Tag Archives: Taiwan food

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.

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Foreigners in Taiwan: Tasting the Differences Between Singapore and Taipei


Writer, music publisher, and outspoken foodie, Johnson Ong (王祚森) has written two books about the pleasures of eating in Singapore. An avid blogger about things cultural — pop and otherwise — for a few years in the 90s Johnson was a Taipei resident. These days, he often returns to catch up with friends and explore the Taiwan food scene. Here he shares his Taiwan experiences. 

By Stuart Hill

Eating in Singapore

Author of two books on eating in Singapore, Johnson Ong was a resident of Taipei during the late 90s. He returns regularly to sample Taiwan’s latest flavors.

SH: In terms of popular culture, what part does Taiwan play in Greater China or Asia…?

JO: Taiwan is an undisputed powerhouse in popular Chinese music, and has influenced a lot of people across several decades. In that way Taiwan occupies a very special position in the Chinese music scene world-wide. In much the same way, you can see a similar impact within the world of food, and looking ahead, Taiwan has a lot of space to develop its influence there. On its own, Taiwan has the right conditions and the necessary ingredients to innovate a completely new cuisine, a kind of “culinary miracle”.

SH: How do you think Taipei has changed over the years? How does it compare to changes in Singapore?

XiMenDing in Taipei

Many sections of Taipei were under construction in the 90s, especially in areas where the MRT was being built. This photo was taken in the late 90s of the main entrance to XiMenDing.

JO: Compared to the Taipei of the 90s, the place has become a lot more convenient. You have the [extension of the] MRT which is a huge change in the way people get around. Also, compared to the chaotic Taipei that I lived in, a lot of places have become significantly cleaner. Although you could say Singapore is better at city infrastructure, the human elements and the quality of the cultural side to Taipei are something that Singapore has failed to grasp, and seems unable to replicate.

SH: When was the first time you visited Taipei; how long did you live in Taipei, and how often do you come back?

JO: I first came to Taiwan in 1992 – just for fun! But from 1995 to 1999, I was working for a Hong Kong company (PolyGram Music Publishing) that placed me here. However, since then, I’ve been back many times to see old friends. Right now, I’m planning my next visit for the end of this year.

SH: If you were recommending Taiwan to other Singaporeans, what would you highlight? What do you think they would get from visiting?

JO: Taipei will feel pretty familiar to many Singaporeans. However, it worries me that the only focus is on visiting night markets and [well-known] JiuFen, eating local snacks, releasing sky lanterns, these kind of activities. In fact I rarely hear Singaporeans talk specifically about looking at pottery in YingGe, exploring YangMing Mountain, taking a hot spring in BeiTou or appreciating MaoKong’s locally grown tea. How about finding one of Taipei’s coffee shops, hidden in a back alley? And there’s literally no-one who ever mentions they’ve found or bought [Chinese] books at one of Taipei’s bookstores.

ShiLin Nightmarket Taipei

The heart of the famous ShiLin night market was a pavilion of food stalls. Since this photo was taken in the late 90s, the night market has expanded, modernized, and the food stalls shifted to upgraded premises.

SH: How would you describe the differences in tastes and interest in food between Singaporeans and Taiwanese?

JO: Where food is concerned, Taiwanese understand how to savor what they eat, while Singaporeans tend to just eat. In fact, whether its Taiwanese food, Japanese cuisine, western steak, or even food you get on the side of the road or small street or alley, Taiwan has some great restaurants. Both countries tend to prefer strongly flavored foods. However, Taiwanese have more sophisticated tastes, while Singaporeans with their fascination for spicy food don’t seem to appreciate lighter flavors.

SH: What would be your “top 5 must eat dishes” for people visiting Taiwan?

JO: These are just my personal preferences, not really recommendations: dumplings or pot stickers with sour and spicy soup, (hot) herbal jelly (燒仙草), “rice skin” soup (鼎邊銼), hanamaki sushi, goose meat, beef teppanyaki, Taiwanese vegetarian, Taiwanese fried scallion pancake (台式蔥油餅), and pickled horse-radish omelet (菜脯蛋). I have a bit of a soft spot for beetle nut flowers, either in a cold dish or stir-fry, and many of these dishes you can’t really get in other parts of Asia.

Taiwan cold side dishes

Many Taiwanese restaurants offer a selection of cold side dishes, such as sliced pigs ears (pictured), green beans, tofu, seaweed, among many others.

SH: So what did you miss about Singapore while you were living in Taipei?

JO: I missed Hainanese Chicken Rice from Singapore and Earl Grey tea… It was so expensive during that time!

