to travel & eat / taipei, taiwan

Looking West from the Shangri-la Far Eastern Hotel rooftop

Eating is a huge part of Asian culture. Taiwan is known for their “small eats” and Taipei does not disappoint. Asia in general is big on food trends and subject to influences from other countries and cultures. In fact, it’s hard to find a bad meal. It’s up to you how Taiwanese you want to eat. If you want to get deeper into Taiwanese cuisine, check out The Food of Taiwan by Cathy Erway. I personally don’t eat as much street food due to serious family meals, limited time and stomach space when I visit. I also have a list on Yelp that is disorganized and will stay that way!

Fruit. Tropical fruit here is amazing, especially in the steaming summer season. Taiwanese mangos are one of the few things that make up for having to visit Taipei in summer. To find good fruit, it is well worth a walk through a local wet market. (If you visit in the non-summer, mangos can still be found but it is nowhere as good and not as cheap.)

Taiwan mango, red dragonfruit, lychee

Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) is a Taiwanese chain that’s known for their soup dumplings. They boast many flavors of soup dumplings. I am also a fan of their veggie dumplings and fried rice. Pro-tip: the truffle dumpling (center) has to be eaten with a clean spoon. If you have a good server, he will proactively offer clean utensils. It’s best to go with a large group so you can try more dishes. If you’ve been to any DTF locations, you know to expect a wait. There is one location in Taipei as of October 2016 that takes reservations Mitsukoshi A4 (新光三越信義新天地A4館). Some people only like to go to the original location, but I am fine for what is subjectively considered subpar food with no wait time. Most of their locations are in shopping districts so the wait is not bad.

Breakfast is easily one of my favorite meals and a reason to wake up early. It is carb heavy though! My favorites are rice burritos (飯糰), variants of dough with scallion and whatever else you want to add (蔥抓餅/蛋餅), and these baked scallion buns (蔥酥餅). Be careful though! If you eat too much you won’t have room for the rest of the day! Coffee is relatively expensive (local chains are must cheaper than Starbucks) and hard to find non-cow milk or skim milk options.

Multi-course Lunch/Dinner

I am lucky in that my family loves to eat and my local relatives make dinner plans for us, so I get to go to really nice lunches and dinners.

Orange Shabu is expensive but it’s worth it for the super fresh seafood that was still moving, service, the post-meal congee (I am still thinking of it), and the almond mochi jello. We left stuffed. We got a last minute dinner reservation for 9pm or something while we were still jetlagged, so reservations are a must! The mister hated congee until he tried this one. We also took leftovers home and had it for breakfast.

Only a few photos from the spectacular Shanghainese meal we had at Ye Shanghai (夜上海) with my great-aunt. Her son owns the restaurant group that owns Ye Shanghai (I think the HK one has a Michelin star). How many ways can you innovate “Chinese” cuisine? Many! And you have to to keep your customers in a market saturated with restaurants.

Snacks

This is a broad category but I would include anything that isn’t a multi-course meal under here.

If you’re looking for easy and cheap protein, tea eggs are sold at every convenience store. They are eggs boiled and steeped in tea. My aunt says FamilyMart’s has the best flavor.

Beef noodle soup! I’m too lazy to test out more places so I normally default to YongKang Beef Noodle Soup. You can get it in red/spicy soup or clear soup. And there is also that one time we woke up jetlagged at the Mandarin Oriental and ordered wagyu beef noodle soup at 3:30am (photo in upper left).

If you love mochi (glutinous rice balls), then you are in luck.

Clockwise from upper left: I am a huge fan of natural grass jelly and aiyu jelly from 愛玉之夢遊仙草 near Tonghua nightmarket. I get it with mochi balls and taro balls. Everything here is handmade and artificial/preservative-free; lychees; a really random combo of peanuts, corn, red bean, and mochi balls on top of shaved ice from 臺一牛奶大王 near National Taiwan University (it was not mango season); and Japanese matcha ice cream, matcha jello, red bean, and mochi balls from 明森宇治抹茶專賣店 (lower basement level of Dunhwa Eslite), it may have closed.

I’m not super big on nightmarket food but did hit up Raohe after dinner. It was rainy but relatively ok given there are a lot of overlapping tents.

Clockwise from upper left: More natural aiyu jelly, grilled squid (this tasted ok), meat buns that are baked in a Tandoori oven (can’t be missed, you’ll see the line), ice cream crepe with peanut powder and other things

Clockwise from upper left: Multicolored and flavored soup dumplings at 樂天皇朝 Paradise Dynasty in the Xinyi Breeze Center (I’m more of a Din Tai Fung purist), braised tofu and meats at a neighborhood joint, chirashi (Japanese food is plentiful and relatively cheap compared to the US), raw seafood at the 上引水產 Addiction Aquatic Development fish market that is much more tourist-centric than Tsukiji in Tokyo; and 

Clockwise from upper left: Bubble tea is super cheap, I like grass jelly more than the bubbles; KFC has the best Portuguese style egg tarts; Smoothie King > Ice Monster for mango ice at the original YongKang St location; Japanese cheese tarts at the mall basement is super overrated… I know they have these in Korea and Singapore too based on others’ IG posts

Gifts

Pineapple cake is a popular gift to bring back. If you are gifting to someone with a discerning palate, the standard gift boxes available at duty free shops with random brands won’t do. Sunny Hills is a popular preservative-free brand. We visited the physical shop in Taipei to sample cake with tea. It’s out of the way but such a tourist destination that there are cabs waiting nearby. You can find more selection here than the airport. If you cannot make it to the store, they also sell it at the TPE airport, T2, pre-security. The cakes are heavy and resilient so I happily chucked these in my luggage to check in.

Kavalan makes award winning Taiwanese whiskey. There is a distillery that you can visit in Yilan. If you want to buy whiskey to take home, you can find it at the airport, but the award winners can be hard to find. We got this gifted from a friend who had to pull some strings since it has a 6 month waitlist. Also, be aware of layover/transit liquid rules. I’ve transited in HK and Tokyo before. When returning to the US, Cathay in HK does another security check at the gate so all liquids are not safe. You are fine transiting in Tokyo but everything needs to be sealed in a duty-free bag.

 

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