My first trip to Taipei in early 2017 left me wanting to try more Taiwanese food and so for the family’s recent Christmas trip, we were determined to try as many things as we can. (See Dinner at Raohe Night Market, Eating in Shilin, Beitou: Hot Springs And A Whole Lot More and Spirited Away in Jiufen) Of course this wasn’t so difficult to do because we would always stumble upon some shop or store selling delicious Taiwanese goodies; the difficult part was knowing we just couldn’t possibly try them all.
Here’s a list of all the things we ate and enjoyed (except one; read on to find out what dish we swore never to eat again). Hopefully this will help you recognize some of the treats you’ll see when exploring a Taiwanese night market or eatery.
Noodles…lots and lots of noodles
Our flight was delayed for hours and so we ended up arriving in Taipei for brunch. The tired and hungry family walked to Nanmen market, a few minutes away from our Airbnb. I was looking over an old lady’s shoulder to see what the fuss was about at this noodle stall. She was kind enough to tell me (through someone who speaks English) what the specialty of the house was: Tomato Beef Noodles.
The broth was rich and sweet because of the tomatoes. The noodles were huge and thick and had a chewy texture.
Tatay chose the beef fried noodles. What makes the noodles at this stall different is the way that it’s made – they’re sliced and not pulled, making them thick and hearty.
We had this wonton soup for lunch at an eatery near Longshan temple. It’s one of those places where you take a little paper with the menu on it and you just tick the boxes beside the dishes you want. It’s a little problematic with the language barrier but you’ll find that they are more than willing to help you out with the ordering process.
The broth in this noodle soup is lighter than the one above, perfect for when you want something that’s filling yet not too heavy.
This is a popular brand of rice noodles in Taipei. I had it during my first visit and liked it but our Airbnb host says there are better shops. The chewy intestines added an interesting texture to the bonito-flavored soup and silky noodles. You can add some condiments like chili sauce and vinegar to suit your taste.
Rice noodles are thinner and more slippery in texture. In the Philippines we call it misua and in Taipei, mee sua. Filipino food is really a wide mixture of influences, one of them Chinese, so it was not surprising to find some familiar items and names.
Dumplings…all sorts of them
In broth, in noodle soup, steamed, fried…whichever way they are cooked you’ll be guaranteed to have great dumplings wherever you go. The wrapper is always soft and silky and the filling abundant.
I’m including this picture with the noodles in focus in this section because that plate of pan-fried goodness in the background was really memorable, we had to come back to the same shop for another helping the following day. The store sold dumplings by the piece and had different variants too. We’d see customers ordering and eating them by the plate.
Braised Pork Rice
I still hold that braised pork rice I had in Beitou as my gold standard (Beitou: Hot Springs And A Whole Lot More) but the ones we’ve had are not bad. Flavorful stewed pork is placed on top of hot rice and sometimes accompanied with egg or tofu. (Special mention: their tofu is really fresh and packed with soy flavor).
Buns…all shapes and sizes
I remember this shop from my first trip where I had the softest bun filled with a swirl of cheese. It totally converted me to bao.
We decided to take as well this custard with salted egg in the middle. Unlike other salted egg-filled products where the custard is mixed with the egg, this two had them separately. My throat was giving me a hard time during our first day, but I just had to try this and it was wonderful. The slightly sweet custard and the salted egg middle was a match made in sweet-salty heaven.
When you enter Raohe market through the entrance near the temple you’ll instantly see a long line of people. They’re waiting to get their black pepper buns or Hu Jiao Bing.
The production line consists of a number of people constantly moving to meet the hungry queue’s bun demands. The bao is not steamed but baked in this cylindrical oven, giving it a crispy, chewy texture.
If you love black pepper and scallions like the Taiwanese do, this is the bun for you.
