(This article was first published in Rappler. See: Must-try food in Taipei)
Taipei is one of the bustling cities in East Asia. The capital of Taiwan, it is a melting pot of Western influences and oriental culture.
The city boasts itself as the world’s culinary capital. Taipei’s unique culinary scene is one of the factors that boost Taiwan’s tourism.
In a recent trip to Taipei, I searched for the best eats in the city. My Taiwanese friends suggested that I visit the night markets as “real” Taiwanese food can be found there.
I went to Shilin, Ximending, and Gongguan districts and tried the different dishes being offered in their night markets. Here are 6 dishes that I recommend for tourists planning to visit Taipei.
1. New Row Mian or Beef Noodle Soup
This is arguably the most famous dish in Taipei (and even the whole of Taiwan). The flavor is unique in that few or no herbs and spices are added to the soup. Hence, the taste comes from the natural broth of the beef.
Most stores use cu mian or thick-cut noodles from wheat and floor. This compliments the thickness of the soup and the beef’s tenderness.
This dish is best served with a hot pot of tea. Varieties like pork and chicken noodle soups are also available in some stores.
It comes with a cheap price, too! For 50-70 NTD (New Taiwan Dollars), you can already savor this dish. A word of caution though, this dish will make you sweat!
2. Chun Bing or Spring Rolls
This is one of Taipei’s healthy treats. Most ingredients are fresh vegetables and there is little or no cooking involved.
Customers can choose which fillings they want to put in the roll. The fillings include carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, hard pressed tofu, and roasted peanut powder, among others. You can also choose between cooked beef, tuna, and pork.
There is an art to folding the spring roll and most vendors are kind enough to teach it to foreigners.
This dish is actually similar to the spring rolls I’ve tried in Vietnam in that both dishes use fresh wrappers. The difference is that the Taiwanese spring roll has a wheat-based wrapper and the Vietnamese spring roll, a rice-based wrapper.
Spring rolls cost around 30-50 NTD. It’s a great treat for vegetarians and health buffs alike.
3. Shui Jian Bao or Pan Fried Dumplings
This is a common street food in Taipei. It’s basically a dumpling that comes in the size of a bun and is cooked in two stages.
After these dumplings are wrapped in wonton, they are fried, then steamed in water. This process makes the dumplings juicy, soft, yet crispy.
The fillings are almost the same as those for the spring rolls except that pork is mostly used for these dumplings. They come at an affordable price of 10-15 NTD a piece. But eating these dumplings is like consuming a full meal.
4. Taiwanese barbecues
Barbecue stalls are everywhere in the night markets and one usually sees tourists crowding them because of the barbecue’s many varieties.
Apart from the usual pork and beef variety, these stalls roast almost any edible part of the chicken and pig (just like here in the Philippines). They even have vegetable and tofu barbecues!
The best thing about these barbecues is that each comes with its unique flavor. You can actually taste the spices blend with the meat.
The barbecues are a must-try for people who crave exotic foods. Some, like pig’s blood (also available here) may be unusual for tourists. The barbecues are priced at 15-20 NTD per stick, depending on which variety you choose.
And now for the desserts!
5. Baobing or Chinese shaved ice
Tired of touring Taipei’s night markets? Then you must try this dessert!
Chinese shaved ice is very similar to the Philippines’ halo-halo. The difference is that baobing has only one fruit (usually strawberry or melon) that is mixed with ice and condensed milk. Some types of this dessert also use beans instead of fruits.
This is a treat for those looking for sweets. The fresh fruits with shaved ice are also a great way of quenching your thirst. This dessert costs around 40-60 NTD, depending on where you buy it.
6. Lemon Pudding
This dessert is a personal favorite. Lemon pudding is basically lemon jelly mixed with ice and condensed milk (optional).
The sour taste of the lemon jelly blends well with the sweetness of the condensed milk. The shaved ice also makes this a perfect drink to cool yourself in the heat.
Besides milk tea, lemon jelly is one of the most popular items among the stalls, which also sell baobing.
It comes at 15-30 NTD, depending on the store. This is cheaper yet with the same tastiness (at least for me) of milk tea.
The foods I have listed here are only a few of the many delicacies that tourists should try in Taipei.
Beyond night markets, hot-pot restaurants around the city and tea places in Maokong are also worth trying, although they are more expensive.
When you visit Taipei, make sure to try these dishes. I would say more Taiwanese dishes need to be explored.
Surely, Taipei deserves a second visit.