When I first went to Taipei in 2011, I was still a newbie traveler. In fact, I think that was only my second international travel ever! That’s how noob I was back then. I’ve “grown” a bit and developed my style of traveling since then – which, as you know, involved trying lots of local food. It always killed me to realize how much I missed out on the last trip, so when I finally had the chance to go back I made it my mission to make up for it – by going on a 3-day food marathon.
General Tips on visiting Taipei
Taipei is a very safe and tourist-friendly city. I saw it as a cool combination of Shanghai, Japan, and Singapore. I wouldn’t even be concerned if I were to be going by myself, but here are some tips that would make your trip even easier:
- When you first arrive at the airport, buy an EasyCard for NT$500 – this is their transport card that you can use for trains/buses. NT$100 is for card deposit and NT$400 is to be used for transport. The airport express MRT to Taipei Main Station costs NT$160 but most journey inside Taipei city is only about NT$20-something per ride so this card gets you far. It was enough for me to go around the city for the entire 3-day including the round trip airport journeys.
- Public Transport is top-notch in Taipei. The train system is efficient – you can expect to not wait longer than 5 minutes for a train. The buses, on the other hand, are slower. On average it requires about 15-45 mins waiting time.
- Taxis and Car Sharing – If public transport is not an option for you, Uber is legal in Taipei, super convenient and relatively cheap. The yellow metered taxis are also everywhere.
- As with any other travels, it would also be handy to have an internet connection at all times, so I recommend getting a prepaid local SIM card. You can buy this at the airport and convenience stores throughout Taipei.
- If you don’t speak or read Mandarin, download Google Translate and pre-download the Traditional Chinese pack so you can translate stuff on the go. Locals are VERY nice and helpful but English is not their first language. I found that younger locals can speak basic English, but it still would help to have translations handy.
- Google Maps works really well in Taiwan, in fact for most of the recommendations below you can just type the English name and you’ll find it on Google Maps. So definitely pre-download a map of Taipei to save data while you’re there!
- You can store your luggage at the Taipei Main Station. There are plenty of lockers there, and each locker can fit a lot. We fit 2 of our carry-on luggage and 3 backpacks inside. Just make sure you remember which lockers you’ve put your stuff into, because the main station is huge and you don’t want to lose your luggage later on.
Alright, now that we got the practical stuff out of the way – on to the fun stuff: TAIWANESE FOOD!
(before you ask, no I did not try stinky tofu. As much as I try to be adventurous I just can’t bear the smell let alone try to eat it. So there is that.)
1. Beef Noodle Soup (Niu Rou Mian 牛肉麵)
I was introduced to Taiwanese cuisine when I moved to Singapore. There is a stall I frequent at Food Republic (a food court in Singapore) called Formosa Delights, which specializes in… well, Taiwanese food. Throughout the years of coming here, I’ve become fond of their beef noodles, especially the beef noodle with “Dao Xiao” style – I’ll elaborate more on what this means later.
So while I was in Taipei, it’s a no-brainer that I had to go look for the authentic Taiwanese beef noodles. I went to Yong Kang Beef Noodle as it has been lauded as one of the city’s best beef noodles! This is kinda silly of me, but I decided to go on a Sunday afternoon, shortly before 1 PM, when they were probably as busy as they can be. Sure enough, when I arrived there was already a line of 30 people ahead of us which was very intimidating. Thankfully they are very efficient and the line moved fast – we waited only about 10-12 minutes for a table for two.
I ordered the small dark-broth spicy noodles, which is the typical Taiwanese style, for myself while my boyfriend ordered the small clear broth noodles, both of which are actually not very “small”. I think most people would be happy with the small portion especially if you plan to walk around Taipei and eat more after. You can also get some side of stir-fried vegetable dishes, which you have to order separately from the booth next to the entrance – this will get added to your bill later.
