Today’s guest post comes from Adam Smith, an American travel writer, CPA, TNN member, and all-around adventure seeker. Not only were many of his world views and paradigms on life flipped completely upside down but he has learned many life lessons from travel through the years, including from his time living in Taiwan as an expat English teacher for FREE, that he wishes to pass on to everyone else. When you show respect to the local culture and attempt to immerse yourself, whether it be through learning the language, researching a place’s history, or trying to experience the lifestyle, it is so incredibly easy to make lifelong friendships and connections. Or perhaps even meet the love of your life, like he did.
Have you ever been to Taiwan or tried Taiwanese food before? If not, you are missing out!
Are you on a search for the best food in the world? Or are you simply trying to figure out what the must-try food items are in Taiwan? Either way, we have you covered!
People who visit this beautiful country get an unmistakable feeling of home that makes them want to never leave. And that comes from the food as well. Taiwan continues to be one of the most underrated foodie destinations in the world.
For those foodies, I have a long list of must-try food and drink items. I can promise you will NEVER run out of amazingly delicious food to try in Taiwan. If you have taste buds and love food with great flavor, tenderness, and juiciness, Taiwan is second to none! While I could easily create a list that’s double the length of this one, let’s go through 19 of the most popular food and drink items you must try when you’re in Taiwan (in no particular order).
1. Taiwanese Fried Chicken (Ji Pai)
Every time I picture Taiwanese food in my mind, the first thing that pops up is ji pai, which translates to Taiwanese fried chicken fillets: crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. If you want perfection from a food item, this is it. By the time the ji pai comes out of the deep fryer, you’ll be more than ready to dig in! They sprinkle some white pepper powder on and ask if you want yours spicy; I of course always say dui (yes)! My favorite ji pai comes from Two Peck Crispy Chicken due to how crunchy it is. A close second place would have to go to the cheese-filled ones at the Danshui Night Market and a stall in Zhongli (Taoyuan) near Fitness Factory (I can’t remember the names, sorry!).
2. Hotpot (Huo Guo)
I have to admit: my first impressions of hotpot were mostly negative. This prevented me from seeing how amazing hotpot truly is for far too long! My first two times trying it, I did zero research and just wandered into a spot and ordered randomly; while this sometimes leads to great experiences, in these cases, it certainly did not.
However, there are plenty of great hotpot places to be found in Taiwan, and none are better than Mala! To have the best experience, go with a group of people, choose the broths you like (I always opt for spicy), order several rounds of the best meat, choose any side dishes you’d like to mix into the broth, create a dipping sauce from their wide selection, and pour yourself a beer or three. If you aren’t slowly walking out the door in a food coma, then you’re doing something wrong. Another popular place is Chan Chi Hotpot.
Now, along with pizza, Japanese A5 wagyu, and Korean BBQ, hotpot has now reached the pinnacle of my ultimate favorite foods list.
3. Beef Noodle Soup (Niu Rou Mian) & Beef Soup (Niu Rou Tang)
More commonly referred to simply as “beef noodles,” this dish is always near the top of any list of foods to try in Taiwan. Some people have quite animated opinions on which shop has the best bowl. However, for me, it has been extremely easy to find high-quality beef noodle soup throughout Taiwan, whether in large or small cities.
The key to any beef noodle soup being delicious boils down to three factors: (1) quality noodles, (2) quality beef that breaks apart at the slightest touch, and (3) an irresistible broth. In my opinion, the flavor of the broth is the single most important factor.
Traditional beef soup is famous down in Tainan, where it’s typically eaten for breakfast! The beef is always fresh, and hot soup is poured directly on it. I got this information from a local taxi driver who was so incredibly friendly and seemed so excited to share his story. He told us the place his family goes to all the time, so of course, we had to go there as well! The restaurant, Wen Zhang, was everything he said it was and more. It’s crazy how out-of-this-world amazing the food in Taiwan is!
4. Braised Pork Over Rice (Lu Rou Fan & Rou Jiao Fan)
A simple — but oh-so-delicious — dish is braised pork over rice. The pork is so tender and juicy, and the fat just melts to the bottom of your rice bowl. By the time you finish all of the meat, the rice has soaked up all of the savory juices, which tremendously enhances the flavor profile. Unequivocally, the best place to find this dish is in Tainan at Du Xiao Yue!
