In preparing to write this Taipei Food Guide, we immersed ourselves in Taiwanese food culture. And this is definitely a foodie city. There are restaurants everywhere, and the Taipei night markets are a regular destination for locals.
Entering any of the food markets that dot the city is an immersive experience. The crowds jostle to get their next spot at their favorite stall, the venders call out to you, pointing out their dishes. And of course, there’s the food. The aromas waft from slowly bubbling soups and meat sizzling and caramelizing on the grill. The biggest challenge you face is the decision of which to choose.
Taiwanese food is complex. Textures play an important role, and often foods with a more “chewy” texture is preferred. Dishes also need to achieve just the right amount of sweet, sour, salty and bitter (or even umami) for perfectly balanced mouthful.
That is not to say that we embraced all of the food Taiwan had to offer. Some of it was quite strange to our Western palates. Which is part of the fun and making it well worth wading through the night markets and restaurants in Taipei. You never know when that next truly delicious bite will happen, but we can assure you, somewhere in a journey to Taiwan, it will.
Where is Taiwan?
Taiwan is an island located in east Asia off the coast of China. In addition to China, close neighbors include the Philippines to the south and Japan to the north.
Taiwan’s cuisine is strongly influences by the countries that surround it, and most notably those who formally ruled over the country, such as Japan and China. Tensions in the region continue to remain high, as Taiwan considers itself to be an independent nation with its own laws and government. This idea is in dispute by China.
Despite the disagreement about governance, it is clear that China continues to play a strong role in Taiwanese cuisine and culture. There are, however, dishes that are considered firmly Taiwanese. The food overall gives a nod to the past along with a demonstration of an interest in embracing creative twists, looking toward future with a flavor all of their own.
Taipei Food – 50+ of the Best Dishes to Try in Taipei
All of the twists and turns make for an interesting a tasty culinary adventure for those willing to make the journey. For everyone who falls within that category (and the numbers are growing by the day), here are a few dishes we suggesting discovering during a visit to Taipei.
1. Pan Fried Dumplings
We are starting off with what is probably one of our favorite things to eat in Taipei night markets – pan-fried dumplings. These wonderful pouches come with a variety of fillings, such as seasoned ground pork, shrimp, or mushroom.
They can also be cooked by simply steaming them. That, in my opinion, is missing the best part. The toasted crispy skin of the wrapper that comes when they are pan-fried to golden-brown perfection!
2. Pork Pepper Buns – Hujiao Bing
This popular street food originated in the Chinese city of Fuzhou. The buns are a favorite item in food stalls and night markets throughout Taiwan. They are made by stuffing bread dough with layers of peppered pork and scallions.
The buns are then baked in a high heat oven resembling an Indian Tandoori oven. The resulting bun is soft and flaky, making it a perfect vehicle for the juicy meaty filling it encapsulates. The best stalls will typically have long lines of people waiting to get the buns fresh out of the oven.
3. Soy Milk Soup and Fried Dough – Dou Jiang Yu Tiao
What to eat in Taipei for breakfast? Salty Soy Milk Soup with Fried Dough (Dou Jiang Yu Tiao) is a popular choice. The soup is made with unsweetened soy milk and a touch of vinegar. The vinegar causes the milk to clot slightly and thicken.
Other ingredients such as preserved daikon radish, green onion, pickled mustard greens, dried shrimp, soy sauce and fried pork bits are added, depending on the recipe (of which there are many).
Chunks of crispy, chewy fried dough are added to the soup, like large croutons, to sop up the briny liquid.
4. Taiwanese Breakfast Sandwich – Mei & Mei
These tasty little breakfast sandwiches come in many different varieties. The quintessential ingredients are the soft white bread, crust removed, and a fried egg. After that, things get more interesting.
Sandwiches can contain anything from burgers, fried chicken or ham along with vegetables and mayo or peanut spread.
5. Tea Leaf Eggs
We found these marbled beauties everywhere from street food vendor stands to pretty much every convenience store we encountered in Taiwan. The shells of hardboiled eggs are cracked, then the egg is reboiled in a mixture containing tea, spices (such as star anise and ginger) and soy sauce. They are typically eaten as a quick snack on the go.
