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A mesmerizing blend of rich flavors, succulent seafood, and Asian fusions, Taiwanese food is one of Asia’s most exciting culinary experiences.
From the sizzle and heat of Taipei food markets to rural foods dating back to indigenous settlers, fresh and delicious food can be found all across the island.
So buckle up for a foodie adventure full of color, awe, and flavor, as a local writer gives us unique insight into 15 foods you simply have to try in Taiwan.
1. 珍珠奶茶 – Bubble Tea (Milk Tea with Tapioca Balls)
Starting off the list is the beloved and world-famous drink – bubble tea. Originating from Taiwan in the 80s, the introduction of bubble tea took the island, and later the world, by storm.
The chewy black orbs, known as boba, are made of tapioca, and they are slowly boiled in sugar water to their tasty state. The classic drink combination consists of black tea, milk, and chewy boba, but you can always customize your own.
Most drink shops allow you to add boba as a side ingredient to the drink of your choice (and there are lots of choices), and you can even customize the sweetness and the amount of ice in your personalized drink.
You can find these shops everywhere in Taiwan, and a cup of bubble tea is often only 2USD (and that’s an expensive one), and even the most popular boba place abroad can’t compare with that (I’m Taiwanese, I know). If you want the real deal, come to Taiwan.
2. 臭豆腐 – Stinky Tofu (Fried Fermented Tofu)
Stinky tofu is another must-try Taiwanese street food. It is a favorite among the locals, but often among the list of the most feared street foods for foreigners. You can often find it in night markets and roadside food stalls.
To make stinky tofu, you need stinky brine. Stinky brine consists of water mixed with a number of raw ingredients, like vegetables, shelled shrimp, and bamboo stalks. After adding all the ingredients, the mix is then left to ferment from one day to several weeks, depending on preference.
After the brine is prepared, tofu is placed in it to soak up the stinky goodness for another week or so before it is sold in night markets, where it’s deep-fried in oil and served with chili sauce.
It is a special street food you can’t find anywhere else, so give it a try when you’re in Taiwan. If you can’t find the stinky tofu stand, just follow the smell.
3. 蚵仔煎 – Oyster Omelet (Egg Omelet with Oysters)
Being an island, fresh seafood is bound to be on the menu in Taiwan. The oyster omelet is a street food that has different variations across Asia, and the Taiwanese version is made with eggs, sweet potato starch, and, of course, small oysters.
The batter is mixed with sweet potato starch to give the omelet a thicker consistency and a somewhat chewy texture.
The mixture is then fried with lard, and once cooked, the oyster omelet is served with a savory sauce. Traditionally, sweet-and-spicy sauce, or the good ol’ thick soy sauce paste, are the sauces oyster omelet is served with.
The oyster omelet is a night market favorite among the locals. It is also often ranked by foreigners as their favorite Taiwanese street food, so don’t forget to try it when you’re in Taiwan.
4. 烤香腸 – Taiwanese Sausage
This is not your average hot dog, as the Taiwanese sausage is a different version of its distant western relatives.
Made with a mixture of ground pork (both fat and lean) and various spices, the Taiwanese sausage has its own distinct taste, and it is sweeter and juicier than other sausages.
You can find many sausage stands in night markets, and they come in an assortment of flavors. Taste the sweetness of the flying fish egg flavor, or try the Kinmen Kaoliang Spirit flavor, and prepare to be amazed.
Alternatively, you can get a pack from the supermarket and fry the sausages at home. Remember to eat the meat with raw slices of garlic, or garlic sprout, for a dose of spiciness and authentic local flavors.
5. 鹹酥雞 – Taiwanese Fried Chicken
Taiwanese fried chicken, also known as popcorn chicken, is essentially the backbone of night markets.
Bite-sized chunks of chicken are coated in a mixture of flour and other seasonings, before being fried with basil leaves and garlic bits. Once cooked, the chicken is seasoned with more spices.
The main content of the Taiwanese fried chicken seasoning is salt and white pepper. As for the rest of that tasty goodness, only the owners of the stands know!
You can find Taiwanese fried chicken in night markets, restaurants, and small trucks that are sometimes used as a street food stand to sell it. To have an even more authentic local experience, have your Taiwanese fried chicken with some bubble tea, as this is the go-to meal combination for locals.