I’ve been told you could also order the noodles here “Dao Xiao” style but I totally forgot about this! “Dao Xiao” means knife-cut, and this refers to the way the noodles are cooked – by literally hand-shaving a huge block of dough straight into a boiling pot of the broth. It results in uneven cuts of noodles which is chewy and thicker in the middle and thin on the edges. The beef noodles at Formosa Delight in Singapore comes “Dao Xiao” style by default. Love it!
I loved both noodles at Yong Kang. The beef chunks are so tender and just falls apart on first bite. The broth is made from tomatoes and dark soy sauce so it tasted slightly sweet, but very savory thanks to the beef chunks and honestly not that spicy. I personally prefer the spicy broth style as the broth is more flavorful. If you want to taste more of the beef chunks then you’d want to try the clear broth version.
Thanks to my friend Jasmine Chen for recommending this one!
Where to eat:
- Yong Kang Beef Noodles (永康牛肉麺館)
- Lao Tzang Beef Noodles (川味老張牛肉麵店總店) near Yong Kang
- Lin Dong Fang (林東芳牛肉麵)
2. Scallion and Daikon (Radish) Pancake
One of my fondest memories from my first visit to Taipei in 2011 is getting a freshly fried scallion pancake from a street stall in Ximending. It was one of the modern stalls, so they had a bunch of toppings you could add onto your pancake – I added egg, cheese, and ham with the help of my friend Serena, who speaks Mandarin. The pancake was really delicious, especially during cold winter!
It wasn’t until later that I learned the authentic pancakes are not supposed to have that many toppings, maybe just the option to add eggs. Fast forward to last weekend I was on a bus to Shida night market with my friend Kyle – except I wasn’t sure if we were on the right bus. We had problems communicating with the bus driver and even though I showed him the location on the map, he didn’t confirm whether the bus was going in that direction.
While I was busy racking my brain on how to get out of this situation, with the bus speeding and us holding on to dear life so that we wouldn’t fall, a kind lady behind started talking to us (in perfect English) and asked where we were going. She told us that we are on the correct bus, but since she knew we were visiting, she asked if we would like to get off one stop earlier and come with her to get some scallion pancakes that is popular with the locals – it took me about 0.2 seconds to agree and follow her. We still joke about how easy it would be to kidnap me – just promise me some food and I’ll gladly follow strangers!
When we got to the place, which I found out from Google Maps is called Wenzhou Street Daikon Pancake, there was already a long queue forming. The total wait time was about 15-20 minutes, but it was definitely worth every second. Most in the queue were locals who would buy multiple pancakes to bring home for their family.
While we were waiting in the queue, Anne, the lady who helped us, told me about Daikon pancakes. I’ve never tried this so I decided to get two pancakes – one normal scallion pancake with eggs and one daikon pancake.
The scallion pancake was wonderful – perfectly chewy on the inside but crispy on the outside. The daikon pancake was also very interesting, it was much thicker than the scallion pancake and most of the filling is fresh daikon wrapped in a crispy deep-fried batter, which creates a contrasting texture as you bite into the pancake. I personally prefer the daikon pancake more than the scallion one.
And that’s the story of how I followed a stranger on a bus in Taipei.
Where to eat:
- Wenzhou Street Daikon Pancake (温州街蘿蔔絲餅達人)
- Any of the Night Markets in Taipei
3. Authentic Taiwanese Breakfast
The traditional Taiwanese breakfast basically consists of loads of carbs, eggs, and soy milk. Dip your youtiao (dough fritters) into a warm bowl of soy milk, and get yourself a roll or two of the omelet cake.
I went to Yong He Soy Milk King at Da’an MRT which opens past breakfast except on Sundays. First of all, I must thank my friend Yi-Wei for sending me here, as well as telling me exactly what to order. There was no English menu and I would have been pretty lost.
So, I’m paying it forward by telling YOU what to get! Order a portion each of 甜豆浆 (Tian Dou Jian – Sweet Soy Milk)， 蛋饼 (Dan Bing – Omelette Cake)，油条 (You Tiao – Fritters)， 葱油饼 (Cong You Bing – Scallion Pancakes). This should be good to share between two people. If you want, you can also order 小籠包 (Xiao Long Bao – the beloved soup dumpling).
