Whenever I plan any trip, food is always a big part of organizing it, and Taiwan was no exception. :)
The two things that I was most excited for were bubble tea and night markets!
I first tried bubble tea in college… and to be honest, I had some strong opinions and didn’t like it at first. D: I disliked the feeling and texture of the squishy tapioca balls, and didn’t like the solid/liquid combo of the drink. However, like many other things, it was an acquired taste for me, and it took me quite a few rounds of bubble tea nights with my college dorm mates (who all loved it), to get on board. Big thank you to the ladies of Jameson for being insistent and converting this non-believer. <3 :)
As for night markets, my experience with them was limited – I visited some night markets in China, and my university’s Taiwanese Student Association put on a nice night market event every year. Night markets also always seemed so exciting – from all the food, to the people squeezing past bustling stalls, to the simple love I have for the magical vibe of summer nights… The combined idea/image of food, friends, and summer nights was probably why Taiwan was very high on my list of places to visit while I am out here in Japan.
Finally, my inability to handle spicy food was a lot less of a handicap in Taiwan than it was in South Korea, so I give Taiwan two big thumbs up for that! While there were spicy dishes to be had, it was a lot easier to navigate than South Korea.
Ok, so let’s dive into some of the food highlights of this trip! :D
Justin mentioned that this was a popular dish in Taiwan, and kept calling it “beef noodle!” which had me laughing anytime we were talking about it.
Anyway, we were keen on trying it, and I had it three times. We had a good one at a random place in Jiufen (black bowl in the photo above), a great one at Taipei Main Station (silver bowl), and a really meh one with hard noodles at Tapei 101 (that deserves no photos). Who would have thought that a train station would have the best noodles, comparatively?!
The beef noodles were good, but I wasn’t crazy about this dish. I think I am not a big fan of beef in soups – the beef cubes often tend to be too chewy for me (I can’t handle too much fat/cartilage on meat – texture thing). I did like the noodles though!
Misua Noodle (面线) Soups (?)
Ok, so I am not 100% what I am talking about in this section…! I thought that these soups were all pork soups with rice vermicelli noodles… But then I did more research and learned about a Chinese noodle called 面线 / misua. So now, honestly, I have no idea what exactly these soups were but they were great!!
That being said, these types of dishes really were my favorite in Taiwan! The noodles are really thin and soft – which is why the first thing that popped into my head was vermicelli. I also happened to only have them with pork based soups. I had these types of soups twice, once in a random restaurant in Jiufen, and once at a street stall in Taipei.
The street stall was especially good! It was called Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle, located in Ximending, a minute or two from Ximen Station. There was a big, but fast moving line, and you had a choice of a small (TWD 50 / USD 1.50) or large (TWD 65 / USD 2.00) bowl. You can see some pictures above! I am also including a video of the server below, who was almost robot-esque in his soup serving routine!
Taipei’s Night Markets
For all our night market hype, we only went to Raohe Street Night Market (for the food), and Shida Night Market (for the clothes and accessories). To keep the focus on food, I will talk about Raohe Street Night Market here!
Here is a video of our walk through Raohe Street Night Market:
We went there mainly because Justin found a Polish man who sold Polish pastries and the like, but when we got there (on a weekday), we realized that he only came on weekends! D: Darn! Regardless, we still had a lot of fun. :)
Raohe Street Night Market was mostly food, and busy, but not so busy that we were having a hard time getting through! The things we sampled were a french puff pastry, egg tarts, pan fried dumplings, and pork buns baked in a tandoor oven (!!!).
You can see the pastry, egg tarts, and dumplings above – the first two were really good! The pastry was egg tarts were REALLY good. We bought a few different flavors – original, chocolate, and lemon! They were super filling and very rich. :) Different from any egg tarts I have had before!