5. Danzai Noodles (Danzai Mian)
Another simple but tasty dish made famous in Tainan is Danzai noodles, which originated in the late 1800s. The noodles are made from wheat, and the broth has a shrimp and pork flavor to it. Placed on top of the noodles and broth is a meat sauce and a single shrimp. Once again, the place to go is Du Xiao Yue in Tainan.
6. Stinky Tofu (Chou Doufu)
As a disclaimer, this is one food item I have not been able to bring myself to try in Taiwan, but no list of Taiwanese food is complete without giving this a mention. For what it’s worth, my wife absolutely loves this stuff. If you go around the country asking various Taiwanese people for their thoughts on stinky tofu, you will find there are very divided opinions. Stinky tofu is something you will either love or hate. Make no mistake, your nose will know when there is a vendor selling it anywhere near you: it is a smell unlike any other, and there’s a clear reason why they call it “stinky tofu.”
7. Boba Milk Tea (Zhen Zhu Nai Cha) & Kumquat Lemon Tea (Jin Jie Ning Meng Cha)
The popularity of boba milk tea started in Taiwan. While I have visited the original shop in Taichung — and it was amazing — you can find just as tasty drinks for way cheaper elsewhere. It’s rare that I find a tea shop in Taiwan I dislike, as they are usually always high quality and super affordable, especially when compared to the US (and that goes for any type of tea). You can also find some awesome, fancy tea shops (such as Shing Hwa Tea Shop), where it’s a complete experience instead of the normal grab-and-go options.
Probably my favorite drink to get at night markets, kumquat lemon tea is citrusy & refreshing, not unlike a classic lemonade.
8. Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao)
Honestly, you can find some great soup dumpling (xiao long bao) places throughout Taiwan. However, my favorite two restaurants are the world-famous Din Tai Fung in Taipei and Shanghai Haoweidao Xiaolong Tangbao in Tainan. Everyone seems to have their own method for soup dumpling consumption, which typically differs from the recommended way you might see on a card at the restaurant. For example, I like to take a tiny bite out of the side, pour the soup into my spoon, use the chopsticks to eat the dumpling, and immediately chase it with soup. Rinse and repeat.
9. Chicken Rice (Ji Rou Fan) & Turkey Rice (Huo Ji Rou Fan)
A couple of cheap foods that you can eat inside or order for takeout are chicken rice and turkey rice. These dishes are so simple but so addictingly delicious! The sauce and juicy meat complement the rice to perfection. Great chicken rice can be found throughout Taiwan, but my personal favorite is located near Daxi in Taoyuan, where my in-laws live; the name, funny enough, is Daxi Coca Cola. The best turkey rice on the island is located in Taichung; my favorite restaurant stall is Ding Ji.
10. Steamed Buns (Baozi)
In a country filled to the brim with cheap, delicious food, one of the absolute cheapest is the classic steamed bun (baozi). They come a variety of ways, including my favorite, the original pork bun (rou bao); this classic is meat covered by dough, which is steamed to perfection. I might be in the minority on this, because others I know prefer the open-faced pork belly bun (gua bao), but to each their own. Other buns I have come across include ones filled with vegetables, cheese, red bean, or even chocolate!
11. Beef-Stuffed Green Onion Pancakes
Regular scallion pancakes are so delicious and make for a great on-the-go snack. Between the flaky, crispy outer shell, the chewy interior, and the slight crispiness of the green onions, you are left satisfied. However, many people don’t realize there’s a beef option! It took two entire years before I found out about the beef-stuffed green onion pancakes, and I have been hooked ever since. Basically, it’s the same scallion pancake as described, but instead of being flat, it is rolled around some ultra-tender and flavorful beef. My favorite place to get this is at Our Noodles Garden in Daxi (Taoyuan).
12. Taiwanese Sausage in Sticky Rice Bun (Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang)
The literal translation of the Chinese for this dish is “small sausage in a large sausage.” For this popular street food item, a vendor takes a Taiwanese pork sausage — which is juicy and delicious in its own right — and places it inside a rice bun. There are many toppings you can choose, so customize it to your liking and enjoy. I typically get this when I’m at the Feng Chia Night Market in Taichung, but you can easily find this elsewhere.