6. Fresh Grilled Seafood
We found plenty of people lined up to get a portion of grilled squid in the night markets. These aren’t the small squid that we encounter most often in the US. These guys are typically about 5 inches in length. They are split and then scored so that they lay flat on the grill, and then basted with butter.
Forget the heavy batter or tartar sauce, these fresh fish don’t need anything else to be enjoyed just the way they are.
7. Scallion Pancakes
These are not the kind of pancakes that are served stacked up and doused in butter and maple syrup (not that there is anything wrong with that). Scallion pancakes are indeed flat and round, but that is where the similarities to traditional flap-jacks ends.
Rounds of dough mixed with scallions or stuffed with things like ham and cheese, are placed on a hot flat top grill. The dough bubbles and rises slightly in the middle. The pancake is then flipped and served when golden brown on both sides.
The texture of the dough is lightly crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside. These golden rounds are comfort food at its best.
8. Fried Shrimp Rolls
Anything food that has both the words “fried” and “shrimp” together are going to get our attention. The Taiwanese fried shrimp rolls, with their minced sweet shrimp and vegetable filling surrounded by a nice crispy outer layer, do not disappoint!
9. BBQ Green Onion Pork
Pork pounded thin and marinated until tender, then rolled around scallions and grilled. They are as good as they look (or maybe even a little more delicious).
10. Taiwanese Hamburgers – Lan Jia Gua Bao
Taiwanese “Hamburgers” are pretty different from what we typically think of when we are on the hunt for a burger. Let’s start with the bun. Instead of the normal wheat bun, the Taiwanese version is actually steamed and has a little bit more chew. Two additional key elements in Lan Jia Gua Bao is the use of pickled mustard greens and a sweet peanut sauce.
Instead of ground beef, the meat in the Taiwanese version is actually shredded pork braised in a savory sauce. The whole sandwich is wrapped up in a plastic bag, ready to be gobbled up on the go.
11. Stuffed Waffles
These cartoon character shaped waffles-on-a-stick are another favorite snack in Taiwan. The popular Taiwanese snacks are similar to their fish-shaped Japanese cousins, Taiyaki. Like the Japanese version, the Taiwanese waffles come in different flavors, such as chocolate, nutella, ground peanut, or, my favorite, gooey cheese.
12. Oyster Omelet (Taiwanese Oyster Pancake)
The oyster omelet is similar to what you would expect, but there are a few differences. Forget the cheesy eggy folded version. This one is all about the liberal use of very small fresh oysters.
Eggs are mixed with sweet potato starch, folded together with oysters and fried in pork lard. The texture of the omelet takes on more of a chewy consistency that Taiwanese go crazy for due to the use of the starch in the egg batter. This is a very popular dish at night markets, so tracking down an oyster omelet in Taipei is pretty easy!
13. Charred Beef
We encountered many unusual things while wandering through the night markets in Taiwan. The little cubes of beef sizzling on the grill were not one of them. Until we saw the blow torch.
It got our attention enough to get us to cue up and put in our order for a sample. The charred beef was dressed simply with a sprinkle of salt (well, more likely MSG, but that is a different subject all together). They were moist tender and delicious.
14. Rice Wine (Mijiu)
Like many things in Chinese cuisine, Rice Wine is made using glutinous rice. The drink has an alcohol content ranging from 18 – 25%. It is clear and a little bit sweet. Rice wine is served warm, very similar to its Japanese cousin, Sake. It is believed that drinking the beverage actually improves metabolism and skin tone, which is reason enough to give it a try.
15. Hot Pot
Hot pot is less of a dish per day, but more of a series of choices. First choice is the kind of broth you want in your pot. Selections usually include a hot and spicy broth, one that is lightly fragranced or maybe something for the vegetarians in the group. You can also order a divided pot so you can choose two different broths at once.
The pot is set in the middle of the table atop a burner and switched on. Once it starts to boil, the next set of decisions come into play.
