Eating through Taiwan

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.

It's a soup, it's a dumpling...it's everything you could ever hope for in a mouthful. Your sauce is a 3:1 mix of white vinegar and soy sauce. We got water spinach as well, in the background, currently drooling.

It’s a soup, it’s a dumpling…it’s everything you could ever hope for in a mouthful. Dip that munchkin into a 3:1 mix of white vinegar and soy sauce. We got sauteed water spinach as well, in the background, and I’m currently drooling remembering it.

This was memorable for its quirkiness as opposed to its tastiness. It's 'big intestine in little intestine' - a pork (I think) sausage snuggled into a 'bun' - a sausage casing stuffed with rice, grilled, and sliced open.

This was memorable for its quirkiness as opposed to its tastiness. It’s ‘big intestine in little intestine’ – a pork (I think) sausage snuggled into a ‘bun’ – a sausage casing stuffed with rice, grilled, and sliced open.

Fruit stands - selling sliced or unsliced fruit, commonly in addition to smoothies. More expensive in the night markets than on the street. Delightfully lit at night.

Fruit stands – selling sliced or unsliced fruit, commonly in addition to smoothies. More expensive in the night markets than on the street. Delightfully lit at night.

Potstickers, you can order a single one or a hundred. I probably ate a hundred during my stay in Hualien. The curry variety was particularly tasty. You mix the dipping sauce to your liking, from a large condiment tray on wheels in the centre of the restaurant.

Potstickers, you can order a single one or a hundred. I probably ate a hundred during my stay in Hualien; I blame the wickedly tasty curry variety. You mix the dipping sauce to your liking, from a large condiment tray on wheels in the centre of the restaurant that has soy sauce, vinegars, chiles, ginger, minced garlic and others on offer.

This was my Christmas Dinner back in 2014, which I shared with my friend Amy. We were somewhat 'in the mountains' near Taipei, so more exotic items like stirfried deer, and bright green Dragon's Whiskers, were up for grabs. Also pictured - a simple classic: White rice topped with minced pork marinated in soy sauce.

This was my Christmas Dinner back in 2014, which I shared with my friend Amy. We were somewhat ‘in the mountains’ near Taipei, so more exotic items like stirfried deer, and bright green Dragon’s Whiskers, were up for grabs. Also pictured – a simple classic: White rice topped with minced pork marinated in soy sauce.

Tainan's classic noodle soup - with pork shavings and lots of bean sprouts. We enjoyed it just as it was, and it was more than alright.

Tainan’s classic noodle soup – with pork shavings and lots of bean sprouts. We enjoyed it just as it was, and it was more than alright.

For early mornings on the go, I oftentimes satisfied myself with the 7-11 classic: Coffee, fruit cup (always with a tomato), drinkable yogurt and a bun.

For early mornings on the go, I oftentimes satisfied myself with the 7-11 classic: Coffee, fruit cup (always with a tomato), drinkable yogurt and a bun.

A classic, classic (as I understand it) Taiwanese eat: Beef Noodle Soup. This particular bowl served up to me in an alleyway restaurant in Taipei. This particular place had been open since 1955.

A classic, classic (as I understand it) Taiwanese eat: Beef Noodle Soup. This particular bowl served up to me in an alleyway restaurant in Taipei. This place had been open since 1955.

Bakeries abound. Stacks of small trays and accompanying tongs greet you at the door. Although the selection varies, you can generally count on something animal themed, as well as some crude approximation of a pizza bun, corn and sweet mayo included as toppings.

Bakeries abound. Stacks of small trays and accompanying tongs greet you at the door. Although the selection varies, you can generally count on something animal themed, as well as some crude approximation of a pizza bun, corn and sweet mayo included as toppings.

Another sweet - mango shaved ice, topped with fresh fruit and a panna cotta.

Another sweet – mango shaved ice, topped with fresh fruit and a panna cotta.

Said to be Taiwan's best, this is in Tainan. I wasn't exaggerating - this green onion pancake joint would open at four, and twice I missed getting to it before they ran out around 5:30. Third time was indeed the charm. Egg or no egg. This particular restaurant added fresh basil.

Said to be Taiwan’s best, this is in Tainan. I wasn’t exaggerating – this green onion pancake joint would open at four, and twice I missed getting to it before they ran out around 5:30. Third time was indeed the charm. Egg or no egg, up to you. This particular restaurant added fresh basil.

Goose for dinner.

Goose for dinner.

Fish soup. That's it - a fish, in some soup. Delicious.

Fish soup. That’s it – a fish, in some soup. Delicious.

Ahh, leafy greens: These are the leaves from sweet potatoes, sauteed with garlic, a popular dish.

Ahh, leafy greens: These are the leaves from sweet potatoes, sauteed with garlic, a popular dish.

Lamb stirfry with lamb broth soup - lots of ginger in the bottom of that bowl. I had this daily in Tainan.

Lamb stirfry with lamb broth soup – lots of ginger in the bottom of that bowl. I had this daily in Tainan.

Sweet little Mud Cafe in Hualien served up my favourite lattes, and 'Mouse' bagels, which could be enjoyed right on their sidewalk patio, prime for taking in the action of downtown Hualien.

Sweet little Mud Cafe in Hualien served up my favourite lattes, and ‘Mouse’ bagels, which could be enjoyed right on their sidewalk patio, prime for taking in the action of downtown Hualien.

 

When I post something new, you'll get an email.

Leave a Reply