Although Taiwan is a rather small country (slightly bigger than Massachusetts) the island is packed with culture. There is an endless amount of things to do, see, and best of all, eat! Taiwan really is a foodie’s paradise and doesn’t get enough credit for it. Most of the talk about foodie destinations in Asia revolve around Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, but Taiwan I believe deserves to be in the talks as well.
There is such a wide variety of foods here and all of it for the most part falls well within a backpacker’s budget, which is perfect for us! Also, because the majority of the country is Buddhist there is an abundance of vegetarian and vegan options if that’s something you would be interested in. No matter what, you’re guaranteed to find something you like in Taiwan! Here are some of the many foods we’ve come across throughout our time here!
Hujiau Bing (Black Pepper Buns)
The first thing I think of when Taiwanese food comes to mind is the Hujiau Bing aka the black pepper buns. This was the first food I really fell in love with here, and after 2 months here I still can’t get enough. The buns are filled with a heaping portion of minced pork mixed with a liberal amount of black pepper and rolled in a pile of scallions, covered in sesame seeds, and baked inside of what looks like a Taiwanese version of an Indian tandoori oven. The end result is one of the most delicious things you will ever have in your life, but you’ll have to wait about 20 minutes to eat it because they come out piping hot. I learned this the hard way the first time I had one and burned the roof of my mouth which hurt for days.
For the best Hujiau Bing in Taipei, go to Raohe Night Market. There is a stall at the entrance that cranks them out at lightning speed. You’ll recognize the stall by it’s long line. They even have ropes to direct the line when it gets really crazy. While you wait you can even watch them prepare and bake them! It’s quite an experience, and for just 50 NTD (~$1.67) a bun, they’re good on the wallet!
Gua Bao (Taiwanese Burger)
Another one of my favorites, Gua Bao is something that everyone must try when visiting Taiwan. Many locals consider it the Taiwanese version of a burger, and in many ways it is. Instead of a bread bun, Gua Bao uses a steamed bun. Instead of a burger patty, a mix of fatty pork belly and lean pulled pork is use. Finally, instead of traditional toppings such as tomato and onion, Gua Bao is topped with crushed peanuts, cilantro, and pickled greens. It has the perfect combination of flavors, and as I’m writing this i’m thinking about how I can get my next fix.
For the best Gua Bao in Taipei head to Gongguan and go to Lan Jia Steamed Sandwich Shop. I recommend the half fatty half lean for the best flavor, but no matter what you get it will be delicious! 50 NTD (~$1.67)
Lu Rou Fan (Braised Pork Over Rice)
Lu Rou Fan is one of the dishes I’m almost happy I didn’t try earlier in our stay in Taiwan. If I had, I would have eaten it every day and not tried anything else. It’s absolutely addicting! It’s so simple yet so delicious. Lu Rou Fan is braised pork over rice and can be found everywhere. Every night market will have multiple carts selling it and if you can’t find it, just ask someone and they’ll point you in the right direction. The pork is slow cooked for hours (I’ve heard well over a day!) to the point where it melts in your mouth as soon as you take a bite. A ladle of the pork with the sauce it’s cooked in is poured over the white rice, which soaks up much of the flavor and creates the most flavorful snack you’ll ever find for 25 NTD (79 cents).
Unfortunately I don’t have a top Lu Rou Fan place to recommend because all of the ones I’ve had have been very similar. No matter where you go it will be delicious. Should you find one or have one to recommend, let me know!
Herbal Pork Bone Soup
This is not your typical soup. I think it would be better to call it a broth and not a soup, since other than the pork bones jutting out of the top, there is nothing else inside. At the end of the day, the name doesn’t really matter to me because it’s delicious regardless. The first time I had it I was expecting a really strong pork flavor considering it’s cooked with the bones, and bones make the best broth. What I got was a broth that had a taste of cinnamon and just made you feel good inside.
While it wasn’t what I expected, it didn’t stop me from eating every last bite. The bones themselves don’t have much meat on them, so you really have to work at it to get what little there is. I think it’s all part of the experience of having this delicious dish. There’s also a delicious peanut sauce on all of the tables you can use to dip your bones in for added flavor.
Expect to pay around 70 NTD (~$2.20) for this, which I consider to be a steal.
Fried Stinky Tofu
Honestly, I put this off as long as I possibly could. The word stinky doesn’t even describe it. Pungent is better. I have to hold my nose every time we walk by a stall cooking it in a night market it’s the bad. That being said, it’s quite a popular dish so I had to try it at least once while we were here. It can’t be any worse than a tarantula right?
I can honestly say it doesn’t taste nearly as bad as it smells, and the smell seems to be only when it’s cooking. When the waitress brought it out to us it had absolutely no smell whatsoever. It normally comes with a couple different sauces, plus some kimchi on the side. I will say it wasn’t my favorite dish, but I was expecting the absolute worst so it ended up being much better than I expected.
My only advice would be to get the fried and not the steamed. My buddy Tom, who has lived here his whole life, said the steamed is REALLY stinky. But hey when in Rome right?
Random Food : “Meaty” Instant Noodles
Let me start by saying I never eat instant noodles back home. Prior to this trip it had probably been 5 years since I had them, maybe longer. Those who know me know I love to cook and would much rather whip up something delicious than eat these things. That being said, when you’re constantly on the go, on a tight budget, and don’t have a kitchen to cook in you have to make some concessions. Enter : instant noodles. What makes these noodles special is unlike the typical packs of Ramen we get back home, these have a pouch inside with chunks of real meat in them. Weird, I know, but believe it or not they taste pretty good and for 45 NTD (~$1.50) at the supermarket they’re a cheap dinner.
The interesting this is they are insanely popular here, to the point where ever single cart in the supermarket will have at least a few of these in there. There is an entire aisle dedicated to instant noodles of various kinds, with one side of the aisle stocked with this type. Sometimes I get down on myself for eating these, but then I remind myself that i’m eating like a local and I feel a little better! When in Taiwan it’s worth a shot, even if instant noodles aren’t your thing.
I could go on and on about all of the foods here in Taiwan, but the post would take forever to read so I’ve decided to split it up into a few different parts. Stay tuned for Part Two covering things like Taiwanese fried chicken, oyster omelets, and more!
Which food looks the best to you? Comment and let us know!