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Specifically, what you want to cook in the broth. Thinly sliced meats such as lamb, beef and pork, along with varieties of vegetables, seafood, noodles and Chinese dumplings are almost always on offer.
The last selection is how to spice your pot. There will be several types of soy sauce, garlic and fresh herbs, hot chilies and other assorted sauces depending on the restaurant.
Each diner selects their own ingredients and drops them in the pot. The cooked food is then rescued by way of a small wire ladle or chop sticks and eaten with the sauces selected as a final seasoning.
This way of eating is fun, social, delicious, and probably one of the most common dining out options in Taipei.
16. Scallion Beef Roll
A closely related popular street food related to the BBQ Green Onion Pork is the Scallion Beef Roll. In this case, the savory meat and onion preparation is all wrapped up in a chewy scallion pancake.
The whole thing is rolled up in paper to make it a perfect Taiwanese street food snack on the go, so you can munch away while on the hunt for the next things to try.
17. Oyster Vermicelli Noodles – Orh Ah Mee Sua
Oyster Vermicelli Noodles is a popular soup in Taiwan. The thin Chinese noodles (misua) are steamed at a high heat, causing them to brown. They are added to a seasoned broth and joined by fresh sweet oysters, and in some versions, braised pig intestines.
18. Masa – Peanut Ice Cream Spring Roll
This popular Taiwan snack is known as the Ice Cream Burrito. A thin wrapper is covered with a layer of shaved peanut brittle. Then two or three scoops of ice cream (often red bean, pineapple or taro flavored) are added in the center of the wrapper. Next comes the fresh cilantro (you read correctly).
The whole thing is folded up like a burrito and served in a paper wrapper. Another strange and delicious treat that adds to the allure of Taiwans night markets.
19. Red Bean Wheel Cakes
A wheel cake is Taiwan’s version of Japanese imagawayaki, a pancake-like dessert that is cooked and crisped on the outside using something like a waffle iron. The most traditional ones are filled with sweet red bean paste.
However, times have changed. Sweet fillings like vanilla custard and chocolate are now common, as well as savory cakes filled with tuna, curry or even potato salad. You can’t stop progress!
20. Wu Yu Zi -Dried Cured Mullet Roe
When I first saw Wu yu zi, I thought it was likely a dried fruit of some kind. As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong, except for the dried part. It is actually salted and cured mullet roe (fish eggs). It is often sliced and served with green onion slivers as a snack to go along with beer.
Known as tanghulu, this candied snack originated in China. Making tanghulu involves dipping skewers of fruit in sugar syrup to form a hardened candy coating. You’ll find at least one stall selling the candied fruit kabobs at every night market in Taiwan. The most commonly used fruits seem to be strawberry and cherry tomatoes stuffed with dried plum.
22. Pineapple Cakes
Pineapple cakes are actually more the size of a cookie. A flaky pastry crust is filled with a soft pineapple filling resulting in a snack that is perfectly balanced. Not too sweet and absolutely perfect with a nice cup of coffee or tea for a mid afternoon treat. That is likely the reason that many tourist can be seen with a box tucked under their arm at the airport as a tasty souvenir.
23. Lu Wei
Lu wei is less a food item, but more accurately a collection of food items. Vendors will have a variety of ingredients to choose from, such as sausage, braised meats on skewers, tofu, noodles and vegetables. The customer uses a set of tongs to pick out what they want, and hand it off to the vendor, who turns the chosen ingredients into a hot customized soup to go.
24. Xiao Long Bao
Xiao Long Bao are Chinese Soup Dumplings. We first encountered a similar preparation in the country of Georgia, called Khinkali. The Georgian soup dumplings, however, are much heavier than their delicate Chinese cousin.
Xiao Long Bao (or xiaolongbao) are thin packets of flour dough stuffed with a beef and pork filling, along with a jellied broth that turns into a light soup when the dumpling is steamed.
Care must be taken to pick up the dumpling before placing it on a Chinese spoon, adding some slivers of ginger and sauce. A tiny hole is pierced in the side of the dumpling to release the soup into the spoon so it can mingle with the sauce and cool. It is then slurped down in one bite.
