The highlight of many who travel to Taiwan is the food as the country’s melting pot culture has brought together a mecca of spices, aromas and ingredients from around the world to form the delectable cuisine that it is now.
Much of their food culture is influenced by Japan, the West, the aborigines and the Chinese who immigrated to Taiwan. Although Chinese and Taiwanese food differ greatly, you can still find many similarities and their mesh of food cultures create one that is simply out of this world.
So without further ado, let me introduce you to some of the best Taiwanese food every visitor must try. I’ll also share some dishes that the locals absolutely love so if you want to eat what the locals eat, read on!
The Best Taiwanese Food You Have to Try
Shaobing Youtiao 燒餅油條
Together, these are normally eaten for breakfast. Shoubing is roasted flatbread with sesame seeds and the youtiao is a essentially a fried breadstick or Chinese donut which is wrapped in the shoubing. Youtiao literally translates into “oil belt” in English from Mandarin. Together, they give a beautiful crunch as you bite into it.
Hot, steaming and fresh is the best way to eat them otherwise they get stale and hard. Fried bread sounds a bit heavy for breakfast but I just love these. It’s normal to get soy milk along with the shaobing youtiao. It’s best not to eat one of these everyday for breakfast but you can indulge once in awhile!
These delicious breakfast snacks curbed my cravings when we found a place near our apartment in Hualien serving breakfast. Danbing is essentially an egg pancake, with a thin onion flavored pastry.
You can find several variations of this dish, the one in the picture is danbing with hashbrowns but you can get vegetables, just egg or even cheese with it. The only problem with this dish is that I could eat about three of them. They’re so good!
Lunch and Dinner Dishes
Fried Milkfish 虱目魚
If there’s one fish you should eat in Taiwan, it’s milkfish. Taiwanese people LOVE it. Boiled, in a soup, stir fried, deep fried, they love it in all forms. This is fried milkfish and don’t be surprised if they cook it whole which is very common in Asia. Be prepared to see lots of fish heads in Taiwan!
This is one of my favorite all time fish so definitely try it. The meat is very tender and the way they cook it, essentially any method is absolutely scrumptious!
Fried pork chop rice 排骨飯
Pork chop rice is a normal lunchbox or bian dang dish but there are some places in Taiwan that has turned this fast train food into a specialty. They fry the pork chop so it’s nice and crispy and it’s eaten with a bowl of rice and vegetables. This particular pork chop rice in the picture was from a famous restaurant in the Yingge district.
The spices they use to flavor the pork chop is so good and I found myself gnawing away at the bone trying to get every last yummy piece. Nomnomnom.
Clam and Ginger Soup 姜丝蛤蜊汤
One food Taiwanese people go crazy for is clams. Whenever we went to a buffet, the one dish locals always had to eat was a plate of steamed clams or clam soup. This is clam and ginger soup from the same place with the famous fried pork chops. Taiwanese people believe that drinking soup while eating is better for the digestion and healthier so soup is a must for every meal.
This clam and ginger soup has the perfect blend of ginger flavor and clam juice, making me feel so warm and fuzzy inside with the ginger leaving a distinct but good taste in my mouth. Ginger is good for stomach problems and it does make my tummy feel pretty good.
I’m not the biggest fans of clams but this soup turned me into a one. It is a must try when in Taiwan!
Hot Pot 火鍋”
This is my all time favorite Taiwanese food. Also known as shabu shabu, it is a cook your own pot with whatever you want to put in it. The picture above is a veggie hot pot but the best hot pot place we went to was a hot pot buffet. They had different broths and all the ingredients you can imagine – tofu, vegetables, seafood, fish/meatballs, sliced beef, pork, lamb, mushrooms, noodles and more.
It was amazing.
There are other hot pot specialties around Taiwan. In New Taipei, there was a popular duck hot pot on the corner where we stayed, there’s Mala (麻 辣) which is a very spicy oil and other variations. You have to eat hot pot in Taiwan, it is more than just eating good food, it is a whole experience on its own!
Radish Cake 蘿蔔糕
This is another one of my favorites. This is fried radish cake which you can commonly find in dim sum places. It is typically made of Chinese daikon radish which is shredded, molded into squares and pan fried. The outside is crunchy and the inside is soft which makes it feel just heavenly in your mouth as you bite into it.
It’s sometimes dangerous to order this dish because I could seriously eat a whole plate of it and more. Dip it into a little soy sauce with Siracha and mmm… you have a foodgasm right there!
There are some other variations with pieces of shrimp inside them and some cakes are longer and flatter. Any version of radish cake is tasty so be sure to try some.
