Taiwan is a small country to the South of China which rich in culture and history. Taiwanese food also happens to be some of the best in the world, deeply inspired by the cuisine from the Chinese mainland whilst carving its own culinary path in the world.
Travelling from the South (Kaohsiung) to the North (Taipei) takes less than 2 hours but there are plenty of amazing places to discover along the way where you will find even more local cuisines and delicacies.
Chiayi is one of the most foodie cities in all of Asia whilst the capital Taipei is full of incredible street food markets where you can sample the delicious as well as the downright weird.
Even though Taiwan is a very modern, welcoming country, it can sometimes be a little difficult to order food here if you don’t speak Mandarin. Many of the restaurant menus look like this:
So it is advised to ask your hotel reception to write down the specific dish you are looking for so that you can present it to the vendor or restaurant.
Most Popular Taiwanese Dishes
Taiwan is known for quite a lot of amazing dishes, here are the absolute must-try foods along with our favorite recipes to try for yourself.
Beef Noodle Soup
Beef noodle soup is a staple in the Taiwanese diet. The beef is cooked in a broth with vegetables for hours (sometimes a whole day), which means that the meat is unbelievably tender and the broth is packed full of flavor.
The noodles vary in thickness depending on vendor, but typically I found udon-style noodles to be quite common.
This dish is so filling that I was never able to finish a whole one! Of course, I would drink the broth and finish off the beef before reluctantly having to leave the noodle remnants at the bottom.
Since beef noodle soup is so eponymous with Taiwanese cuisine, you should have no trouble finding it among the hundreds of food vendors that line the city streets.
Gua Bao: The Taiwanese Hamburger
With all the hype surrounding the Gua Bao burger I was keen to try the best and people kept telling me I had to go to Lan Jia in Taipei. So I did, and I was not disappointed!
Gua Bao, also known as pork belly buns or Taiwanese hamburger, is made from tender braised pork belly sandwiched between steamed bao buns. You can choose between how fatty you would like the pork, or you can choose half and half, which I did.
It seems the Taiwanese have a knack for cooking deliciously soft and tender meat, because the pork belly was just that! It has a very distinct Asian flavor due to ingredients such as soy sauce and sesame oil which are widely used in Asian cooking.
Stinky tofu is made with tofu that has been fermented in brine for several months which gives it a very strong blue cheese odour. It’s not for the faint hearted!
I must say though, it does taste a lot better than it smells. Many people really do not like it and say it tastes exactly like it smells, but I disagree – it just takes some getting used to. In essence, it tastes like a very sweet tofu or certain types of cheeses.
It’s certainly interesting to try if you are slightly adventurous with your palette.
Bubble Tea (Pearl Milk Tea)
Many of you may already be aware of the famous Taiwanese bubble tea. It has experienced somewhat of a boom in recent years and is now available to try in many Western cities throughout the world.
Bubble tea is a cold, sweet tea drink containing chewy tapioca balls (pearls). Served with a large straw to suck up the pearls, it’s a very popular drink with locals and tourists.
I had never tried it before and I wanted Taiwan to be the first time I did (I like to try the authentic versions first!). I must be honest though, I was underwhelmed. The tapioca balls were so sickly and chewy, and the tea was just… okay. I couldn’t even finish it!
But don’t take my word for it. It is a very popular drink so you may discover a taste for it!
Sun cakes are a pastry dessert popularly sold in the Taichung region of Taiwan. They are round in shape and light colored, hence their name.
ZongZi: Sticky Rice Dumplings
Zongzi feels a lot more traditional and representative of older, authentic Taiwanese cuisine (especially compared to more recent favorites such as bubble tea). In fact, these sticky rice dumplings are also a traditional Chinese dish so it’s clear to see the history.
Zongzi is made of steamed or boiled rice stuffed with fillings, either sweet or savory, such as tapioca, taro, red bean paste, egg, pork or chicken. They are then wrapped in bamboo leaves to hold them altogether.
Since there are so many variations, you can try all sorts of zongzi and not get bored! You can usually find them served at street food markets where they are consumed as a very filling snack.
