Tastes of Taiwan

Reflections on our time in Taiwan – and a gallery of food pics to whet any travellers’ appetites – 19th September, 2013

One of my biggest surprises while living in Taiwan for 5 months was the quality and diversity of food on offer. Whether fine dining or eating street food, Taiwan is a foodie paradise. And I, as you may know, am a big fat foodie.

Grilled squid - a nightmarket staple

Grilled squid – a nightmarket staple

From the legacies of Japanese occupation (sushi, sashimi and teppanyaki) to Pho from nearby Vietnam, or Sichuan and Hunanese specialties to Taiwanese beef noodle soup and spicy hotpot – the range of cuisines on offer is incredible.

Hunanese ribs...served with disposable gloves at Taipei's 1010 restaurant

Hunanese ribs…served with disposable gloves at Taipei’s 1010 restaurant

Japan occupied Taiwan for 50 years (1895-1945). They left some awesome food behind...

Japan occupied Taiwan for 50 years (1895-1945). They left some awesome food behind…

Taiwanese beef noodle soup with handmade noodles from our local place

Taiwanese beef noodle soup with handmade noodles from our local place: the broth is unbelievably rich

You can opt for Michelin-standard dumplings at Din Tai Fung (try the sublime xiao long bao soup dumplings) or peppery pork buns at Raohe nightmarket in Taipei, which are baked on the sides of a hot tandoor oven.

The chefs at work amid hundreds of bamboo steamers at one of several Taipei branches of Din Tai Fung - world famous dumpling restaurants

The chefs at work amid hundreds of bamboo steamers at one of several Taipei branches of Din Tai Fung – world famous dumpling restaurants (pic courtesy of Mike & Ali Gale)

Eating out is the norm – be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner – and we got to know the ladies in our local breakfast shop pretty well. They could dish up anything from taro cake, to paratha-type breads to rice pancakes, or even a bowl of steaming noodles with a fried egg on top!

Bubble milk tea - one of Taiwan's most well-known exports

Food and drink on the go. Bubble milk tea – with tapioca balls – is one of Taiwan’s most well-known exports

Hotpot (pic courtesy of Ali & Mike Gale)

Hotpot (pic courtesy of Ali & Mike Gale)

Freshness is also a given – especially when you sample the seafood in coastal areas like Kenting. Whole fish are steamed; oysters grilled over charcoal make salty, smoky mouthfuls; and slippery seafood noodles slide down brilliantly with a cold Taiwan Beer.

Crab claws. Fresh seafood can be enjoyed all over Taiwan

Fresh seafood can be enjoyed across Taiwan

Unusual offerings for our Western palates are not lacking if you are feeling adventurous: blood-cake (like black pudding), stinky tofu (smells more offensive than it tastes), chicken feet and ‘iron eggs’ in tbe port town of Danshui, which are cooked long and slow in soy sauce and spices, originally to help the eggs keep longer while sailors were at sea. Nightmarkets and street stalls up and down the land also offer a remarkably varied assortment of molluscs; watching snails being grilled slowly to death at a nightmarket stall was not one of my more enjoyable culinary experiences (I have not included a picture of this!)

Molluscs: if that's your thing, get on over to Taiwan

Molluscs: if that’s your thing, get on over to Taiwan

Iron egg in Danshui

Iron egg in Danshui

But unexpected flavour revelations were commonplace – from the oyster pies in Taichung to the confusingly named ‘explosive slurry’ in Kenting. We never mustered the courage to eat deep fried Oreos, but hey – we’ll probably live longer.

Marketing fail in Kenting (but tasty)

Marketing fail in Kenting (but tasty)

I’ll miss many things about Taiwan, but the wonderful day to day eating experiences we enjoyed are among the most lamented.

Street food at Dihua Street CNY market, Taipei

Street food at Dihua Street CNY market, Taipei

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