13. Braised Meat and/or Vegetables (Lu Wei)
Lu wei has a pretty flexible meaning in Taiwan. Basically, it can refer to meat and/or vegetables that are braised in soy flavor and soup stock. Hands down, the best lu wei in all of Taiwan is located at the Garden (Flower) Night Market in Tainan. This is one of the longest lines you’ll find at any night market, so be sure to order extra, or you will regret it later after inhaling the food in two minutes. Keep in mind: this food is extremely messy, so it’s best to take it back to your hotel if you are staying nearby. This is one of my strongest recommendations in all of Taiwan. Do not skip this!
14. Night Market Steak and Noodles (Ye Shi Niu Pai)
I was first introduced to Taiwanese steak and noodles at the Zhongli Night Market. They are cooked on a stovetop and smothered with scrumptious sauce. Often, after finishing teaching English for the night, some fellow teachers and I would go out for this late-night food and enjoy it with a few beers to get the night started. However, locals brought me to an area that had even better niu pai. In Zhongli (Taoyuan), Lao Shi Fu is the place I go to. It’s actually a food truck and not a full restaurant. If you Google it, good luck finding it, as there’s a beef noodle soup place of the same name. So, go to the Zhongli SOGO Department Store at night, then you will find this food vendor not too far away, at the intersection of Zhong Yang Xi Lu and Xinsheng Lu.
15. Taiwanese Meatballs (Rou Yuan or Ba Wan)
Taiwanese meatballs are great and sometimes come in dumpling form. Although these are typically made from pork, you can find the shrimp type as well.
16. Fruity Ice Cream Over Honeydew (Bing Qi Ling Gen Ha Mi Gua)
At Tai Cheng Fruit Shop in Tainan, you can order from a variety of flavors of ice cream. Several scoops then get placed on a honeydew. The beautiful combination of colors from the mango and grape ice cream and the honeydew made for some great photos, but the kicker is that this tasted phenomenal! It’s so good that I was disappointed I was unable to have this staple during my visit to Taiwan last year. For those who usually steer away from sweets except on rare occasions, this is one you should opt for, as it’s not too unhealthy compared to most desserts.
17. Shrimp and Scallop Soup (Gan Bei Yu Chi Geng)
For a chilly, rainy day, this soup can soothe the soul! It’s hard to beat fresh seafood mixed in a yummy broth. By the way, this dish goes great with Taiwanese meatballs.
18. Milkfish (Shi Mu Yu)
You will not believe how amazing fish can be until you try this! Also found in Tainan at the famed Du Xiao Yue restaurant, the fat in the middle of this fish just completely disintegrates in your mouth. Simply amazing!
A perfect dessert to any meal, mochi is a soft rice cake that goes great with condensed milk and peanut powder. In addition, you can find mochi ice cream or different mochi treats filled with chocolate, peanut butter, or red bean. The best mochi in all of Taiwan is found in Sun Moon Lake, without question.
What is Your Favorite Food in Taiwan?
Once you have your first experience with Taiwanese food, you’ll find yourself craving it often back home.
If you have tried it, what are some of your favorite items in this foodie paradise? We would love to hear your thoughts! And if you have any questions or disagree with any of my list, please feel free to let us know.
Adam Smith is an American travel writer, CPA, TNN member, and all-around adventure seeker. The inspiration for Adam’s Apple: The World dates back to 2013 when he was going through many personal struggles, including depression. Travel helped bring him out of the abyss and opened his eyes to the true beauty of the world. Not only were many of his world views and paradigms on life flipped completely upside down but he has learned many life lessons from travel through the years, including from his time living in Taiwan as an expat English teacher for FREE, that he wishes to pass on to everyone else. Most importantly, he wants to introduce as many people as possible to the world of travel and help them get the most out of their experiences. When you show respect to the local culture and attempt to immerse yourself, whether it be through learning some of the language, researching the history, or trying to experience the lifestyle, it is so incredibly easy to make lifelong friendships and connections. Or perhaps even meet the love of your life, like he did.
Note: We love featuring our travel-loving members. If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, send us an email at info @ thenomadicnetwork . com with the subject line “TNN Blog Guest Post.”