6. 牛肉麵 – Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
Great for a hearty meal, the Taiwanese beef noodle soup is one of the must-try dishes if you enjoy filling food, packed with flavor.
This dish has many other variations across Asia, and the Taiwanese version originated from a military dependents’ village in Gangshan, Kaohsiung.
There are two types of soup: braised and clear-broth. The braised beef noodle soup gets its dark red color from the soy sauce and Doubanjiang (fermented chili bean paste) added into the beef broth. The clear-broth, on the other hand, has a relatively colorless soup, and the flavors are lighter.
The noodles are often handmade, and there are several styles for you to choose from, such as fine noodles, ramen, and the traditional Taiwanese gnocchi.
You can even choose the type of beef you have in your bowl. At your own expense of course, as tendons are more expensive than lean beef.
7. 剉冰 – Shaved Ice
Time for some dessert, and shaved ice is your best choice on a hot summer day.
As anyone who has survived a Taiwanese summer will tell you: It’s REALLY hot here. The temperature reaches beyond 30°C (86°F) on most summer days, so no wonder we need to eat a big bowl of ice to cool us down.
Taiwanese shaved ice consists of a bowl of, you’ve guessed it, shaved ice served with a large assortment of toppings of your choice. Sugar water, cooked adzuki beans, grass jelly, and boba are the most common toppings, along with some seasonal fruit.
A special seasonal flavor is the mango shaved ice, which is served only in summer, as that’s when mangos are in season. If you go to Taiwan’s offshore islands, you can even find cactus and seaweed flavored shaved ice.
8. 大腸包小腸 – Taiwanese sausage with sticky rice
“大腸包小腸” literally translates to “big intestine wrapping small intestine.” Admittedly not a very appetizing name, but it’s tasty, and unbelievably, the dish does not involve intestines of any kind.
This delicacy is made with a grilled Taiwanese sausage, which is wrapped in a bigger sticky rice sausage. Many people add some thick soy sauce paste as a seasoning, while others add basil, garlic, and other condiments.
If you like hotdogs you should definitely try this dish, as it is essentially a Taiwanese take on a hotdog.
9. 滷肉飯 – Braised Pork Rice
To make braised pork rice, ground pork is first stir-fried with shallots in oil, before boiled in soy sauce. Sugar, pepper, and rice wine, among other ingredients, are used as seasonings for the braised liquid.
Traditionally there is no definitive recipe, as every restaurant, cook, and grandma have different recipes. The result, however, is the same savory dish that every Taiwanese knows by heart.
As a relatively easy dish to make, braised pork rice is offered in most Taiwanese restaurants, although you may struggle to find it in night markets or roadside stands.
If you have Taiwanese friends, their parents and grandparents probably know how to make it, too.
10. 豬血糕 – Pig’s Blood Cake (Cake made with pig’s blood and sticky rice)
Here’s another street food many foreigners fear: pig’s blood rice pudding.
The concept of this dish is similar to British black pudding or blood sausage, so when black pudding made the list of “Top 10 Most Unusual Foods” of a British website poll a few years ago, it didn’t make much sense to Taiwanese locals.
As its name suggests, This Taiwanese dish is made from pork blood. The blood is mixed with sticky rice, then steamed.
Once cooked, the rice is dipped in a sauce that is sweet, salty, and sometimes a little spicy. The blood cake is then coated in peanut powder and Chinese parsley.
Pig’s blood cake has a soft, chewy texture, and the aroma of peanut mixed with the sweet and salty sauce is a well-loved savory delight.
At night markets, pig’s blood cake is usually served on a skewer. You can also find this food in small restaurants, and at hot dog stalls. Don’t forget to try it, despite it’s name!
11. 滷味 – Lu Wei (Braised dishes)
Braised dishes are usually made from meat, offcuts, and vegetables. Some popular choices include pig’s ear, chicken claw, kelp, soy egg, beef tripe.
The soul of the braised dishes is the braising liquid, in which the ingredients are boiled and marinated. The braising liquid is often served together with the dishes to be used as a sauce, and the locals enjoy these savory dishes as a snack.
Braised dishes can be found in night markets and roadside stands. In fact, it is such a popular dish, there are even eateries that solely serve this Taiwanese dish.
