The dumpling is wrapped in such a way that it is closed on the top and the top is the strongest part of the dumpling. The top, where they seal the dumpling is where you take your first bite. From the hole you just created, you can slurp out the soup created by the pork juices and fat. Afterwards you can eat the rest of the Xiao Long Bao. It doesn’t take much time but it ensures you don’t have a burnt mouth when you eat it. Making the perfect Xiao Long Bao is very difficult and something I could never do. The most famous shop in the world has to be Din Tai Fung. It is one of the oldest in Taipei and touted as the best. There are many branches but the top quality is said to be in their main branch on Xinyi Road. It was a simple walk from my hotel to the main branch and even though we arrived around 3pm, there was still a line. When you eat Xiao Long Bao often enough, you can tell the good from the bad. The previous night we had Xiao Long Bao at another famous shop. It was good but Din Tai Fung was much better. The dough was pressed properly. Thin enough so it wouldn’t interfere with the taste of the pork and thick enough so it wouldn’t break easily. Of course they had other things on the menu but the Xiao Long Bao is the most famous.
The other famous food to eat, or rather drink, is Bubble Tea. Bubble Tea is also known as Pearl Tea. It is a drink that contains tapioca balls inside. I had a few chances to try different varieties of Bubble Tea in Taiwan. The first time was at one of the first, if not the first place to create Bubble Tea. It was definitely a good experience. Bubble Tea in Taiwan tends to be less sweet than Bubble Tea in Hong Kong as Taiwan uses milk and Hong Kong uses condensed milk. Speaking to someone from Taiwan, they are very proud of Bubble Tea and find Hong Kong Bubble Tea to be too sweet and not good at all. I disagree with the evaluation that it isn’t good, but rather I think it’s different. Sometimes I’ll want a sweet Bubble Tea and sometimes I won’t. I think it is all in a person’s preference. I like both of them. The simplicity of a milk tea with pearls and having it at the right sweetness is difficult. Taiwan does a very good job with this and I could drink it almost daily. Unfortunately having good ones can be a little difficult at times. Finding a good shop can be difficult as I didn’t know if the main outdoor branches would sell good ones. It doesn’t really matter as nothing really compared to the first one I had at one of the birth places of Bubble Tea.
Snow cones are another interesting food from Taiwan. There is a somewhat famous shaved ice dessert that comes topped with syrup and fresh fruit. I went to the best place in Taipei called FnB. There was a long snaking line outside the shop and people jockeying for position to steal a table when it opened up. We got lucky when we found a table but I ended up standing anyways. The most typical version is a plain shaved ice with mangoes on top. It is a delicious dessert and well worth the cost. The ice is shaved fresh and they poured a little brown syrup on top of the ice. On top of that they added mangoes with lots of juice and topped all of that with a scoop of mango sherbet. They do have other fruit varieties including a mixed fruit that typically comes with mango, strawberry, and kiwi. For a city like Taipei, the need for fresh desserts is a necessity due to the humidity. There is one variation where they use ice milk rather than regular ice. This is just as good but the flavour is slightly different. It’s difficult to explain and something you can easily find out by trying it yourself. The main difference between the milk ice and plain ice would have to be the texture. Milk ice tends to be a little silky while plain ice has a bit of a crunch to it. That’s not to say that the plain ice is hard as it was surprisingly very soft.
The night markets are one of the best places to find food. It can be a little scary as it’s hard to decide what to eat. They have everything you can imagine that comes deep fried. One of the most common things to eat is the Chinese sausage. You can get these in many places but the night markets are the easiest. A Chinese sausage is not your typical European style. They tend to be a little sweet and chewy. It’s hard to explain but it is similar around China but different enough due to the local ingredients used. It’s similar to asking someone to explain barbecue sauce. You know it when you taste it and it tastes different in each region. The other main food I had to try was the chou dofu, or stinky tofu. It is a fermented tofu that is deep fried. In the night market, they deep fry bite sized pieces of stinky tofu and put a bunch of pickled cabbage on top. It’s similar to sauerkraut but in a Chinese style. The smell of the stinky tofu wasn’t bad at first. I enjoy the smell as it reminds me of night markets. I’m not sure if I ate it before as my parents often give me food and tell me that its good but never tell me what it is. As I smelt the stinky tofu, my feelings about eating it went up and down. I went from wanting to enjoy it to getting scared as the smell went from pungent to gross to pungent again. When I did eat it, the first few bites were fine and it was like normal deep fried tofu. After my saliva started to engulf the tofu, the smells were released and I had a tough time swallowing it. It went from having no smell to having a terrible smell in under a second. While I found the smell to be terrible as I chewed the stinky tofu, it is a food that I could get used to. It would take a while to get used to it but I’m sure I can. It’s similar to natto in Japan yet the smell is very different. I find the smell of natto to be unbearable yet the smell of stinky tofu is no problem, for the most part. I don’t recommend buying it but if someone wants to try it, by all means give it a try. A group of 8-10 people can share one order and everyone can get a bite.
Of course there are tons of other foods you can try but these are the main things that I ate. You should try the beef noodle soup, tea, fried chicken, and so on. It’s hard to keep things down to just one post and I could probably write a few more posts on the food alone. I only went to Taiwan for 5 days and in that time I ate a lot of different things. If you do go, you can satiate yourself for a good 3 days before things start to get repetitive. Be sure to try as much as possible and be adventurous.