Chicken soup 雞湯
There are many versions of chicken soup in the world and Taiwan’s is my favorite. This is chicken soup with bamboo which we had in Nantou. This was from one of my great-uncle’s favorite restaurants where they raise their own chickens. He’s been going there for over 10 years so I knew it would be good!
Their chicken soup is the most popular dish and as soon as I tasted it, my taste buds just screamed with delight. The chicken was so tender, the bamboo was cooked to a soft perfection and the flavor was the perfect mix of salt and ginger.
So when you go to Taiwan, try their chicken soup. This isn’t your any ole run of the mill Campbell’s soup, once you try chicken soup in Taiwan, you won’t be able to go back!
Hot and sour soup 酸辣湯
Another soup! This one is hot and sour soup but don’t get it mixed up with Chinese sweet and sour soup. This is Taiwan’s version which you can find at most stalls in night markets and restaurants. The real version calls for pig or duck blood cake which isn’t really used in the US so when you get a chance to try it in Taiwan, have a bite.
I know it sounds scary but it is actually really good and gives the broth a unique flavor. Plus that is the authentic Taiwanese version. Some versions can be really sour so if your first hot and sour soup isn’t that great, give it another chance. I’ve had some pretty sour ones so it all depends on your taste buds and what kind of flavor you like.
Stir fried rice noodles 炒米粉
Stir fried rice noodle or tsao mi fun is a dish that reminds me of home. My mother cooked this quite a lot growing up and although I prefer noodle soup, it is still very good. I hope that I’ll be able to one day cook this noodle dish as well as my mother because it’s a dish that a lot of people love.
The thin rice noodles are cooked with vegetables, mushrooms, pork or shrimp. The hallmark of a good tsao mi fun is not too much oil – it can be easy to stir fry this dish with a ton of oil. The best tsao mi fun we ate was from a little restaurant in Nantou that my great-aunt took us to and our chef cooked up us the best tsao mi fun I’ve ever had in Taiwan. Just looking at this picture is making me drool!
Hotplate tofu 鐵板豆腐
Taiwan has amazing tofu so if you love tofu, eat lots of it in Taiwan. I have never eaten such soft and succulent tofu before and trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of it in my life. This is hotplate tofu where they bring it out to you on a sizzling hot plate with vegetables and usually with meat.
The flavor is peppery (Taiwan loves black and white pepper) and the sauce is slightly thick which mixes the tofu and veggies well together. Thinking about how good this tofu was is making me hungry!
Water Spinach 空心菜
Yeison ate this dish for the first time in Taiwan and fell in love with it. I’ve been eating it since I was a kid but it’s not as good in the States as it is in Taiwan. This is water spinach or kong xin cai and this vegetable grows like a weed in Taiwan. Taiwan cooks this spinach SO well, I’ve had it in China and the Philippines and neither of them compare.
This crunchy vegetable with a hollow stem will quickly convert any picky eater. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this veggie! Sauteed with some garlic and spices, I could easily eat a huge plate of this spinach for dinner with a bowl of rice and nothing else. This is a must eat in Taiwan and vegetarians will be delighted with this spinach.
It is commonly found in most local restaurants and best eaten if paired with noodle soup or dumplings but you can really eat it with anything!
This is another food that reminds me of home. Zongzi are sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and are usually made during the Dragon Boat Festival. My mom makes killer zongzi and this holiday became one of my favorite times of year to look forward to. Taiwan and China’s version of zongzi are similar but the difference is in shape.
In China you’ll see them wrapped into rectangular shapes while Taiwan’s are triangular. Taiwan’s rice usually contains mushrooms, peanuts and pork and some other versions have dried shrimp, bamboo and egg yolks. These are sold year round so don’t worry about missing them if you’re not in Taiwan during the dragon boat festivals.
These are good as a snack or even as a full meal in themselves. They’re so good sometimes I’ll end up eating three!
Hakka Stir Fry 客家小炒
This stir fry is pretty popular in Taiwan, you can get it at most local restaurants. It is a combination of green onion, scallions, squid, pork and dried bean curd. It has a hint of spicy with chili peppers and it is delicious. It’s actually my cousin’s favorite dish and I can totally see why. They say this dish is found wherever there are mountains so if you go to a restaurant up in the mountains (which usually has the best local food), you can find Hakka stir fry.
Hot Spring Egg 溫泉蛋
This a soft boiled egg cooked in hot spring water and I’m obsessed with these. Find out what exactly is a hot spring egg and how you can make your own when you visit a hot spring in Taiwan!
