Taiwanese people are obsessed with food. Who can blame them? Stellar street snacks, night market eats, and home-cooked traditional dishes are available anywhere, anytime.
When I visit Taiwan, I am almost as excited about the food as I am about seeing my parents; they would admit that they are excited for the eating extravaganza, too. (On one of my trips, they created a spreadsheet for our meals so we could cover as many favorite foods as possible!)
So what are my must-eat foods in Taipei?
My first meal when I arrive is always bao zi for breakfast. These are warm, steamed buns with fillings such as meat or vegetables. My favorite is savory ground pork – when steaming, the pork juice leaks into the plump, slightly sweet bread. It’s all very comforting and filling. Have it with a side of you tiao fried bread, da bin scallion bread and soy milk. I recommend Shansi Hsaio Hsiao on Ren Ai Road, but bao zi are sold all over Taipei in unassuming store fronts and food carts for 50 to 90 cents each.
MANGO SHAVED ICE
There is nothing more refreshing on a sweltering day than a shaved ice snack. And since Taiwan is known for its deliriously sweet, juicy mangoes, I recommend shaved ice covered with fresh mango, mango sorbet, and condensed milk. You can easily split a huge bowl with a few friends for about $6 total. Try Ice Monster (several locations) – its huge variety of toppings include fruit, red beans, ice cream, tapioca and more.
FOOD CARTS in the TAI DA DISTRICT
The streets of the Gongguan night market near National Taiwan University are lined (day and night) with simple storefronts and food carts selling fast, inexpensive food. Hugely popular with students, this area sells some of the best gua baos (pork belly bun sandwiches) that you’ll ever eat. Also try oven-baked pepper steak buns, sauteed oyster pancakes, sweet sausages, rice dumplings, and bubble tea. Lots of cafes, bars and boutiques here, too – a very local, untouristed area.
STREET FOOD IN THE DIHUA DISTRICT
One of the oldest streets in Taipei, Dihua Street is crowded and chaotic, but full of colorful history. Formerly the mercantile center of Taipei, today’s stores sell Chinese herbal medicine, dried fruit, tea and textiles. There is also some incredibly tasty street food. Don’t be fooled by the looks of the restaurants; some of the best food can be found in the most humble settings in Taiwan. You’ll be rewarded with an incredibly hearty, authentic meal for about $4!
BEEF NOODLE SOUP
Homemade, chewy noodles, deeply-flavored beef broth, and green veggies and scallions are the country’s comfort food. I recommend Chef Hong Beef Noodle, on the outskirts of Taipei. Chef Hong’s beef noodle soup has won many international awards. You can select the type of noodle and type/cuts of meat such as beef, chicken, pork or fish.
DIN TAI FUNG
Yes, this restaurant is very touristy, BUT their steamed soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are truly outstanding: thin, delicate dough, minced pork, and juicy soup burst with flavor inside the dumpling. My favorites are the basic pork soup dumplings and the spicy shrimp dumplings. Visit the original shop on Xinyi Road for an authentic experience, or the Taipei 101 location for lunch followed by a visit to the top of the building for 360-degree views of the city. And in both locations, half of the fun is watching the cooks in the open kitchen cook thousands of dumplings at robotic speed.
Although Taiwan is known for street food, its fine dining scene is on the upswing, with talented chefs and increasingly well-traveled citizens creating a hunger for world-class cuisine in their own country. At DN innovación, Chef Daniel Negreira (formerly of Spain’s El Bulli) reinterprets Spanish cuisine using local Taiwanese ingredients and a huge dose of creativity. The restaurant is sleek and modern, with food to match. DN innovación works with all budget levels to customize a sophisticated, creative and decadent dining experience.
And the two main rules for eating in Taiwan? Be adventurous and be prepared to overeat!