Planning your next foodie travel destination? Well, look no further, because Taiwan is where you want to be. According to Conde Nast Traveller magazine, they have recently dubbed Taiwan as the “foodie destination of 2015”. I have to agree that Taiwan is definitely the place everyone should look out for. The Taiwanese’s Xiao Chi (small eats) that keeps the appetite of these some 23.4 million Taiwanese satiated. Even foodies from abroad like myself are also flocking to this country and want a piece of it.
Fried Oyster Omelet – 蚵仔煎
A trip to Taiwan is not complete without trying this signature dish – fried oyster omelet, or more commonly known as “eh-wah-jian” in Hokkien dialect. I love this similar dish which can be found back home in Malaysia but the Taiwanese rendition is not too shabby either. Tiny plump oysters which can be easily found around the island are folded into an egg omelet, they also added a ladle of potato starch into the mixture for that extra chewiness. You can eat it just like that or drown it in some sweet chilli dressing, which I am not too fond of. We tried the oyster omelet at a shop (Oyster Omelet King – 蚵仔煎大王) at Ningxia Night Market, which claimed to be the best one in the area.
Mango shaved ice (there have other flavors too)
Best way to beat the summer heat in Taiwan is to grab some shaved ice cream, mango flavor tends to be the most common and popular one. There are a few different types of shaved ice in Taiwan, don’t go for the one with just flavored syrup poured over the shaved iced, that’s boring. You want to look for the one where flavored ice block is shaved into a long ribbon of powdery smoothness that simply melts away as soon as it touches your tongue. They also sometimes called it “Snow ice“. We found Smoothie House at YongKang Street which was overcrowded, but you can find shaved ice pretty much everywhere in Taiwan.
Baked Pepper Pork Bun – 胡椒餅
This little gem might be a little bit difficult to track down unless you know where to find them, but it definitely worth that extra effort to hunt them down. We stumbled upon this baked pepper pork bun shop not far from Longshan Temple, at the corner of Kangding Road and Guangzhou Street. These buns are baked on the wall of a clay oven like a tandoor, the pastry is crusty and inside each bun is filled with piping hot fatty pork meat spiced with white and black pepper accompanied by chopped spring onions.
Big sausage wraps small sausage – 大腸包小腸
Taiwanese sausage is one of the best snack food on a stick. It is a little bit like the Chinese sausage “lap cheong“, full of sweet and salty fatty goodness but not air dried, so the sausage is still bounce-off-the-teeth springy on every bite. There is sausage, and then there is SAUSAGE – so why not put a small sausage inside a big sausage? That’s exactly what they did. I got quite excited when I heard about this OTT invention but when I finally found it at Fengjia Night Market in Taichung, it was actually not as crazy as I thought it supposed to be. The small meaty sausage was indeed wrapped inside a big sausage (along with cucumber and pickled vegetables) which disappointingly turned out to be made out of sticky rice. Not that I hate sticky rice, I was just expecting some crazy meaty overload man food. Nevertheless, it is still a very delicious unconventional snack food and definitely worth a try. You can also find it at Shilin Night Market in Taipei.
Shallot Pancake – 蔥抓餅
The Taiwanese version of shallot pancake is like a hybrid between Malaysian roti canai and a Japanese okonomiyaki. There are chopped shallots (or scallions) embedded in the pancake, it is pan fried then served with a light brush of sweet and salty sauce that tasted like the okonomiyaki BBQ sauce. We had the best one at Tian Jin Shallot Pancake at YongKang Street. But be prepared to join the queue.
Pearl Milk Tea – 珍珠奶茶
Everybody knows what pearl milk tea (or bubble tea or pearl iced tea) is, this edible drink sure has taken over the world by storm and indeed it was invented here in Taiwan. When you think you can find pearl milk tea almost everywhere in Sydney, then try and multiply that by 100 here in Taiwan – they are e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e! If you are going to try pearl milk tea in Taiwan, then you may as well try it at one of the Chun Shui Tang tea houses because that’s where this concoction was originated. What makes Chun Shui Tang’s pearl milk tea still one of the best in Taiwan is because everything is freshly made daily. The sugar syrup is made from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, boiled down to thick syrup with no preservative added, and the little chewy pearls (or as they called it ‘QQ’ in Taiwan) are also made from fresh tapioca starch, not the packet stuff you get at the supermarket. We’ve been told the pearls will only last for two hours once cooked before it loses its chewiness. So freshness is the key.
Peanut toffee and ice cream spring roll – 花生捲冰淇淋
One of my favorite Taiwanese snack food, the peanut toffee with taro ice cream spring roll. If you happen to be shopping in the Ximending area, you will find a food cart right outside Uniqlo shop selling this awesome ice cream. It was mesmerizing to watch the vendor shaving the big block of peanut toffee using a carpenter wood shaver. The shavings were sprinkled over the crepe before topping it with two scoops of taro ice cream then rolled it up like a spring roll. It was incredible delicious with the combo of crunchy peanut toffee and the icy taro ice cream. You will also be asked whether you want the optional sprigs of coriander in the ice cream roll.
Gua Bao – 刈包
They called it the “Taiwanese hamburger”, Gua Bao, literally means ‘slashed open bun’ is definitely one of the best snack food in Taiwan. These open-face steamed pork bun has become very popular around the world recently when Momofuku’s David Chang brought the idea to NYC. Traditionally, the bun is filled with either shredded fatty pork meat or thick slices of pork belly, accompanied by pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts and coriander. These buns can be found at most night markets, but 蓝家割包 (lan jia guar bao) at Roosevelt Road in Zhongzen District claimed to make the best one.
Fried Chicken Cutlet – 炸鸡排
Who doesn’t love fried chicken? Taiwanese version is pretty darn amazing too. Taiwanese are obsessed with fried chicken, according to a Taipei Times’ report of 2011, Taiwanese devour more than 250,000 fried chicken cutlets a day. Fried chicken nuggets (咸酥雞）are very common in Taiwan, but why settle on tiny bits of chicken when you can have a whole piece the size of your face?! That’s why you to go to Hot Star for the the original oversize fried chicken cutlet. You can ask for any seasonings you like on the chicken. Hot Star was originally only a small counter in Shilin Night Market, now it is a popular franchise present in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
Braised Minced Pork Rice & Beef Noodle Soup – 滷肉饭 & 牛肉面
I am going to group this two dishes together as they are not quite “snack food” but something more substantial. Nevertheless, you still able to find these two classic Taiwanese dishes at any night market and you simply have to try them. Lu Rou Fan is a very simple dish of minced pork braised in soy sauce then served on top of a bowl of steamed rice. Usually it comes with some pickles to cut through the richness, and sometimes you will also get half a braised soy egg as well. Every country has its own version of beef noodle soup, the Taiwanese version comes with chunks of slow-cooked tender beef briskets served with a big bowl of egg noodle and pickled vegetables in hearty broth. Believe it or not, Taiwan even has their own beef noodle soup festival! The best beef noodle soup can be found at YongKang Street.
Grandma’s Rice Ball – 古早味阿婆饭团
We totally stumbled upon this stall at the Ningxia Night Market by accident and gosh! What a great find! There was this Grandma who has been selling her traditional rice balls for over 20 years at this market and locals are always eager to line up for it.