Oyster omelettes were a concept I found a bit odd when I first heard about them. From past experiences of eating oysters, the advice is to swallow rather than chew to avoid the nasty taste.
So I was a bit reluctant to try a whole oyster omelette!
I found that they were readily available at night markets around Taipei, the picture above was taken at Raohe Night Market which was an amazing foodie experience.
I was actually incredibly surprised that the oyster omelette was in fact delicious! It’s cooked with noodles, scallions and a-choy then covered in chili sauce, so the oyster taste isn’t overpowering at all.
Braised Pork Rice
Ok so not the most aesthetically pleasing of dishes but braised pork rice is such a delicious and highly popular Taiwanese dish that the look is really not important. It’s also super cheap too, likely because it’s quite simple and can be cooked in big batches.
Essentially braised pork rice is ground pork meat that is marinated and then boiled in soy sauce.
Of course, it’s all about the sauce (called bah-sò), which is customised depending on taste, much like a ragu.
It is then served together with a big bowl of rice along with a side of your choosing.
My hotel reception told me to order it with a vegetable side dish but the most vegetable-like dish I could find was cabbage, so I ordered that (which was delicious by the way).
Hot Pot (Steamboat)
Hot pot is a real dining experience that you can find all over Taiwan and throughout China.
For the best experiences it’s worth seeking out some of the top rated restaurants for hot pot (or ask locals for advice), Taiwanese people take their hotpot seriously!
If you’re not familiar with the concept of a hot pot, it’s a bit like a fondue but with meat and vegetables dipped into a spicy hot broth. You don’t need me to tell you how tasty a hot pot is, but I will anyway… it’s an unbelievably delicious and fun dining experience!
Best eaten with 2 or more people, the ingredients are added to the simmering broth to cook and then eaten with a dipping sauce.
The flavour of the broth seeps into the vegetables so that’s where the real flavor comes from.
It’s also one of the few dishes I would recommend you try authentically rather than a Western version.
The main reason is the atmosphere of eating among groups of Taiwanese people who are all enjoying the same experience as you.
Taiwanese Fried Chicken
You very likely will have tried Taiwanese fried chicken without even realising it! In the USA it is known as popcorn chicken, but make no mistake, it originated right here in Taiwan!
Of course, it’s incredibly different to the type of popcorn chicken you would purchase from KFC since the flavors are very authentically Asian. (Although, did you know that the Japanese eat KFC for Christmas dinner?!)
Ingredients for Taiwanese fried chicken includes soy sauce, chilli, five-spice, basil leaf and garlic.
So it’s got a bit of a kick to it and is packed full of flavor.
People typically eat these little nuggets of chicken as a quick street food snack. They will use a wooden stick, much like a large toothpick, and eat them as they wander the streets.
Even though Oolong Tea traditionally originates in China, Taiwan is home to some of the best you can find!
Oolong tea is made of withered and dried leaves, using the process of oxidation.
Different levels of oxidation will output different levels of strength. As such, there are many different flavors of Oolong tea that you can try from green oolong tea to very black tea.
What I love about Oolong tea is the tradition and ceremony to drinking it. There are particular steps to the preparation that brings out the best flavors and aromas.
And last but certainly not least, the Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes! Oh my God, these little squares of sweet heaven are a treat that I couldn’t get enough of.
You can buy them each day from the bakery or there are hundreds of speciality places to try, each with their own unique take on the snack. So it’s definitely worth trying a large range of different types whilst you are in Taiwan.
The main filling of pineapple is encased by a crumbly pastry on the outside. There is a lot of symbolism involved with pineapple cakes which is why they’re such a popular dish.
The word for pineapple in Taiwanese Hokkien sounds a lot like the the phrase which translates as ‘come forth, prosperous and thriving’. So Taiwanese people associate pineapple cakes with giving well wishes to others, perhaps as gifts for celebrations such as engagements.
Trying Taiwanese Street Food
Taiwan is famed for their bustling foodie night markets where you can sample an incredible array of weird and wonderful delicacies. Check out this video for an idea of some of the dishes you can try when wondering around the night markets.
So there we have it! My list of amazing, popular dishes from Taiwan that I tried on my recent trip. If you visit Taiwan yourself I hope these recommendations prove useful.