The whole operation is a little awkward at first, but trust me, you will get the hang of it. No need to lose any of that precious juice on your shirt. You will want it to go directly in your mouth.
25. Beef Noodle Soup
No Taipei food guide would be complete without mentioning this popular dish. Beef Noodle Soup is probably close to, if not the national dish of Taiwan. Beef is slowly braised in a broth seasoned with spices such as star anise, Szechuan peppercorns and dried tangerine orange peels along with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.
Chunks of carrots are added, and then the whole thing simmers until the meat is fork tender. The soup is then ladled over noodles and crowed with a braised bok choy. The soup is colorful and full of flavor.
26. Taiwanese Smashed Cucumber Salad
This simple salad is a light refreshing accompaniment that can be a very welcome addition to some of Taiwan’s sometimes heavy fare. It is made simply with chili peppers, sugar, and a little rice wine, and salt.
The cucumbers are first smashed to expose the flesh of the thin skinned cucumbers (similar to English cucumbers). The whole dish is shaken to remove some moisture and then chilled.
27. Bubble Milk Tea – Boba
Taiwanese have a cute nickname for glutenous or chewy food. They call it “QQ”. Given that you only give nicknames to things that are more near and dear to your heart, you can follow the logic as to why large tapioca bubbles ended up in a milk drink.
The tapioca pearls are boiled together with brown sugar until they form a rich syrup teaming with round shiny balls of jelly. The hot syrup is added to the bottom of the cup, which is topped with milk and ice. The whole thing gets a good shake to make sure it is all mixed well together.
Getting used to the tapioca pearls popping in your mouth through the extra-large straw takes some getting used to. But, in the end, I must admit that drinking the stuff was pretty fun (and tasty).
Note: We were able to make the above 4 dishes during a Taipei Cooking Class. The Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings), Beef Noodle Soup, Smashed Cucumber Salad, and the Bubble tea. The class was a lot of fun and a great way to get a tour of an authentic market and hang out with locals. It is a highly recommended experience for anyone planning a trip to Taipei.
28. Fish Balls
Fish balls are made by pounding fish meat into a paste, rolling the paste in balls, and then either boiling or frying them. The inexpensive snack can be served on skewers in street markets, or are common ingredients in hot pots or soups.
29. Dim Sum
Dim Sum (or Yum Cha) is not a specific dish, it is another example of a Chinese dining experience. The tradition started in Cantonese tea houses where prepared dishes were served from carts.
They could include dishes like steamed dumplings, fried spring rolls, gluttonous rice stuffed with a meat filling and steamed in a lotus leaf. There are also sweet dishes on offer, such as Chinese egg tarts.
I will admit that some of the stuff served during Dim Sum is still pretty strange to me. For example, number of plates of chicken feet encountered: many many feet. Number of chicken feet consumer: still zero.
That said, finding and trying strange new dishes is really part of the fun of travel. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to give the chicken feet a try. On second thought, still probably not.
30. Seasonal Fruit
There are many opportunities to try fresh seasonal fruit in Taipei. Beautiful fruit is for sale in markets and via street vendors throughout the city.
31. Braised Pork Rice (Lu Rou Fan)
This slow cooked pork and shitake mushroom dish is another favorite food in Taiwan. The meat and mushrooms are braised in a broth with other favored ingredients, including soy sauce, Shaoxing wine (Chinese Rice cooking wine), Szechuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, fried shallots and slivers of dried tangerine peel.
When the meat is tender it is served over steamed rice, often with hard-boiled eggs and blanched bok choy on the side. This dish is comforting, flavorful and delicious!
32. Milkfish Soup – Shimu Yu
Milkfish soup is a simple and refreshing dish, made with flaky white fish. The sweet mild fish swims in a light miso paste broth That is finished off with slices of fresh ginger.
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33. Century Egg
If the saying that “everything gets better with age” has merit, then century eggs would be at the top of the list. Or maybe that saying wasn’t meant to include food. In any case, century eggs are fermented up to several months in a mixture of quicklime, salt, clay and ash.