More About Johnson Ong:

Useful Links about Taipei:

Taipei Escape: Taiwan’s PengHu Islands


With an impressive combination of natural beauty, regional history, good local food, and tourist infrastructure, the PengHu islands, just off the south-west coast of Taiwan, offer a great island holiday escape.

By Stuart Hill

Located on the Tropic of Cancer, The Pescadores as they were called  by the Portuguese, comprise 64 islands, while the largest populated islands PengHu, BaiSha, XiYu, QiMei, WangAn, JiBei have their own range of attractions, many centered around each island’s natural advantages.

PengHu Two-Heart Weir

One of PengHu’s most iconic images, and one somewhat over-used in Taiwan’s tourism campaigns, is the “two-heart stone weir” on the island of QiMei. The weir is a human construction made by fishermen to capture fish and other sea creatures.

The group of islands that form the PengHu archipelogo have long been sought out as base for fishermen and traders. Fairly inhospitable for tourists in the cold and windy winter months, in summer the islands shine with clear blue water, bright skies and clean beaches. Perfect for a range of sand and surf activities.

In fact, PengHu is the sea-side holiday destination you wish KenDing (KenTing) in south-east Taiwan could be. Here’s why…

THE TOP 10 REASONS TO VISIT THE PENGHU ISLANDS

1. Geological Beauty

Penghu volcanic rocks

Largely built on a foundation of basalt thrust up as volcanic lava, the PengHu islands have a number of spectacular sites that are evidence of the archipelago’s ancient geological history. The islands were created 8-17 million years ago.

2. Beaches

Shell beach in PengHu

With 64 islands in total, it’s not hard to find a favorite beach for sun baking, swimming, or just admiring the sea. This beach, located on the island of XiYu is made entirely of shells and coral.

3. Food

Food in PengHu

As you can expect from an island community, many of the local dishes comprise some kind of seafood, such as fish, squid, seaweed, and shell-fish. Other local specialities include pumpkin rice noodles, shrimp rolls, and fish balls in soup. Goat meat and chicken is also popular and raised on the islands.

4. Old Architecture

Traditional PengHu house

PengHu’s islands have been occupied for centuries with or without any government sanction by fishermen and traders, especially from FuJian provinces in China. While some excellently restored and renovated houses are on show in the small village of EKan (ErKan Traditional Village) on XiYu (Si Island), it is not hard to find impressive examples of old houses in many of PengHu’s small fishing villages. Many are in serious disrepair, but still feature enough detail to make it easy to imagine their former glory.

5. KMT Military History

KMT military village PengHu

As with Taiwan’s other islands in the Taiwan Strait — Matsu and JinMen — PengHu still houses significant defense facilities. The houses in this photo are of military accommodation no longer in use, but have been opened for exploration by tourists.

6. European Colonial History

PengHu's West Fort

Occupying a strategic location along valuable Asian trading routes, the PengHu islands first attracted Dutch attention in 1604, yet the fort that was built in 1622 was removed to become the Dutch base in TaiNan. After the Sino-French war, the Qing government built the defences in this photo in 1887, having purchased the cannons from the British via Hong Kong.

7.  The Sun

PengHu sunset

During the daytime the sun can be extremely intense, so sunscreen, a hat, even collared shirts are highly recommended to prevent sunburn. As the sun sets, PengHu’s many beaches provide a picturesque location to see the sun go down.

8. Wind Power

PengHu wind power

Strong winds all through the year make PengHu a good location for wind power generation. They also make the islands the perfect location for PengHu’s international windsurfing competition.

9. Local Festivals

PengHu Fireworks Festival

The local PengHu government has attempted to host special events and cultural festivals to provide even more reasons for visiting. This photo was taken during PengHu’s fireworks festival held on the harbor front in the PengHu city of Magong.

10. The Sea

PengHu islands in the Taiwan Strait

Located to the south-west of the Taiwan mainland, and spread across a 40 x 60 km area in the Taiwan strait, a key form of local transport is by boat. Ferries are available in various sizes to take passengers between each of the islands. However, the comfort of the journey will depend heavily on the weather.

PengHu Travel Tips

  • Book flights before your accommodation. If you can get a flight, you can find a place to stay, but not the other way around.
  • Get a tourist map from the airport or one of the tourist centers throughout PengHu
  • Rent a scooter from your hotel or B&B — but bring a valid international driver’s license and your Taiwan Alien Resident Certificate (if you have one)
  • Bring lots of protection against the sun. The summer sun is extremely intense, which is why many locals don’t go out in it during the day.
  • Avoid the major crowds of summer by visiting, a bit earlier of later than high season. But be careful of the cold and windy weather of winter.
  • Bring travel sickness tablets if you are unused to travel by sea, as much local transport is via smaller speed boats.