12. 蔥油餅 – Scallion Pancake (Pancake with Spring Onions)
Scallion pancake is a type of savory street food that can be found in every corner of Taiwan. The pancakes are made by mixing spring onions into a dough, which is then flattened, and fried with oil.
Most scallion pancakes are freshly made. Watching the dough being flattened, fried, and seasoned right in front of you is part of the delightful experience of enjoying one. Thick soy sauce paste and salt and pepper are the most common seasonings for scallion pancakes, while some vendors also provide chili paste and crushed garlic.
This wholesome food is sold from roadside vendors, and it can be ordered in many restaurants. You can also find scallion pancakes in the frozen food section of supermarkets.
13. 豬腳麵線 – Vermicelli with Pig’s Feet
Traditionally, vermicelli with pig’s feet is believed to have the power to rid people of bad luck. By eating pig’s feet, Taiwanese believe they can “kick away” all their bad luck.
It is for this reason that many people will eat this dish following a difficult time in their life, such as recovering from an illness or serving a prison sentence.
Traditionally, Taiwanese parents would cook their children a bowl of vermicelli with pig’s feet on their birthdays, as a blessing for them to live a long and prosperous life. However, today this is a tradition that is slowly dying out among the young generation of Taiwanese.
To make this dish, the pig’s feet are boiled with peanuts until both are tender, and rice wine is added to reduce the smell of pork. Vermicelli with pig’s feet is served hot, and it is a truly unique Taiwanese food.
14. 鐵蛋 – Iron Egg (Dried Braised Egg)
The iron egg is a snack that originated from Tamsui, a district in northern Taiwan. The dish’s salty soy flavor and extra chewy texture quickly captured the heart of Taiwanese people.
Iron eggs are very similar to soy eggs. However, where a soy egg is an egg boiled in either braised liquid, or just soy sauce, an iron egg is instead boiled in a mixture of soy sauce and various spices, then finally dried.
The iron egg gets its dark brown color from the equally dark braised liquid, and the drying process hardens the egg, giving the iron egg its iconic chewy texture and, naturally, its name.
Because this dish is so popular, you can find iron eggs pretty much anywhere in Taiwan. It is sold as a snack in convenience stores and served as a braised dish as well.
15. 檸檬愛玉 – Lemon Aiyu Jelly (Lemon Juice and Jelly made from Aiyu Fruit)
On a blazing hot summer day, a cup of lemon aiyu jelly is the perfect drink to cool you down, not to mention that it’s much healthier than bubble tea.
The zesty iced lemon juice is sweetened with honey, while the cool jelly takes the drink to the next level with its smooth texture and refreshing flavor.
The jelly is made from the seeds of the aiyu, a special fruit grown only in Taiwan, and the process of making of aiyu jelly is one that is truly magical to behold.
To make the jelly, seeds from the aiyu fruit are placed in a cotton cloth bag and “washed” in water (as we call it). As a result, a slimy substance is released from the seeds. That substance is mixed with water and let to set, eventually becoming jelly.
Lemon aiyu jelly is a Taiwanese specialty you won’t find anywhere else, and it is the drink you need to make it through the hot Taiwanese summer.
Taiwanese Food Summary
Intrigue, delight, and explosive flavor all await when you delve into the world of Taiwanese food. Be your tastes exquisite and luxurious, or authentic and sizzling amid the flames of a food market stall, Taiwan has foods and dishes for everyone.
Asia is home to some of the world’s most flavorsome, intriguiting, and truly dazzling food, and as this list proves, Taiwan very much puts itself in that culinary club.
And beyond the tastes and sensory enjoyment, there is a world of food culture to embrace as you wander through the beauty of Taiwan. The humble food vendors, the battle-worn fishermen bringing in the day’s catch, and the seasoned chefs serving up mind-blowing fusions in high-end restaurants, all bring dishes of incredible quality to the table across Taiwan.
When visiting Taiwan, try your best to embrace the food culture. Visit food markets, shop local, and keep this traditional list of foods on hand, so that you can try to find and try as many as you can. But most of all, enjoy!
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Author: Vanessa Teng is a freelance writer and translator from Taiwan, who writes about travel, fashion, and languages for several websites. She is always planning her next adventure and enjoys telling the world more about Taiwan.