In Tamsui we found this Rou jia mo, which is like a meat burger or sandwich. The lady placed some stewed pork on her chopping board, a lot of onions, and cilantro and chopped them all together before placing the lot into a flatter kind of bun that’s lighter and bit crispier than the black pepper bun. I thought the onions would overpower the whole thing but it didn’t! I went back in the afternoon to get another bun only to find they were still cooking the pork. Boohoo.
Close to our airbnb is this baked bun similar to the one in Raohe. But I actually prefer this as the black pepper wasn’t too strong and the bun not as tough and thick. The best part was it was a stone’s throw away from our place!
Sure, we have fish balls in the Philippines, but these ones we had in Taipei were rounder, juicy, and flavorful. They’re served with a sprinkling of pepper. (I bet you’ve noticed by now their love of pepper).
Fried chicken… yes. You heard it right.
Giant fried chicken chops are all the rage in night markets. What’s not to love about a huge, breaded, deep-fried, crispy piece of chicken that’s as big as (or even bigger) than your face?
Grilled chicken…they grill almost anything at the night markets!
King oyster mushrooms, squid, dried seafood, beef…chicken is just one of the things on the long list of grilled items at night markets.
Surprise, surprise! Scallions again!
You can choose what items you want dunked into the clear, light broth. This makes a good dinner on a cold winter night.
Rice dumpling cooked with some pork, mushroom, and spices… I can imagine stashing one in my backpack as an emergency snack.
Grilled Satay corn
I vowed to try this on my return and try it I did. The corn is covered in funky spices and grilled until the sauce caramelizes. Best to eat it while it’s warm (the cold winter night led me to this realization).
Sausages…alone on a stick or wrapped in another sausage
These slightly sweet and juicy sausages come fresh off the grill. There’s even a variant we tried that had oyster mushrooms in it.
See this wrapper with the big sausage hugging the little sausage? That’s a fairly accurate depiction of the “little sausage in big sausage”- a pork sausage encased in a rice sausage and topped with some pickled vegetables. It’s like a complete meal all in one package.
Here I am eating just the rice sausage. Silly me.
Scallion pancakes (now you see the love for scallion?)
There were a lot of people lining up for these scallion pancakes so we joined the queue of hungry, cold, customers. We’re sure glad we did.
The lady on the left cooks the scallion pancakes on the hot griddle while the lady on the right fluffs up the cooked pancakes. I’m guessing that step makes the layers of pastry more crispy.
You can have a plain scallion pancake or one filled with either Taiwanese basil, ham, cheese, or the works!
Tea: Milk tea, Bubble tea, Fruit tea
I’m crazy about milk tea. The Taiwanese brand Coco is my favorite in Manila but it seems the menu is worded differently back home and in its home city. I love the white little bubbles that they have as an optional add-on, compared to the usual black tapioca pearls that are usually tougher and more chewy.
You can customize your drink according to your preferred sugar level, temperature, and choice of additional toppings like tapioca pearls, pudding, and jelly.
Milk tea is everywhere! I’ve lost count of the milk teas we’ve had during this trip.
Tess wanted to try the tea with passion fruit, jelly, and pearls.
This tea I’m having while waiting for my xia long bao is from the Milk Shop, my new ultimate favorite. I was able to try their soy milk black tea and it was soooo good. The mild flavor of the soy went very well with the strong black tea. Their Wintermelon milk was delicious as well, just the right sweetness for me at fifty percent sugar. Arnaud and I really liked this tea brand which we first encountered in Jiufen. We just had to have it again.
Black sesame pastry
The crisp flaky pastry is filled with a black sesame paste and topped with sesame seeds. It doesn’t get more sesame than that.
The sign actually says “frying milk” but because I’ve seen this on a friend’s Instagram post before I instantly recognized it when I saw it in Shilin night market. It’s essentially a firm custard that’s dipped in batter and then fried quickly to get a golden brown color. When you bite into it the custard, which has turned soft and warm, gently bursts with milky flavor. Yum, yum, yum.
