Food: Street food of Taipei


Many Taiwanese immigrants often go back to Taiwan every year.  Most, if not all of them, cite one reason to go back: food.  And some of the most famous and delicious foods are the street food you find walking down some of the allies in the city or in night market stalls.

Stewed Pork Rice

One of those comfort foods of Chinese cuisine you can find almost everywhere.  But it is in Taiwan where it is most ubiquitous.  This can be a meal in itself and some restaurants do offer this as a full-sized dish.  But as street food, you usually get a small bowl of hot white rice with a heaping of the stewed meat and mushrooms.  Some places give you a couple slices of pickled yellow daikon.

Oyster Omelette

A tiny meal of cabbage, eggs, oysters, and potato starch to thicken the mixture.  Almost every respectable area with food stalls will have at least one one stall selling this.  They top it off with a good helping of sweet and spicy sauce.

Fried Stinky Tofu

If you find yourself in Taiwan and smelling something that could be garbage that has been sitting out in the sun or gym socks laden with sweat, it could be that.  Or more likely, you are near a stall that sells fried stinky tofu.  Stinky tofu that has been fermented for months and usually served in bite size pieces with pickled cabbage, hot sauce, and garlic infused soy sauce.  The smell is much worse than it tastes.  The flavor is actually quite subtle with only a small sour note in the aftertaste.

Spicy Tofu Stew with Pig Intestines and Duck Blood

I couldn’t find a good translation of the Chinese name of this dish and the name is not very appealing to Western audiences but this has to be one of my favorite dishes.  The tofu stew is a bit spicy, a bit sour with soft tofu, soft duck blood, and pig intestines to give it more flavor.  It’s good for those cold nights in the winter when you want something warm to eat.

Fried Chicken Steak

This has been a more recent food fad that has become more popular over the years.  Vendors take a big flat piece of chicken steak (think the size of your face), coating it in batter, and then deep fried.  Then they ask how you how spicy you want it.  Most stalls will offer to cut it up to more manageable sizes or you can eat it whole, bite by bite.  A variation of this is popcorn chicken which has about the same flavor.

Grilled Sausage

Taiwan sausage has a sweetness to it but it’s not a dessert.  Think sweet like in orange chicken.  It has a higher moisture and fat content than most other types of Chinese sausage, thus it is more tender.  Sometimes they will ask you if you want it wrapped in sticky rice.  It’s like a hot dog except with rice as the bun.

Sweet Grilled Corn

Corn on the cob made in Taiwan is a different flavor to corn from anywhere else I have eaten it.  They use a mixture of cane sugar, shallots, spicy pepper, garlic, cayenne powder, and oil as the coating.  It gives the grilled corn have an exotic taste without being really exotic at all.  The corn is dryer than normal but still tastes great.

Sweet Silk Tofu

If you have ever been to a dim sum restaurant, you will have seen this dessert in one of those big steamers.  Silk tofu is the softest of the tofu types and perfect to use as a dessert.  At a dim sum place, they usually serve it with ginger syrup.  In Taiwan, they use cane sugar syrup and give you toppings like peanuts or red beans.  I personally love this as my last dish when eating street food because it is simple and gives you a clean palette.

Mochi

Mochi was most likely introduced by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan during the early to mid 1900′s.  It is a sweet dessert made out of rice cake and is usually served hot with some sweetened peanut powder.  It’s a nice sticky dessert that isn’t too heavy

Where to go

The night markets are a good place to start looking for street food.  Shilin Night Market, Huaxi Night Market, or Tunghua Night Market  is a good place to start as any.  Also, if you see some food stalls in the alley beside a shopping center, you’ll probably find more if you walk into the alley.  Some shopping centers have basement food courts that also sell the same snacks for a higher price.  But why do that if you can eat the same quality of food for a lower price?

Parting Words

From all the different types of cuisines that are labeled Chinese, Taiwanese food would not be considered the most adventurous from an outsider perspective. Although my examples of street food might be more out there, there are staple foods like fish ball soup or fried pork chop rice that are more accessible for the squeamish diner. But try something you might not normally eat and you could find yourself with a new favorite indulgence.

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About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.