What to Eat in Taipei

Eat, Taipei! - Popiah Stall

Asians loooove taking photo of their food. And by the extended “o” in “love”, I mean obsessed. It isn’t a myth. When you type “Asian” in your url bar, there’s a high probability that the first two Google suggestions are “Asian Food” and “Asian Food Recipes”. 

Unless you’d previously searched for other Asian-related topics like “Asian eyes” or  “Asian to do my math homework”, then of course your Google suggestions would be different.

Food definitely ranks high on Asian value.  We are head over heels preoccupied and obsessed with food like how the Eskimos are so obsessed with snow they come out with 100 vocabularies describing different types of snow. The difference is maybe we Asians aren’t fortunate enough to experience the joy of seeing our obsessions fall free and gracefully from the sky.

Unlike the food culture in New York or Barcelona, Taiwanese tends to graze and nibble a lot. The mentality is – if I get bits of everything, I get to try more food everyday and the satisfaction derived from a single meal can be double, tripled or even quadrupled.

After all, Mum did say sky’s the limit.

Strolling along the streets and alleys of Taipei, it was hard to not give in to all the gastronomic temptations. Taiwanese cuisines are most notably influenced by the Hokkien originated from the south-east of mainland China.

Their cooking techniques involve a lot of stewing, braising and steaming. Then there’s a mishmash of local/Japanese food due to the country’s dependency on Japan for 50 years. Desserts like mochi, dorayaki, green tea flavoured cakes and pastries are easy to find in all convenience stores and bakeries.

The staple is rice and soy product is very common – soy sauce, soy pudding, soy frozen yoghurt to name but a few. And soy milk is the standard breakfast drink. There are more than 10 types of soy milk at the supermarket, so spare yourself a good hour to deliberate between a regular organic soy milk or a black one blended with sesame.

This infatuation for soy is wonderful for people who drink only soy milk and not cow milk…like me. Papaya, pineapple, star fruit, melons and citrus fruit are a few of the popular sub-tropical produce of the island. So it’s easy to come across street stalls selling papaya milk, fresh orange or star fruit juice; while pineapple tart is the mandatory souvenir for everyone who travels to Taiwan.

1. Traditional Breakfast

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For a more traditional breakfast, look for an age-old eatery or keep an eye on old men with carrying-pole. Taiwanese take soy milk (there’s a choice between sweet and savoury!) with you tiao (油条)which is shaped like two bouffant bread sticks joint together.

It’s deep-fried and usually eaten with soy milk or rice porridge. The last picture above shows another way of eating you tiao, which is to wrap them in Chinese pancake, jian bing (煎饼).   

2. Lunch & Tea

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The first picture is beef noodle, niu rou mian (牛肉面). A good one will have very aromatic and flavourful stock, handmade noodles and generous amount of soft tender meat garnished with chopped spring onion.  

The following pictures show my absolute favourite (hence deserves more exposure) – braised pork rice, lu rou fan (卤肉饭). Some vendors use minced pork and some use chunks of pork belly like pictures above. It’s basically pork belly stewed with soy sauce and a variety of other Chinese herbs, then ladled onto white rice. Common side dishes include stir-fried cabbage and pickles.

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Naming this “tea time” might be a little confusing. Taiwanese tea break is not akin to the traditional English one. No black/white tea or infusion, no finger sandwiches, scones or fruit tarts served on tiered plates.

The tea break in Taiwan is an a lot more practical and filling affair – salted noodles made from wheat flour, mian xian (面线 ), served in a bowl with spoon (because it’s traditionally catered to motorcycle riders who stopped by street stalls for quick break without needing to get off their wheels), tofu skin filled with glass noodle, covered with surimi and served with a choice of spicy/non-spicy gravy (first picture above), ah gei (阿给), and steamed yam rice with oriental mushroom (last picture).

(Of course, these are not all you can have for lunch/tea in Taipei. I’ve arranged another post entirely on food I had during lunch break at work and mid-afternoon snacks!)

3. Night Market

I think night markets are more representative of Taiwan than Taipei 101. Who doesn’t go to night market when they travel to Taiwan? Even the local loves them!

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Barbecued king oyster mushroom. It has a typical mushroom umami taste and texture like abalone. 
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This is like a fried takoyaki, a  deep-fried wheat-flour based batter with prawn.

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Assorted meatballs

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Hongzao meatball, which is meatball mixed with red yeast and steamed with fresh bamboo shoots. I can’t really describe the taste. It’s very novel to me and I personally didn’t enjoy it.

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Yes it’s fried milk! You see it right. It tasted like fried custard pudding and was piping hot once it’s cooked. I could have 5 skewers of this in a row.

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Hu jiao bing (胡椒饼), a charcoal-baked pork bun. 

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Da chang bao xiao chang (大肠包小肠), which literally translate to a small sausage wrapped in big sausage. It is a grilled Taiwanese pork sausage (which tasted like honey-glazed pork sausage), wrapped in a salty, sticyk rice roll. You can choose to add garlic, mustard or basil. There are also flavoured sausages like black pepper pork sausage, spicy sausage etc.

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Stinky tofu, literally. It’s fermented tofu and has a stronger odour than a sweaty rugby man.   Very popular in Taiwan, Hong Kong and some parts of mainland China.

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Popiah or bao bing (薄饼), Hokkien style spring roll that is also common in Malaysia and Singapore – stirred-fried tunips, grated carrots, bean sprouts, shredded omelet mixed with sweet soy sauce, fried shallots, ground peanuts and  wrapped in a thin, paper-like crepe.

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Small, pan fried baozi with pork fillings.

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Another type of meatball with very concentrated broth, garnished with coriander.

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Assorted wu xiang (五香), which are like Taiwanese sausage, spring roll, fish cake deep-fried with five spice.

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Cold steamed chicken,  tofu, mushroom, vegetable all mixed with pepper and special gravy in a bowl.

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Lu wei (卤味), where you can choose any ingredient above, then pass to the vendor to be braised instantly. 

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Dao xiao mian (刀削面), yes he’s peeling from the dough to make noodles!

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Zha jiang mian (炸酱面), which is noodle soaked in minced pork, mushroom and tofu that are cooked with bean sauce. It’s a popular food in Beijing and South Korea too. 

The list is endless. I spent so much time sorting out these photos (and more to come!), it’s a pre-bedtime nightmare doing this at 10.30 at night.

As with this picture below…

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…seems like she’s on her way to becoming the next blue ribbon winner.

 

With love x

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