So far, we've spent almost 3 weeks eating our way through Taiwan and its many night markets. With another 2 weeks to go, we'll be sure to add to the list of interesting and delicious dishes we discover along the way! We honestly didn't have any idea what to expect from Taiwanese food and although we have only scratched the surface of what is on offer we have been blown away with the incredible range of food available. Here is but a small sampling of what we have found so far. (See our food market videos at the bottom of this post.)
BEEF NOODLE SOUP
This is often regarded as Taiwan’s national dish and there are many different varieties and variations. Just follow where the locals go and you’re sure to find a steaming bowl of goodness.
PEPPER PORK BUNS (hu jiao bing)
Crunchy, flaky outer dough shell topped with sesame seeds and containing a filling of peppery marinated pork with loads of scallions. It’s cooked in a cylindrical clay oven similar to an Indian tandoori oven and half of the joy of this dish is watching them being made. We had our first pepper pork bun from Shilin Night Market, Taipei.
Often referred to as a “Taiwanese hamburger”, it’s a Chinese steamed bun (baozi) filled with meats and greens, typically braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, coriander, a few egg noodles and some ground peanuts. We had the Pepper Braised Pork and the Soya Chopped Pork from Dongdamen Night Market, Hualien and they were both delicious!
These steamed buns filled with a variety of ingredients like meat and vegetables and even sweet bean paste can be found on almost every street corner and in every 24hr convenience store. Although not a huge fan of the soft and sticky texture of the steamed bun, they are a convenient and tasty snack.
SOUP DUMPLINGS (Xiao Long Bao)
These broth-filled steamed pork dumplings are juicy mouthfuls of flavour. There is also a technique involved to best enjoy these dumplings: First, add a little brown vinegar and ginger to your spoon before placing the dumpling on your spoon. Then carefully pierce the dumping releasing some of the hot soup from within and more importantly, a little steam. Then open your mouth wide to enjoy the entire dumpling in a single, mouth-watering tasty bite! We found the ones from the friendly lady at Dongdemen Night Market, Hualien to be exceptionally tasty.
We had our first taste of fried dumplings from the Shilin Night Market, Taipei and never looked back! The steamed pork dumplings are gently fried on the bottom to give them a slight crisp. Enjoy with a drop of soy sauce to bring out the flavour to a max. We also had a favourite dumpling shop in Hualien (Ba Fang Yun Ji Dumpling) which served the most delicious long fried dumplings – we just kept going back for more!
You will find towers of dumplings being steamed in their traditional cylindrical bamboo steamers all over Taiwan. They are the simplest and cheapest variety of dumpling and are usually available filled with ground pork or vegetarian. Our favourite dumpling shop in Hualien (Ba Fang Yun Ji Dumpling) also served their steamed pork dumplings in a thick corn chowder which we thoroughly enjoyed.
This flaky pastry with chopped scallions makes for a delicious snack any time of the day. When served alone, it will often have a sprinkling of white pepper and cinnamon – a very unexpected combination which is absolutely delightful! We first had this at Cup&Cino, Hualien. You can also have them folded with a fried egg and sweet duck sauce or even with pork sausage. We had so many of these we honestly can’t say which was best. The crispy outer and soft, slightly sweet inner are just such a good combination. At Dongdamen Night Market, Hualien, they also have a version that is deep-fried together with a deep-fried egg – the crispy texture together with the soft egg yolk make for a wonderful taste sensation!
CHINESE SAUSAGE served with a glutinous rice “bun” sausage
(Dà Cháng Bāo Xiǎo Cháng)
The Taiwanese version of a hot-dog, the juicy grilled pork sausage is served with or in the rice sausage. The texture and taste of the rice sausage are surprisingly pleasant and compliment the pork sausage very well. We tried this from a food stall at Qixingtan Beach.
