I ate a lot of food in Taiwan. I had so much food that I had to split my blog post into two; the first part is all about street foods and night markets and the second part is a list of dishes that you can order in restaurants. Of course, there are some foods that can be found in both night markets and restaurants, such as noodles and pearl milk teas. I just grouped them based on where I had them.
Many restaurants in Taiwan have their kitchens openly displayed to the public, perhaps to attract potential customers by showing them how their dishes are prepared. I don’t see a lot of restaurants in the Philippines with this kind of setup. I think it’s quite clever, especially for those people who want to see how their food is prepared before being served to them.
However, most of the menu items are in Chinese, although English menus may also be available especially in areas frequented by tourists. At first, it was challenging for me to pick a restaurant because most of the signs are in Chinese characters, which made it difficult for a foreigner like me to decipher what kind of dishes they offer. In fact, I have no shame to admit that I spent a lot of my lunches and dinners at 7-11 (which are fairly good, I must say) to save me time and from being lost in translation while ordering food.
It was intimidating, to say the least, but my hunger for local dishes pushed me to finally decide to give it a go. I went inside a restaurant, chose a table, and sat down.
When dining out at a Taiwanese restaurant, I learned that sometimes all you need is to ask for an English menu. Chances are, it is available. If not, pray that there are pictures printed on the menu or posted on the wall, or simply point at a simmering dish in their open kitchen. If all else fails, there’s Google Translate.
You see, I think that’s the main difference between the local night markets and restaurants. Most food stalls in night markets only offer a single dish—a specialty. You order food, then you walk away. Easy peasy.
Taiwanese restaurants also have their own specialties, whether it’s noodles, dim sum, or shaved ice. But they also have the luxury to offer more variety to their customers and the convenience of eating at a proper dining table. Regardless of where you want to eat lunch or dinner, Taiwanese night markets and restaurants never fail in providing you with delicious and satisfying food.
What restaurant foods should you eat in Taiwan? Here are the dishes that I had the pleasure to try (and their links to their locations on Google Maps):
1. Steamed Soup Dumplings/Buns – Xiao Long Bao (小笼包)
Who doesn’t love dumplings? There’s something about these cute balls of meat that is so satisfying that you simply crave for more in every bite. Xiao Long Bao is a little packet of heavenly meatball and soup. How they’re made requires a lot of patience and skill. The good news is, you don’t have to go to Taiwan to enjoy it. There are many Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants in the Philippines that have Xia Long Bao on their menu.
Where to eat: Din Tai Fung
2. Beef noodle soup – Niu Rou Mian (半筋半肉麵)
Never leave Taiwan without trying their Beef Noodles. A hot bowl of soft noodles and slices of tender beef meat and tendons bathed in flavorful hot broth awaits to satisfy your hungry self. Choose whether you like it spicy or not, or if you want additional cuts of meat and innards. Personally, I enjoyed it as it is.
Where to eat: 阿ㄧ牛肉麵
3. Taiwanese Meatballs – Ba Wan (彰化肉圆)
These are not your typical dumplings. The dough is probably made from glutinous rice and each one is filled with flavorful meatball mixture. The taste is different from the usual dim sum, but the sauce gives it an entirely new category of flavor. Best served with hot tea.
Where to eat: Anping Guiji (安平貴記美食文化館)
4. Hot Pot/Shabu-shabu (火鍋)
Taiwanese cuisine is greatly influenced by its Japanese neighbor, that’s why shabu-shabu restaurants can also be found in many cities. The ingredients are usually a mixture of various vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, and your choice of meat served in a hot pot full of flavorful broth. This particular shabu-shabu was meant to be eaten with rice and shrimp paste. Yes, it’s bagoong!
Where to eat: 阿榮邵族麵
5. Pork Chop Fried Rice (猪排蛋炒饭)
Din Tai Fungs may be famous for its Xiao Long Bao, but make sure to add their Pork Chop Fried Rice to your order too. A huge slice of pork chop is perfectly seasoned and fried, carefully placed on top of a generous serving of egg fried rice.
Where to eat: Din Tai Fung
6. MOS Burger
If there’s a fast food chain in Taiwan that you should try, it would probably be MOS Burger. This burger chain apparently originates in Japan. As the name suggests, it offers a variety of burger creations, which is great if you want your palate to take a break from the usual Taiwanese flavors.
Where to eat: MOS Burger (all over Taiwan)
7. Mango Snow Ice – Xue Hua Bing (芒果冰)
Taiwan is also known for its creative desserts, such as Mango Snow Ice. Instead of water, the ice used here is made from either dairy or fruits which add creaminess and sweetness to the shaved ice. It is then topped with fresh fruits and sweets. The serving is usually big, so be ready to share!
Where to eat: Mango Chacha
8. Oriental Salad in Special Vinegar Dressing (小菜)
A popular appetizer in Din Tai Fung that is made from julienned seaweed, bean sprouts, chili, beancurd strips and rice vermicelli, tossed in a light, tangy dressing that boasts a myriad of flavors all in one serving.
Where to eat: Din Tai Fung
9. Shave Ice – Bao Bing (剉冰)
Another popular cold dessert in Taiwan is Bao Bing. Shaved ice is topped with various sweetened fruits, root crops, sticky rice balls, and other ingredients of your choice. Shave Ice is very common is many Asian countries and only varies in ingredients and preparation. In fact, this delicious dessert is quite similar to the Filipino Halo-Halo sans the milk and ice cream.
Where to eat: Sweet Uncle (水龜伯古早味)
10. Braised Pork Rice Bowl – Lu Rou Fan (滷肉饭)
One of my favorite dishes in Taiwan is this glorious bowl of Braised Pork Rice. Its taste is similar to a Chinese version of Pork Adobo—sweet, savory, and every flavor in between. A bowl of rice is topped with flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth mixture of pork meat and fat. This one is served with thin slices of ginger to cut down the greasy texture and to cleanse your palate.
Where to eat: Chih Kan Dan Zai Noodles
11. Pineapple Cake – Feng Li Su (鳳梨酥)
If you have a sweet tooth, you will definitely love Pineapple Cake. It’s a small cube of crumbly butter cake stuffed with sweet pineapple jam. They also come in other variants, such as pineapple mochi and pineapple taro. They’re available in coffee shops, supermarkets, bakeries, and specialty shops where you can buy your pasalubong for your friends and family.
Where to eat: All over Taiwan
Read the first part here: Lola’s Food Travel: THINGS I ATE IN TAIWAN (PART 1 – STREET FOODS)