Shou Zhua Bing 手抓并
I don’t think there is an name in English for this one but the English translation is “hand grab pancake.” This is actually one of me and my brother’s favorite things to eat in Taiwan. It is similar to a green onion pancake except no green onion, less oily and the dough is a bit chewier. They cut this pancake into long sections so it falls apart when you grab it, hence the name. It is so good!
The dough is crunchy yet chewy with a perfect balance, the flavor has a hint of spicy and you can eat these paired with beef noodle soup or some other noodle soup. It’s found in restaurants but is also a street food. A definite must try if you like green onion pancakes!
Beef Wrapped Pancake 牛肉捲餅
This is braised beef rolled in a green onion pancake and it is amazing. Taiwan does magic with all their bing (pancake) to make them so flavorful and tasty. This one is no exception as the beef is braised just right to be nice and soft paired with the crunchy pancake. Yum!
Did I mention that you shouldn’t go to Taiwan if you’re on a diet? There’s just so much to eat!
Snacks and Dessert
Pineapple cake 鳳梨酥
This is Yeison’s favorite Taiwanese snack and one of mine as well. Pineapple cake is a popular snack item in Taiwan especially with foreigners. You could say pineapple cake is the signature of Taiwan and you’ll see them in the grocery stores, night markets and old streets but the best ones are the ones by Sunny Hill.
The thick cake surrounding the sweet pineapple jam is a combination only geniuses think of and thank goodness they did! There’s a reason why pineapple cakes are such a hot item in Taiwan, but make sure to buy authentic ones as some bakers will substitute melon for pineapple.
Mango shaved ice 芒果
Shaved ice is a popular dessert in many Asian countries. Malaysia has their own version as did South Korea which we ate when we were there. However, my favorite is Taiwanese shaved ice. It is beyond this world with the mix of condensed milk, syrup, shaved ice and fruit. Mango is a popular flavor and my favorite since the mango in Taiwan are mouthwatering finger licking good and it tastes even better with shaved ice.
Taiwan’s summers are incredibly hot and humid and shaved ice is the perfect way to cool down. You can get them at night markets, old streets and at least one stall in the midst of the many street food stalls. It’s one of the things I miss most about Taiwan.
Taiwan’s version of tea eggs can almost be synonymous as 7-eleven (yes the convenience store). 7-elevens are notorious in Taiwan, being just as common as Starbucks in Seattle or even more! And with every 7-eleven is a pot of tea eggs.
Tea eggs make for a great quick snack. They are pre-boiled eggs that are boiled again in tea. They’re really good and I usually grab one whenever I go to 7-eleven.
Ox Tongue Pastry 牛舌饼
We got these little pastries at Lukang Old Street and I was delightfully surprised. Despite the name, they are not ox tongue or meat at all, it’s named so after the shape. They’re pastries which have are slightly fluffy with a soft center. I guess you can equate it to a Chinese doughnut of some sort without a hole. Definitely try one of these when you see them, mostly at old streets.
Duck head 東山鴨頭
It’s impossible to walk the streets of Taiwan and not see a duck head. If there’s one bird Taiwanese people love, it’s duck. You see them hanging whole everywhere at the night markets and duck head is a favorite among the locals. They marinate the duck head and then fry it so the head and beak can be eaten.
Beer and Apple Sidra
Taiwan Beer is nationally recognized as one of the best so if you like beer, you have to try Taiwan Beer. Since I don’t drink, Apple Sidra was my go to drink. It’s bubbly apple soda!
Some other options are Super Supau, Honey Aloe, and of course bubble tea. Bubble tea is probably the most famous export of Taiwan and you can find a bubble tea stand in nearly every corner.
And the drink you should try the most in Taiwan? The tea. Taiwan is famous for their tea and the oolong grown in Taiwan is 20% of the world production. That is a lot! My favorite tea from Taiwan is Alishan.
More Food to Try
The infamous Stinky Tofu
Taiwanese Fried Chicken Steak (these are huge)
Taiwanese sausage wrapped in sticky rice
Beef Noodle Soup
I hope I finally convinced you of all the fabulous eats you can find in Taiwan and this is just a sampling of the best Taiwanese food we tried. You’re probably thinking by now, “Ohhh that’s why you gained so much weight” and yes, yes it is. Hey weight you can always lose but memories last forever!
When you’re in Taiwan or in any country in Asia, my advice is just to try as much as possible and have an open mind. It can be slightly startling for people who aren’t used to seeing parts of the pig past the bacon but my rule of thumb is to try everything at least once when you travel. These are foods you won’t find much in the rest of the world so enjoy it!