These hard-boiled eggs have been steeped in a solution of soy sauce, black tea leaves, star anise, fennel seeds, and other spices with their outer shell slightly cracked to give them a dark marbled look. They may look like dinosaur eggs, but they actually taste pretty good.
These eggs have been stewed repeatedly and then air-dried so that they’re even more flavourful. They are usually vacuum packed and available in most convenience stores.
We discovered this tasty treat at Cup&Cino, Hualien, where they served it together with grilled meat and a fried egg for breakfast.
KING TRUMPET OYSTER MUSHROOMS
These juicy deep-fried mushrooms are somewhat of a speciality. You will find them at many night markets and there will often be a long queue. We had a mixed basket of battered and deep-fried mushrooms from Dongdamen Night Market, Hualien which included King Oyster and Golden Mushrooms and we enjoyed the delicate Golden Mushrooms so much we went back for more!
FRIED CHICKEN CHOP
This is a favourite Taiwanese snack. Usually a thin and large, look-alike chicken schnitzel snack with a crumbly, crispy and crunchy coating its double deep-fried chicken and dusted liberally with a mix of chilli powder and pepper.
BRAISED PORK RICE
This was one of the most satisfying dishes that we had for dinner in Hualien, from Jason’s Fried Chicken (池上便當). Most other foods are more snack-like and less of an entire meal. This was a delicious bowl of sticky rice, super succulent and tasty braised pork served with cooked cabbage and a hard-boiled egg.
FLAME TORCHED BEEF
The preparation of this dish makes for good viewing at both the Shilin and Raohe Night Markets, Taipei. The tender cubes of beef are cooked over a grill before being flame-torched and sprinkled with a seasoning of your choices like salt, pepper, teriyaki, or cumin.
TAIWANESE SWEET SAUSAGE
At every night market, you go to, you will see people walking around eating these sausages on a stick. Other than being a very convenient snack, the oddly sweet pork sausage is also just plain yummy.
DEEP-FRIED BATTERED SEAFOOD
The Taiwanese love their seafood and what better way to eat it other than battered, deep-fried, chopped into bite-sized pieces or on a skewer and sprinkled with a seasoning salt of your choice.
DIY GRILLED SHRIMP
Also known as urban shrimping, this is more of a fun activity than just a meal. Best enjoyed as a group, you cast fishing lines into indoor concrete pools filled with live freshwater shrimp. Any shrimp you catch, you then skewer, salt, and grill yourself to eat.
A popular snack across Asia, these fish balls are left stewing in a sauce before being served on a skewer stick ready to enjoy.
This is a very typical and popular Taiwanese dish which makes for a fun evening out. A simmering pot of soup stock is left on a burner at your table and you are left to place the raw ingredients into the pot to cook yourself. The ingredients will usually be a variety of thinly sliced meat, seafood, leaf vegetables, noodles, tofu, and various fish and meatballs.
To be honest, we could not bring ourselves to giving this a try, there were just far too many other delicious and more appealing dishes to enjoy! You will find this at most night markets and we are led to believe that it tastes much better than it smells.
Self-explanatory, the chewy omelette is filled with small oysters and vegetables and usually served with red chilli sauce.
Appropriately named, this thick chunk of fried bread is hollowed out and filled with a creamy chicken, seafood, or vegetable chowder and really does visually resemble a coffin! The stall selling these at the Dongdamen Night Market always has a long queue so be sure to get there early if you don’t want to wait.
PIG BLOOD CAKE
A Taiwanese street food delicacy served on a stick, pig blood cake is made with pork blood, sticky rice and soy broth. It is either fried or steamed and then rushed with a sweet or spicy sauce before being coated in crushed peanuts and fresh herbs. We were convinced by a local to try one at Dongdamen Night Market, Hualien and while it was in no way unpleasant, neither of us particularly liked it much!
ICED RED BEAN SOUP
We’re not sure if this should be on the sweet or savoury list. Often served with a buffet breakfast, this cold bean soup is very sweet but also somewhat palate cleansing.