The cashier could speak basic English, but showing the items written in traditional Chinese characters and showing him these on my phone definitely made the ordering process MUCH easier.
Where to eat:
- Yong He Soy Milk King (永和豆漿大王)
- Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿)
- Shin Taipei Dou Jiang (新台北豆漿)
4. Taiwanese Spicy Hot Pot
Hot Pot is a universal meal in Asia – you can find variations of hot pot in China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Hot Pot is usually enjoyed with a group, where a boiling pot of soup is shared in the middle of the table along with a variety of raw ingredient (meat, vegetable, tofu, dumplings, and seafood). Usually, you choose two types of soup as a group but each individual can choose what they want to put into the pot.
In Taiwan, Hot Pot is also a popular choice for a group meal and it is often eaten with a DIY dipping sauce, which you can make your own personal sauce by combining different sauces and/or egg yolk.
Serena‘s friend took us to have hot pot at Tai Ho Dien on our first night in Taipei seven years ago. We enjoyed the meal very much especially because we went during winter, and hot pot is perfect to have during cold months.
Where to eat:
- Tai Ho Dien (太和殿)
- Ding Wang Spicy Hot Pot (鼎王麻辣鍋)
5. Pork Pepper Bun (Hu Jiao Bing 胡椒餅)
Take note, this might just be my favorite item among the entire list of food to eat in Taipei. I found the famous Fuzhou Pork Pepper Bun at Raohe Night Market, where the bun is baked en-masse by sticking the dough, filled with peppery minced pork, to the sides of a large cylindrical oven. This process oddly reminds me of the method used to cook Zarb underground barbecue in Jordan.
The result is a very tender, juicy, and very peppery pork bun. I’m a huge fan of pepper, so needless to say I was sold from the first bite. Fuzhou Pepper Buns is the very first stall you see if you enter Raohe Market from the North East side, next to Songshan Temple.
Hat tip to my friends Yi-sheng and Michael Paravati for this recommendation!
Where to eat:
- Fuzhou Pepper Buns (福州世祖胡椒饼) at Raohe Night Market
6. Braised Pork Rice (Lu Rou Fan 滷肉飯)
Lu Rou Fan is another Taiwanese cuisine that keeps coming up on my recommendation list. I’m cheating a bit because I actually didn’t try Lu Rou Fan in Taipei (I ran out of time!) – I had it during our day trip to Jiufen instead, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on this dish.
Lu Rou Fan is a very simple but comforting dish, consisting of small cubes of braised pork marinated in thick, dark gravy sauce, served over piping hot steamed rice. When you get your bowl of Lu Rou Fan, you can mix the meat gravy sauce into your rice – I found this to be the best way to enjoy the dish. That taste of the sauce coating over each grain of rice was the definition of comfort food. It kinda reminds me of Mapo Tofu in terms of comfort level, but they taste completely different.
Some say Lu Rou Fan is probably the most well-loved Taiwanese dish, tied with the beef noodles, and I can totally see why! You can also order braised boiled eggs and braised tofu to complete the experience.
Where to eat:
- Jin Feng Lu Rou Fan (金峰魯肉飯)
- Huang Ji Braised Pork Rice (黃記魯肉飯)
7. Taiwanese Fried Chicken
In the recent year, street food in Taiwan has also become synonymous with Fried Chicken, thanks to their prevalence in the night markets, which is an important part of Taiwanese culture.
The Fried Chicken you can find in the night markets usually consists of bite-sized chicken coated in potato starch with salt, pepper, garlic and basil leaves. You can then add some chili into it as you like. It’s basically Taiwan’s take on popcorn chicken, but because they usually use potato starch instead of simple, this result is a more tender coating around the chicken pieces.