The yolk turns a green color and is a little creamy with a flavor similar to a very strong cheese. The outer part turns into a dark jelly. This one is definitely an acquired taste.
34. Stuffed Chicken Wings
Stuffed chicken wings are a demonstration of Taiwan’s love for glutenous rice. Fried chicken wings are good, but chewy fried chicken wings are that much better. To make this popular night market snack, the large bone of the wing is removed.
The deboned wing is then stuffed with fried glutenous rice, often with the addition of Chinese sausage. The whole thing is then deep-fried or grilled.
35. Sun Cake – Aiyang Bing
Sun cakes are round flaky pastries filled with a sweet filling made from malted sugar. They are another very popular snack item that tourists line up to bring home from their travels.
36. Dried Fruit
Traditional Chinese medicine stalls can still be found in Taiwan, but their popularity has diminished over the years. So what is a Chinese medicine vendor do to pay the bills? Expand into other markets.
In Taiwan is is very common to see these traditional shops add additional edibles, including candies and dried fruit, to their offering.
The difference in the Taiwanese version of dried fruit is that they are really, really dry. They crunch when you bite into them dry. We enjoyed the version that had no additional sugar added before the drying process, resulting in an intense fruity flavor that isn’t overpowered by the sweetness.
37. Fan Tuan – Taiwanese Sticky Rice Breakfast Roll
Fan Tuan is a favorite breakfast-on-the-go food item in Taiwan. It pairs some of their favorite flavors, sticky rice, pickled vegetables and pork floss, a wraps it up all burrito style. Modern versions have added fillings like bacon and eggs. Some vendors have even started coloring the rice to attract more customers. Purple rice for breakfast anyone?
38. Taro or Sweet Potato Balls
Taro balls are a popular dessert made by mixing mashed taro with sweet potato or tapioca flour (making the resulting ball having a little more of a chewy texture). The sweet potato version replaces the taro with the potato instead.
They are often served together, making a colorful mixture of purple and yellow balls. The balls are cooked by boiling them in water, and then served hot or cold in a syrup made with brown sugar.
39. Meatball Dumplings – Ba-Wan
Ba-Wan (Pork Meatball Dumplings) are another popular night market food in Taiwan. The outer wrapping is made from sweet potato starch and rice flour, and then stuffed with ground pork and other ingredients such as bamboo shoots, shrimp, green onions or minced mushrooms. The stuffed buns are then steamed and served with both sweet and savory sauces.
40. Coffin Bread – Guancai Ban
Coffin bread is similar to South Africa’s Bunny Chow in that it is served in a hollowed out square loaf of basic white bread. In the Taiwanese recipe, the bread is fried or toasted, giving it a more crisp texture and buttery flavor.
The “coffin” is used as a serving vehicle for a dish similar to a chowder featuring seafood, chicken or mushrooms. A toasted bread lid is then installed, and dinner is served!
41. Ta-a, Slack Season or Danzai Noodles
These noodles have a 130 year history in Taiwan. Danzai noodles began as a food stuff to help fishermen get through the Slack, or typhoon season, that made fishing for a living more difficult. The recipe calls for Chinese wheat noodles, garlic, shrimp broth, shrimp, cilantro, Taiwanese Meat Sauce and garlic. These days the soup is sold in small portions as more of a snack than a main dish.
Mochi are another chewy glutenous sweet treat. They reminded me of another Chinese dessert, Ang Ku Kueh (red turtle cakes), that we made in our cooking class in Singapore.
Similar to Ang Ku Kueh, these balls are stuffed with fillings such as sweetened toasted coconut, peanut sauce or red bean paste. They are then sometimes rolled in peanuts.
43. Sweet Potato
What, you are asking yourself, is sweet potato doing here? Which is the same thing I asked myself when I first encountered it at a grocery store, being given a similar treatment as the 7-11 hotdog. Turns out, grabbing a steamed sweet potato as a hold-over snack is a thing here.
