I’m already nostalgic for Taiwan’s eats. The island boasts cheap, varied and generally delicious options at every corner, and often times haphazardly crammed in between the corners, too. Many outfits have a niche, one or two things that they do really well. There’s the famous green onion pancake place that can run out in an hour, or the hole in the wall you have to go to to get the yummiest bowl of noodle soup. If in doubt, just find the longest line and hope that you don’t get hangry while you wait. You won’t be disappointed.
And it’s not just me; you’d plot my enthusiasm on the low end of the food hysteria spectrum in Taiwan. While eating in a hot pot restaurant in Taipei, the TV was screening the evening news, which included on the docket some sort of story on…hot pot. Joining me for dinner was my couch surfing host, who had spent much of his adult life living in Europe and New York. His complaint about his Taiwanese friends? Too much talk about food. I suppose that’s the other side of the coin. For Taiwan to develop and sustain the sheer variety of restaurants and dishes on offer, the population’s gotta be big on thinking about eating – for better or for worse.
There were three features of eating and drinking in particular here that I thought were pretty rad.
First – it was nearly impossible to justify any complaining about a lack of greens on offer. My most common food lament on the road is that, particularly if you’re avoiding raw produce, cooked leafy greens are few and far between. You can thank a large Buddhist population, as well as historical influence from veggie lovers across China, Japan, and Taiwan’s aboriginal populations.
Second – the best way to eat a healthy, varied diet seemed to be to eat like a local – that is, on the cheap. Although many of the better local eateries are little more than an exposed kitchen, plastic chairs on the sidewalk and no written menu, my experience was that the food quality was consistently high and the bill was consistently low. Of course, there are also fancy, pricy restaurants aplenty. I tried however to save my indulgences for lattes. I’m wiping my tears away here in the Philippines, where shoestring dining gives you authentic but decidedly less-varied options.
Third – Cafe culture here is thriving. This would be a bit of an exception to my previous paragraph – cafes are more of an indulgence, popular with university students and those on a break from the office. If your idea of a good time involves spending hours (or minutes – they do takeaway) drinking cappucinos and eating freshly baked pastries or handmade truffles while reading, internet binging or chatting, settlements large and small in Taiwan will have you covered. In larger cities it’s even relatively easy to get your hands on an exorbitantly priced cold brew or round bean coffee, if you fancy your palate more refined.
In five weeks you can eat a lot. Here’s a few meals, snacks and drinks that were memorable.