Yi-Wei (again) messaged me because he watched my Instagram stories and saw that I was at Shida market. He recommended Shi Yun Fried Chicken, and that message came at perfect timing because I was actually standing right in front of the stall, wondering what to get! So I quickly placed my order for their most popular item – salt pepper chicken. This place is actually a Yong Tau Foo type of place, where you can mark items to orders for items on a pink sheet of paper, or grab a basket and place ingredients you see on the stand into the basket, and they’ll fry it up for you. I was already eating non-stop that day so I just ordered the fried chicken – which was wonderfully juicy and very strong on the garlic side. Thanks Yi-Wei! I might have had bad breath for the rest of the night but it was worth it 😛
In the more recent years, Taiwan has also became known for the deep fried chicken cutlets, which was introduced by Hot Star XXL Fried Chicken and became popular due to its massive size. Basically, fried chicken has earned its status as the most popular street snack in Taiwan.
Where to eat:
- Shi Yun Fried Chicken (師園鹽酥雞) in Shida Night Market (Facebook)
- Hot Star Large Fried Chicken (士林豪大大雞排) in Ximending
- Shilin Night Market
8. Bubble Tea / Pearl Milk Tea
When I was living in Los Angeles in the early 2000s, Bubble Tea (aka “Boba”) had somehow gained popularity and became the hottest thing in the city. I remember my Taiwanese friends told me that Boba is not anything new to them – in fact, the concept of Bubble Tea was invented in the 1980’s in Taiwan.
The original bubble tea was simply just black tea mixed with milk and tapioca balls, but since it became popular, it has sprouted new variations which include fruit-flavored juice (such as passion fruit, strawberry, mango, lychee, etc) and ice blended base. In the recent years, it has also become a trend to be able to pick the level of sugars so you can feel slightly better when you are sipping on your milk tea drink. However, I personally think the traditional pearl milk tea with full sugar is still the best one!
Where to find:
- Chunsui Tang (春山茶水舖)
- chachago (茶茶果)
- Chen San Ding Bubble Tea (陳三鼎黑糖粉圓鮮奶 專賣店)
9. Pineapple Cake
I suppose Pineapple cake is not something you actually eat while you are in Taipei – instead, it’s something often brought back as a souvenir.
Why Pineapple cake? According to its Wikipedia page, Pineapples became a critical component of Taiwan’s economy during the Japanese era, during which the Japanese imported a wide variety of pineapple and established numerous processing plants. When the export demand diminished, local bakeries did not let the pineapples go to waste and used them as jams inside pastries, which resulted in the Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes as we know them today.
There are many popular places to get your pineapple cakes from, with one of the names I kept hearing being Chia Te. However, I did not have enough time to go to the store but I happened to come across Amo Bakery at Taipei Main Station, which is the station you take the airport express from if you’re flying out from Taoyuan Airport. I bought a dozen to share with my roommates and office friends. Many of them told me this was one of the best pineapple cakes they’ve had! So if you are taking the airport express from Taipei, I recommend saving your time and just getting your pineapple cakes from Amo Bakery. They are near locker 307 in the Taipei Main Station.
Where to find:
- Amo Bakery at Taipei Main Station
- Chia Te Bakery (佳德鳳梨酥)
10. Pork Intestine & Oyster Noodle
During my time in Taiwan, I mostly employed the eat-first-google-later method. So when we found out that our accommodation was only 5 minutes walk from Ay Chung Flour Rice Noodle, which was recommended by friends and blogs, I quickly dragged my friend there without much research.
The shop is located in Ximending a popular shopping area in Taipei. Once you get to the vicinity, the shop was easy to find. Just look for a large crowd slurping noodles out of a paper bowls on the street. Ay Chung is not a sit-down restaurant after all, and they only have one thing on their menu – the noodles! You go up to the store and place your order (Small or large) then immediately queue up to the left of the cashier to receive your noodles. The process is highly optimized and very fast so you’ll receive your order and before you know it, you’ll be joining the rest of the crowd slurping on your bowl in the middle of Ximending.