I will admit that they smelled pretty good, like walking into your grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving day. I would also guess that the nutritional value of the potato probably scores pretty well against the hotdog. So, who am I to judge.
44. Pig’s Blood Cake – Zhū Xiě Gāo
I know I have lost a few of you here, but try to stay with me. First, let me answer the first question, “What is Pigs Blood Cake?” This popular street food in Taiwan is made by soaking glutinous rice in pigs blood, steaming or frying it and then drenching it in soy broth.
The cake is then cut into slices, place on a stick for ease of transport in the street market, and possibly rolled in crushed nuts and cilantro.
Now to your next question, “Why they heck would I eat that?” Because you are in Taiwan, and here, that is what you, and many many locals who grew up here, do as well.
We honestly didn’t try the Pig’s Blood Cake version on a stick, but actually encountered it as a flavoring in our hot pot. While we honestly ate around it, the flavor of the hot pot was good enough for us to go back again a second time for more.
45. Pearl Meatballs with Sticky Rice – Zhēn Zhū Wán Zi
Yet another Classic recipe using our hero, glutinous rice! This one became a favorite with the addition of a succulent soft pork meatball in the center. The meatball is rolled in the rice and then steamed.
46. Three Cup Chicken – San Bei Ji
Three cup soup was given its name because of the recipe used to make it. A cup each of 3 ingredients, rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil are combined with the chicken. The dish is then slowly cooked until all the sauce is absorbed.
One origin story is that one woman left her pot of three cup chicken on the stove too long, resulting in the chicken being cooked to the point of almost being burned. She served it to her guests anyway, and it was such a success that this become the standard way of preparing the dish.
Modern versions often add a few extra ingredients to the dish, such as sugar, garlic, fresh ginger and Thai basil.
47. Stinky Tofu
Stinky Tofu is one of those dishes that clearly lives up to its name. You can smell it well before you see it. Although we were reluctant to try it, we were convinced to sample the fried version. The chunks of fermented tofu are deep-fried then served with pickled cabbage. The cabbage is stuffed into the center of the tofu, which can be dipped in a sweet or spicy sauce.
For me, the texture of the fried tofu had a nice crispness. The pickled cabbage added some nice texture and refreshing tangy notes. But, in the end, there’s that smell, which to me was reminiscent of a trip through a crowded fish market at the end of a hot summer day. The number of locals that are lined up at the fried stinky tofu stand, I’m certain, would disagree.
48. Taiwanese Fried Chicken
When it comes to fried chicken, the vendors in Taiwan don’t mess around. When you order a piece, you get handed an entire double chicken breast that has been breaded and deep-fried.
The moist golden brown filet is finished off with a dusting with the seasoning powder of your choice (try the wasabi) and then slid into a paper wrapper from which to enjoy every tasty mouth full.
49. Shaved Ice
As you would probably expect, shaved ice is Taiwan is a little different. Because it is a sweet dessert, you can guarantee that the Taiwanese have found a way to add something sweet and chewy to the mix.
Common toppings include grass jelly, mung beans, mochi, fruit, red beans and condensed milk.
50. Aiyu Jelly
Aiyu Jelly is actually a gelatinous substance extracted from the seeds of a Taiwanese fig tree varietal, the Awkeotsang Creeping Fig, which is native to Taiwan.
The tasteless jelly is often sweetened with honey and flavored with lemon juice. It is commonly consumed as a refreshing summer drink. It is also another favorite topping for shaved ice.
The jelly is rich in pectin, vitamins and fiber, which helps to help regulate metabolism, decrease cholesterol and inflammation, and promote healthy skin. So dig in!
51. Sausage in a Rice Bun – Dàcháng Bāo Xiǎocháng
Whoever came up with these was a sheer genius. There is nothing new about grilled sausage. This one is taken to an entirely new level by enveloping it into a browned “bun” made by stuffing glutenous rice into a natural casing wrapper. Essentially, a rice sausage. The sausage is garnished as you choose with toppings such as preserved radish (think pickle), diced cucumber and a selection of sauces running from sweet to spicy. They look good, and taste even better.