What you see above though, is the real star of the Raohe Street Night Market!! The pork bun!! :D You can see a picture above of the oven they used to cook them in! They had a little station where they made the buns by stuffing them with meat. Then they just slapped the bread sideways onto the oven’s walls, and let it hang there to cook! The result was a piping hot, soft, crispy, dense bun with peppered pork and some greens inside. :) So delicious!! Maybe my favorite street food item of Taipei! Unfortunately we sat eating it while downwind of what we BELIEVE to have been a stinky tofu stand, so that kind of was a bit of a buzzkill. D:
Din Tai Fung
While this is a restaurant rather than a dish, this gets its own section because it is one of the most famous restaurants in Taipei that my friend Chienyn recommended! She linked us up with her mom, who was a lot of fun to hang around with, and took us here the first time we met. :) Thank you Chienyn and Chienyn’s mom! <3
Din Tai Fung started up in Taipei in 1958, and specialized in noodles and soup dumplings (xiao long bao). It has since become one of the most famous restaurants in Taipei, with locations around the world. Chienyn’s mom walked us through its history, how it was started by a man from mainland China, and served as a meeting place for important mainland officials. She told us that many of the paintings on the walls of the original location (where we ate) were gifts from these officials. She was very kind, and a fountain of knowledge about all kinds of things!
We had a big, warm, filling meal full of soup dumplings and noodles, keeping faithful to the restaurant’s specialties. The food was really good, and I love soup dumplings. :) That dinner we had together was a really nice time, and I have big regrets about not asking the waitresses for a picture of the three of us! :(
Speaking of, one of the distinguishing factors about Din Tai Fung is that the waitresses and waiters are always smiling, and hold themselves to a very friendly and warm standard of service. This sets them apart from the quick and more-business like approach seemingly more common in South Korea, Hong Kong, and China.
I recommend this place! It’s worth the wait! :) They even have one here in Nagoya, though it is much more expensive than, and of course not the same as, the one in Taipei. :P
BUBBLE TEA! I will proudly start by saying that I had bubble tea almost everyday on this trip. :)
Honestly, almost every bubble tea I had was wonderful (and much better than what I can find in my area in Japan), but there were a few that did stand out for various reasons!
Drunk on Earl, in Jiufen, was especially delicious! I had both their Earl Gray flavored milk tea, as well as just steamed milk and they were absolutely delicious (first picture in the collage above). I think this may have been my favorite bubble tea place of the entire trip!
Next, we heard 50嵐 (50 Lan) bubble tea was good, and I did like it (top right corner)! It was easy to find 50嵐 bubble tea shops as well, which was a big plus. They can be found all over the city!
The next place we liked was the restaurant that was the origin of bubble tea, the first one that served it on record – Chun Shui Tang 春水堂 (the darkest photo with the dark blue cups and white straws). While the bubble tea there was good, it didn’t blow me away or anything. The coolest part about being there was the history! Chun Shui Tang has many locations/branches, and while it is unclear which (if it still exists) of the locations was the first one, it is still fun to visit.
The last place I wanted to mention was Happy Lemon, which we randomly ran into one day (biggest picture on the bottom). It apparently has many locations around the world, and I am not sure where it is based, but they include freshly squeezed lemon juice in many of their drinks! <3 This was something different that I had not tried before – I liked it!
It ended up kind of cute, but we bookended our time in Taipei with theme cafes!
The first night we arrived in from Jiufen, we went to Modern Toilet, a toilet-themed restaurant! It was a lot of fun! :) The food was, as is in most theme cafes, barely even mediocre, but the shaved ice/chocolate ice cream/cookies definitely made an impression!
On our last night, we visited Who Cafe, which was a cat themed restaurant with their own kitty! :3 They even had a gigantic picture that had been blown up like, 400% on the wall of their cat. The drinks were super good, and warm after the chilly night air.
And finally, last but not least… shaved ice! Even though it was pretty warm while we were there (T-shirt and sandal weather), it was still December, and thus the shaved ice presence was not very strong in Taipei. But we got it anyway! :D
Anway – that is it for my food post! I centered this post mostly around stuff I tried in Taipei – I will be adding a Jiufen specific post with food and sights, as well as a Tapei sights post soon. :)
Writing so much about Taiwan is making me want to plan a vacation to go back and visit before I leave Japan!! I miss it! <3