Ice cream and peanut wrap
I had to sit this one out because my throat was horrible on the first day of our holiday (boo!). A flour wrapper is lined with a bed of peanut brittle shavings for the ice cream to sit on, and then some cilantro is sprinkled before wrapping. I’ve never had cilantro on a dessert before, so this one I might try next time.
This chewy treat comes in different forms and flavors. We particularly like the peanut and sesame variants.
Pastry puff filled with butter
Imagine a warm, crisp pastry puff with butter melting inside.
Salted egg bread
We got this at a bakery near Shilin, and they offered a discount if we posted a photo of their products on Facebook. We went for it and we’re glad we did. The bread is a little sweet but the salted egg filling (not custard) balances it out.
This is a popular Taiwanese treat (which I had to sit out again, boo). Nanay’s mango avalanche had all sorts of additional mango toppings.
Fluffy sponge cake with cheese
There’s usually a long line at Ximenting for this cake. They ring the bell when the cake comes fresh out of the oven and the excited customers wait patiently for their turn. It’s soft and fluffy and one variant has a layer of gooey cheese in it. Perfect with coffee or tea.
Sweet potato balls
Prior to cooking the sweet potato look like gnocchi but with constant stirring and frying in hot oil and pressing with a colander the nuggets start to look like spheres. It’s crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside.
Taro balls in soup
This snack is composed of chewy taro and sweet potato balls in a sweet, red bean, or ginger soup. I thought it would be weird but because I drink ginger tea everyday I found this very refreshing and soothing, especially for my sick throat. You can also find in the broth an assortment of other ingredients like tapioca pearls, fresh silky tofu, Taiwanese sweet potato, and barley. What I really like about these broth desserts is that they’re not overly sweet.
Taro balls with salted egg custard
I guess it’s pretty obvious now that I like salted egg. That’s why when Arnaud found these at Raohe night market we decided to buy a few pieces. It’s a bit more expensive than the sweet potato balls but the few extra dollars are definitely worth it. The balls are more crispy and inside is liquid gold: warm salted egg custard. This is definitely best eaten while warm (not hot as the liquid can ooze and burn your tongue!).
Food from the eatery near our place
This eatery is a few steps away from our Airbnb and so one morning we decided to take a late breakfast here. We still have no idea how the pricing of the items work. We were just given styro plates and told to choose whatever we wanted from the selection of dishes they had put out in trays.
The food looked very unassuming but it was surprisingly really delicious. The vegetables were not overcooked, the meatballs succulent, and the fish my Tatay had was hot and crisp. I think the beauty of those dishes lie in their simplicity and the way they were cooked to perfection. There was not much space for eating but people would drop by for a quick bite or to get a bento takeaway. I imagine this is what Taiwanese home cooking tastes like.
Top Scholar cake
I sought the help of Google to know what this one is called. It’s a steamed rice cake with a filling of either peanut or sesame.
Here are some of the things we’ve seen that looked interesting but never got the chance to try. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.
And now for the dish that I mentioned at the start of this story, the one we will never eat again…I present to you the infamous stinky tofu.
Its distinct smell is instantly recognizable and very prominent in night markets. You’ll know it’s there once you smell it. I’ve read all about it and seen it in travel shows so I thought that I should try this thing at least once. No harm in doing that, right? Filipino cuisine has its fair share of stinky food items that turn out to be palatable, even delicious. How bad could stinky tofu be? Well, watch this.
The tofu actually looks appealing in the photo below. It’s been fried and has sauce poured over it. But that doesn’t diminish the flavor imparted by months of soaking in a brine of fermented milk, meat, and vegetables.
Like Tess says in the video, it tastes the way it smells and in this case that’s not a good thing at all, at least for our taste buds.
So there you have it, the long list of things we’ve eaten on this trip. There are probably some we’ve left out but that pretty much sums it up and proves how much time we spent eating during our holiday. A good tip I can give you with regard to exploring Taipei’s eats is if there’s a queue, get in line. And my favorite travel show host Andrew Zimmern also gives one notable piece of advice: if it looks good, eat it. Have fun exploring Taiwanese cuisine!