More info about the PengHu Islands:

PengHu art

The largest urban population living in PengHu resides in Magong city, a mixture of small-scale Taiwan town and functional commercial port. Here local art reflects the boating influence with buoys painted as cats.

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)

More reading:

Taipei Breakfast: YongHe Soy Milk


Looking for a nicely priced Chinese and Taiwanese-style breakfast selection without any pretense? Then try Yong He Dou Jiang (永和豆漿).

By Stuart Hill

Fresh steamed buns

Steamed buns with minced pork, cabbage or leek, are one of many outstanding options for breakfast in Taipei

My most memorable breakfast was around 5 am in Neihu’s Lai Lai Dou Jiang, or “Come Often” Soy Milk. Some friends had taken me out for the ultimate Taiwan experience: dinner, a night market, and then a hot spring. We came back from Yang Ming Mountain and stopped off for something to eat. With its bright lights the place was like a beacon to the hungry; and it was packed. It was not quite light, and in those days none of the technology park you see today existed. It seemed remote, but the place was buzzing. And the food was great.

While there are plenty of ma and pop-owned breakfast stores selling greasy mock-western sandwiches and Taiwanese fried omelettes, the standard can vary a lot. But one breakfast store you can pretty much rely on is YongHe Dou Jiang.

Originally from Taipei’s YongHe district (which is now a part of so-called “New Taipei City”), YongHe Dou Jiang can now be found all over greater Taipei. Dou Jiang is “soy milk” in Mandarin Chinese, and a typical breakfast drink, but at YongHe Dou Jiang there is a wide range of things to eat and drink other than soy milk.

YongHe Dou Jiang menu

So why YongHe Soy Milk and not XinDian or BanQiao Soy Milk?

One story is that YongHe became famous in the 80’s for its stores selling breakfast and evening snacks. Commuters making the morning trek over the FuHe Bridge to work would often buy something to eat-in or take-out before catching the bus or riding their scooter into the city. After a night on the town, people would also stop off at the snack stores for a quick bite to eat before heading home. Getting ready for the morning trade, they were the only places open.

YongHe become synonymous with dou jiang. Business was great, and as the area become renowned for breakfast snacks, many stores adopted the “YongHe” name as part of their shop title. But with so many stores from YongHe all selling soy milk, no one shop could really lay sole claim to the name.

Steaming buns at YongHe Dou Jiang

YongHe Dou Jiang offers steamed buns and dumplings. With its high turnover of customers, the food is freshly prepared.

However, one enterprising owner did just that, registering YongHe in his company name, to much local protest. Today, stores carrying the “YongHe Dou Jiang” name are arguably the most famous reminders of the 80’s dou jiang explosion — even though many store owners probably have nothing to do with the original boom in YongHe.

Fast forward to today, and YongHe-style breakfast places (actually a mix of immigrant breakfast food from various parts of China) exist all over the city and are produced by various store owners. You can even find YongHe Dou Jiang Da Wang in China. But the concept is fairly consistent — a variety of reasonably priced good quality freshly cooked Chinese and Taiwanese breakfast snacks.

Hot soy milk and steamed buns

Steamed buns and a bowl of soy milk make a great combination. In Taiwan, soy milk comes in hot, cold or warm, sweetened, unsweetened or salty (curdled).

The typical YongHe Dou Jiang store will offer a selection of egg pancakes, fried bread sticks, fried radish cakes, steamed buns and soy milk (either salty or sweet). But you might also find places that do sugared donuts, curry puffs, rice rolls and steamed dumplings.

There are a couple of places that I personally like and regularly visit:

  • On Fu Yuan Street, close to the intersection with MinChuan East Road, near the MinChuan Bridge — does great steam buns either with cabbage, leek or shredded pork.

The boss is always fairly grumpy and tough looking, but she might give you a smile if you say hi.

  • On XingLong Road in the WenShan district, about 2-3 minutes walk away from the intersection with XingHai Road, heading away from the WanFang Hospital MRT. In addition to the usual soy milk selection and choice of egg creations, they do flaky pastry, donuts and curry puffs. The decor is not the reason to go there.

Other writers recommend the store on FuXing North Road near DaAn MRT station. Or your could return to the source by visiting YongHe itself.

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If you have a favorite YongHe Dou Jiang store, I’d like to hear about it. What is your favorite breakfast snack?