Chris and I had the good fortune of traveling to Taiwan between semesters, and we have been eating our way across Taiwan for the past 11 days. Don’t be too jealous; I brought lots of goodies, in the form of photos, for you to drool over.
Taiwanese people LOVE food. The variety of local delicacies available at every town was really astounding. Some of them were a little exotic for our tastes (dried minnows, anyone?), though all were fascinating.
Some of the best places to sample Taiwanese cuisine was at the night markets that we frequented in almost every town. The ideal place to fill up on a variety of xiao chi (“small eats”, or little snacks), the Taiwanese street market is a food lover’s dream. I think it is a truth generally acknowledged that the best food in the world is developed in the crucible of the world’s street markets. Sipping a huge cup of fresh watermelon juice in one hand (for the measly sum of $0.30 USD) and nibbling on a hot grilled Taiwanese sausage in the other…I was in my element. The best thing is, in the Taiwanese street market, everything is made right in the open on grills and portable stoves, so all you have to do is stroll, look, point, and eat.
A sweet pork sausage with your choice of dressing is grilled, making the skin crispy and the inside juicy, tender and scorching hot.
Sweet Silky Tofu (Dou Hua)
Yes, tofu as a dessert. Why not? It’s silky, custardy, and delicious – tofu as dessert is the most natural thing! This soft smooth tofu is ladled into a bowl and drowned in a rock sugar soup, and topped with your choice of peanuts, almond agar, tapioca, and other goodies. On a hot night, I seriously craved this, with some crushed ice on top.
Flour-Rice Noodle Soup
This famous food stand at the Ximending district in Taipei specializes in one thing – a thick vinegary soup filled with mian xian (“thread” noodles), pieces of pig intestines, bamboo shoots and other goodies. It may sound and look disgusting, but it’s surprisingly good, especially with some cilantro and hot sauce on top.
Taiwanese Sandwich (Gua Bao)
Chinese people love fatty pork. In fact, at the Taipei National Palace Museum, one of the prize exhibits was a piece of red jade carved to look like a piece of fatty pork (the other prize exhibit was a piece of green and white jade carved to look like a Chinese cabbage). If you haven’t yet found a place in your heart (and stomach) for fatty pork, you have got to try a Taiwanese gua bao. Braised, tender fatty pork is sandwiched in a steamed bun with sweet ‘n’ sour pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts, a sweet sauce, and cilantro. What’s not to like? We got this one at Shin Yeh, an excellent restaurant in Taipei specializing in Taiwanese cuisine.
Fish Balls (Yu Wan) and Pork Floss Rice
We got this amazingly fresh fish ball soup in Kaohsiung near the harbor. We noticed a busy crowd of what looked to be local workers devouring bowls of these with relish, and we had to give it a try. Our hostess deftly made the fish balls (well, more like fish rolls) by hand and tossed them into the soup. Piping hot, the fish balls had a springy texture and super fresh fillings of oysters and fresh flaky white fish.
These fish balls, with a small bowl of pork floss and fatty pork-topped rice filled us near to bursting. I have to say, I’m not usually a fan of fish balls, but I’ll have a bowl of these any day.
I always thought wasabi was green. According to the lady who produces this white wasabi and sells it in her shop, however, freshly grated wasabi is white, and only turns green after other stuff (ie. food coloring) gets added to it. I couldn’t resist buying a jar, and it’s definitely got more flavor and slightly less hotness than the typical S&B tube wasabi I’m used to. We got this while visiting AliShan (Ali Mountain), where wasabi root cultivation is a local specialty.
Here are some more dishes we tried but didn’t get a chance to photograph:
Oyster Pancake (O-ah-jian): Perhaps Taiwan’s most famous snack, the oyster pancake is a concoction of a sticky glutinous batter fried with egg, oysters, and lettuce. It’s served with a slightly sweet red sauce.
Stinky Tofu: Sorry, stinky tofu lovers, but I just can’t get into it. Stinky tofu smells like an open sewer, and I just can’t get past the smell. I ate some, and I’m still here, but I’m not sure I ever need to eat it again.
Mochi: Don’t bother buying the prepackaged boxed ones – they’re full of preservatives and not very good. But definitely try the fresh hand-made ones available at almost every street corner. These glutinous rice balls stuffed with peanuts, sesame seeds, red bean paste, and other goodies are one of the most popular snacks in Taiwan.