The noodles were really soft and slippery so you do need to use a proper soup spoon, or else it will be very challenging to eat. The soup was more like a gravy, the consistency was rather thick but still slurp-able. I loved this type of noodles so I enjoyed my bowl very much. I had no idea what was in the noodles, but we knew it contained some sort of innards and seafood. Later on, during the “google-later” phase of the day, our suspicions were confirmed – they were indeed pork intestines and oyster sauce.
Where to eat:
- Ay Chung Flour-Rice Noodle (阿宗麵線)
- Chen Ji Intestine & Oyster Taiwanese Vermicelli (陳記專業蚵仔麵線)
Other Notable Mentions
Addiction Aquatic Development (上引水產) – Taipei Fish Market
I call this the Tsukiji 2.0! Why? Because this is the place where you can get the freshest seafood in Taipei, but the market is more like a really huge, nicely decorated restaurant. Also, it’s half the price of what I would have expected. We ordered 4 sets of sushi platter, miso soups, and a dozen of oysters but the bill came out to be only NT$1,000 (US$33) per person. That’s MUCH cheaper than it would be in Singapore.
Xiao Long Bao (小籠包) at Din Tai Fung
I did not go to Din Tai Fung (DTF) in Taipei since there are plenty of them in Singapore and I eat there almost every week – it even made the list of favorite restaurants in Singapore. However, if you’ve never tried Xiao Long Bao (aka the soup dumpling, aka XLB) and have no plans to go to Shanghai any time soon (where XLB is originally from) you definitely must go to DTF in Taipei!
The original Din Tai Fung restaurant is on Xinyi Road, very close to Yong Kang area. You’ll most likely have to queue up, but if its anything like the Singapore experience they’ve got it all down with digital queue number and everything.
Quick Guide to Taiwan Night Markets
Taiwan Night markets are, to put it in one word, AMAZING! They are the ultimate definition of what a night market should be: bustling atmosphere, great shopping, a large variety of street food and cheap price tag.
The popular night in Taipei markets are:
- Shilin Night Market – Shilin needs no introduction. This is Taiwan’s biggest and most popular night market. For most tourists, this is the ultimate night market since it has both food and shopping!
- Shida Night Market – I would say Shida is more fashion than food. I was told this is where Taiwanese students go to find cheap yet fashionable and good quality clothes. Most of the styles I found was inspired by Korean fashion, which is all the rage across Asia these days. I found some cute earrings for cheap here. That said, you can still find solid food options at Shida too.
- Raohe Night Market – Raohe spans across a narrow street called Raohe street, which as you might have guessed is where the name came from. While the two rows of temporary stalls in the middle of the street consist mostly of snacky street food and drinks, you can find some night market goodies in the shophouses that line up the street.
- Ningxia Night Market – I did not get to visit Ningxia Night Market, but from what I heard they have a solid offering for street food but not much shopping.
Here are the items I recommend to try at the night market. Most of them are items I’ve covered above, so for more descriptions just refer to my previous paragraphs.
- Taiwanese Fried Chicken – see above
- Pork Pepper Bun – see above
- Scallion Pancake – see above
- Roast Beef with Pink Salt – I kept seeing this in all the night markets – they are cubes of beef, torched to perfection with each order. You can get other toppings but I personally loved the Himalayan pink salt!
- Shengjiang Bao – Originated from Shanghai, this pan-fried dumpling is also a common feature in Taiwan’s night market.
- Soy Beancurd (Tofu) Pudding – This is a favorite dessert in Asia. It’s a very silky pudding made from soybean (so basically Tofu) with syrup and any other toppings you might want. The most common one I’ve seen is the almond-flavored ones, but in Taiwan, they are also served with small tapioca balls like the ones from bubble tea.
- Papaya Milk – I know this sounds weird, but I tried it and loved it! You can also get a carton of this at any convenience store if you didn’t catch them at the night market.
Phew, that was an extra long post. I told you it was a food marathon trip 😛 Let me know below if you find this post useful or not, and if you have questions or suggestions to add. Until next time!