With a history of occupation and migration over a number of centuries, Taiwanese food has developed its own distinct identity, taking on board many tastes and ingredients from other countries and regions such as Japan, and parts of China. Some of Taiwan’s tastiest food is actually Chinese food – a legacy of the Chinese Civil War when the country’s most accomplished chefs accompanied Chiang Kai-shek’s troops across the Taiwan straits. Here what to look out for if you make a trip to Taiwan this summer.
Fresh fruit is one of Taiwan’s blessings, and there is no better fruit to satisfy one’s cravings for a healthy but sweet snack than mango. Grown mostly in the south of the island, Taiwanese mango comes in a number of varieties but all of them are wonderfully sweet. The crop took a bit of a battering this year due to unfavourable weather conditions, but a good sized mango can still be picked up from any local fruit shop for around NT$50. The shopkeeper should be able to cut it up for you too, just ask!
Iced Watermelon Juice 西瓜汁
Watermelon grows in abundance in Taiwan and is perfectly suited to the island’s sub-tropical climate. Every local neighbourhood should have a local fruit juice vendor, and the speciality of many of these places is the deliciously refreshing watermelon juice served up for as little as NT$25 a cup. Watermelon milk is another option for those looking for something a bit more substantial.
3 Cup Chicken 三杯雞
The iconic Taiwanese dish. It doesn’t matter what time of the year you come to Taiwan, if you don’t try 3 cup chicken, you’ve missed out. Made from 1 cup of sesame oil, 1 cup of soy sauce, and 1 cup of cooking alcohol, this dish is abound with ginger, garlic, Taiwanese basil, and juicy chunks of chicken thigh or leg. It’s usually served in ‘hot fry’ (熱炒) restaurants – those places at the side of the street with the small tables and stools.
Oyster Omelette 蚵仔煎
A classic night market favourite. In most western countries, oysters are considered a food for the wealthy, or a once a year treat. In Taiwan, oysters simply make up a substantial part of the diet and are eaten without any fuss or pretensions. A good oyster omelette will not skimp on the oysters and will be generous in its serving. The accompanying sauce is what makes the dish however, so choose carefully!
Gua Bao 割包
Often labelled the ‘Taiwanese hamburger’, such a name doesn’t do this little bite sized gem justice, and is actually just a little offensive. Another night market favourite, the gua bao consists of a steamed and slightly sweet bun filled with braised pork, pickle greens, peanut, and coriander. A delicious snack that at most will set you back NT$50. A good tip is too ask for just lean meat (瘦肉). The fatty belly pork may not appeal to everyone. If it does, however, go for the 50/50 option.
Beef Noodles 牛肉麵
Everyone has their favourite beef noodle stand or shop. It’s a classic dish the Taiwanese take great pride in. From the broth, to the noodles, to the cut of the beef, a good noodle soup is open to many an interpretation, however when you find the one for you there’s nothing more refreshing after a hot sweaty summers day than to sit down and enjoy a bowl of Taiwan’s finest.
Bubble Tea 珍珠奶茶
The home of bubble tea, Taiwan has long been perfecting this icy, and sweet beverage. With bubble tea going global and now available in almost every corner of the globe, it’s easy to forget its origins are in Taichung and it was first produced only a few decades ago. A good bubble tea shop should offer different levels of sweetness and ice, meaning you can craft your own drink to your own tastes. Going to Taiwan without sampling some of the nation’s best bubble tea is simply criminal.
Pineapple Cakes 鳳梨酥
A great gift to bring for loved ones back home, or the ideal after meal sweet snack. The pineapple cake is a classic south Taiwanese food and is often given as a gift for special occasions or weddings. The cake is actually more like a pastry and consists of a chunky piece of dried pineapple encased in a delicious pastry. It goes well with coffee too!