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Favorite Taiwan Street Food That Can Be Made At Home


It’s almost a cliché to say that one of the best reasons to visit Taiwan is the diversity and quality of its eating experience. But there is actually a lot of restaurant and night market food that is made at home by many Taiwanese themselves. Here is just a sampling of some typical dishes that have made their way from the home kitchen to the local food stand.

By Stuart Hill

From high-end restaurants to modest road-side stalls, Taiwan really is a bit of a food lover’s paradise. Eating is a form of local entertainment, an excuse for social interaction, and above all a relatively cheap cultural experience too.

Taipei is not just a melting pot of different international food styles, it’s also a smorgasbord of Chinese delicacies. One result of the huge influx of Chinese after the Chinese Civil War was also the subsequent influence of various forms of cooking from across the whole of China.

In Taiwan you can find dishes from all corners of China’s vast reach — yet with a slightly lighter interpretation to many of the heavier flavored versions you will find these days across China, Hong Kong and parts of South East Asia.

While many of the most “famous” places to eat specialize in a few signature dishes, in fact many typical menu items are meals that families prepare for themselves at home.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of dishes you will find on the street or in restaurants that you can actually try yourself at home.

Beef Soup 牛肉湯 (niu rou tang)

beef soup

Typically on the street it will come in a number of varieties: either a heavier braised beef or a lighter clear broth style. And it’s very common to include a freshly “shaved”  fettuccine-style noodle or a thinner spaghetti-style noodle.

To make it at home you can use a rice cooker to simmer the soup until the meat is tender and falls off the bone. And various vegetables to your liking — or not!

Fried Rice Noodles 炒米粉 (chao mi fen)

Fried noodles

You often find a plainer version of this dish in Taipei night markets, with fewer vegetables and longer noodle strands. First boil the dry noodles and then fry them in a wok, adding shallots or onions and bits of pork mince, satay sauce, or fish paste to your own taste.

Egg “Pancake” 蛋餅 (dan bing)

egg roll

Variations on this breakfast dish are ubiquitous across the whole of Taiwan and while the preparation and presentation can be slightly different the ingredients are basically the same. You might eat it plain, with egg, with bacon, with or without soy-based sauce, with or without chili sauce. It’s often simply fried or rolled or “scrunched”. In any case, you can find the frozen pastry in your local supermarket freezer.

Fried Radish Cake 蘿蔔糕 (luo bo gao) 

Radish Cake

Another very common breakfast specialty is fried radish cake. The standard street-food version can be a bit of a let down, and if you are not familiar with the flavor seems to resemble a kind of failed hash brown. But made with fresh ingredients, and lightly fried, it’s a classic people’s food that is relatively healthy and pretty filling too.

Dumplings 水較 (shui jiao)

Dumplings

There are still places in Taipei — try local morning markets — where dumplings are made fresh and packed in batches of 15-20 for you to take home yourself to cook. But you can actually make them yourself by combining pork or beef (or lamb) mince with chopped cabbage and a bit of ginger. The dumpling “skins” can be bought from the supermarket. You’ll find there are actually many dumpling flavor combinations available. Cooking can be a bit tricky, best attempted in a deep wok, which you add water to while bringing to the boil twice.

Taiwan Beef Noodles


Beef noodles has to be the Taiwan equivalent of Italy’s pasta, or even southern China’s fried rice. Virtually a national culinary symbol, it is a popular dish available on the menu of every second restaurant in Taipei. Luckily there are several different styles and flavors to enjoy.

By Stuart Hill

It’s the preparation and ingredients that really make a great bowl of beef noodles. As a result, there can be a lot of variety between different restaurants and different chefs.

Beef noodle side dishes

Many beef noodle restaurants also offer a range of tradition cold side dishes like sliced pigs ears, boiled eggs, seaweed, tofu, peanuts, and more. The “qing dun” beef noodles in this photo are from a restaurant in KaoHsiung, southern Taiwan

Generally speaking though, as the categories in the Taipei International Beef Noodle Festival competition indicate, there are two basic recipes: braised beef  “hong shao” (紅燒) and clear broth “qing dun” (清燉) flavors. The braised beef version tends to be spicier and heavier in flavor, while the clear version is possibly the easiest introduction for western palates, as it resembles a lighter beef broth.

Taipei Halal Beef Noodles

Although the original recipe for beef noodles was based on Halal preparation techniques, it is rare to find a restaurant claiming such authenticity. The noodles in this photo are both the light broth “qing dun” (front) and heavier “hong shao” (back) flavors available at a restaurant in HanKou Street (Taipei’s “camera district”), just a short walk from Taipei’s old main post office building.

As explained in this Travel in Taiwan article written to highlight the Sheraton Hotel’s own gourmet version of beef noodles, the lighter broth variety originated from northern Chinese muslims, who prepared the soup using halal beef preparation techniques. Meanwhile, the braised beef version — also known as the “四川”  (SiQuan) flavor — was reportedly the innovation of mainland immigrants living in KaoHsiung.

Both styles form the basis of the Taipei beef noodle competition.

Tomato beef noodle soup

Based on a traditional braised beef recipe, this beef noodles adds tomatoes to create a sweeter, less spicy flavor. The noodles are hand-sliced “dao xiao” noodles cut moments before they are cooked. This restaurant is located on Xin Dong Street (新東街) in Taipei’s MinSheng Community district.

Despite its common appearance at cheap-eat places like night markets and small restaurants, the quality and flavor of beef noodles depend both on the quality of the ingredients and the time spent in preparation. The beef itself is supposed to be stewed separately to the soup, but the cut of meat and the length of time taken to cook will have a big impact on the final product. This will make the difference between a tough rubbery texture, and a melt-in-the-mouth softness.

Beef noodle soup with tendons

While the soup in this photo is a heavier version of beef broth, the meat is a mixture of beef slices and tendon. Both happen to be cooked so they are soft and easy to chew. The noodles are round spaghetti-like style. This restaurant is on BaDe Road in Taipei, a few minutes walk from FuXing North Road.

In addition to beef meat, tendon or muscle 筋 (jin) is also a common ingredient. While westerners might cringe a bit at the sight and sensation of this at first, in fact, cooked until it is soft and chewy, the tendon can add to the texture of the meal. Tendons are reported to contain lots of collagen and to be good for maintaining the suppleness of your skin.

Dry beef noodles

So called dry beef noodles are a nice change from soup noodles and closely resemble western-style pasta. The chef for this meal has used the broad fettucine style noodles. This restaurant is just off MinChuan East Road down from the FuXing North Road intersection (heading east).

The final key ingredient is the type of noodles you include. Many places will use a basic spaghetti style noodle. However an even nicer variety is a flatter fettucine style. Even better is the hand-sliced “dao xiao” (刀削) variety, which provides a deliberately inconsistent thickness of shaved noodles.

While a warm bowl of spicy beef noodles can be the perfect touch for a cold Taipei winter, so-called dry noodles “gan mian” (乾麵) versions, which leave the broth out, can be a welcome change for Taiwan’s humid summer months. You’ll find dry noodles also come with a choice of noodle types.

Beef noodle costs

A standard bowl of noodles, either dry or one of the many soup varieties, can make a fairly solid portion. The cost is usually somewhere between NT$100-180, depending on the restaurant, the ingredients they use, and the fame of the chef. A couple of side dishes at around NT$30 round off a good meal.

Key Terms for Ordering Beef Noodles:

  • 牛肉麵  – niu(2) rou(4) mian(4) – beef with noodles (in soup)
  • 牛肉湯麵  – niu(2) rou(4) tang(1) mian(4) – beef broth (no meat) with noodles
  • 牛肉乾麵 – niu(2) rou(4) gan(1) mian(4) – beef with noodles (but without soup)
  • 番茄牛肉麵 – fan(1) qie(2) niu(2) rou(4) mian(4) – tomato and beef with noodles (in soup)
  • 半筋半肉麵 – ban(4) jin(1) ban(4) rou(4) mian(4) – half-and-half tendon and beef with noodles (in soup)

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