Essential Eats: Seven things you need in and around your mouth in Taipei, Taiwan

View from Xiangshan, easily accessed via the red MRT line.

As this sub-tropical island becomes increasingly knows for its nature – both on land and underwater – Taiwan is fast becoming one of Asia’s fastest growing tourism destinations. Its capital, Taipei, is a clean (really clean), fairly modern city full of lush parks, with easy access to both the beach and the mountains via one single MRT line and delicious, affordable food everywhere you go. If you’re interested in discovering Taiwanese food beyond what’s available in Din Tai Fung, this article is for you.

SOYMILK (DOU JIANG)

When in Taiwan, do as the locals do and have a bowl of hot, fresh soymilk (doujiang) along with your breakfast or have it cold when it’s too hot outside. Chinese food, in general, is all about the ‘mouth feel’ or texture when consuming food, and this is no different. When done just right, you’ll find yourself sipping on a silky smooth drink. Make sure you order a fried dough-stick (youtiao) and let it soak up the goodness – trust me, it’s a must do here. For the adventurous, try a bowl of salty soymilk (xian-doujiang), pictured above. If you’re familiar with Malaysian or Singaporean food, its like a savoury taufoofah topped with bits of those fried dough-sticks and chives. So good!

Where?
FUHANG SOYMILK (阜杭豆漿) – 2nd Floor HuaShan Market, 108, Zhongxiao East Rd

Pro-tip: Fuhang is incredibly popular with locals and tourists alike (it’s really that good) so if you see people lining up as soon as you exit the station, expect a bit of a wait but know that the ladies upstairs work fast. If you’re not up to waiting in line just a little bit or if you want a cheeky post-night out snack, there’s also Yong-He in Da’an, which is open 24/7.

TIAN BU LA

Pescetarians rejoice! Right by Ximen’s chaotic roads of shops and more shops, you’ll find Sai-Men Tian bu La. Order up a bowl of tianbula (obviously) and you’ll get a bowlful of fish moulded into different forms served hot (and I do mean hot), with a sweet brown sauce a-kin to XO sauce. I like to order a side of fishball soup, because I love having extra fishballs, and to mix the sauce with the soup, though the soup is pretty amazing on its own. Add a dash of chili sauce to the sauce-soup mix for a delicious surprise in your mouth.

Where?
SAI-MEN TIAN BU LA (賽門甜不辣) – 95, Xining South Rd, Wanhua District

Don’t be discouraged when you see long lines in Taiwan, that’s a sign that the food is genuinely good!

STEAMED BUN BURGERS (GUA BAO)

Traditionally, guabao is a steamed bun stuffed with porky goodness with veggies and peanut powder for that little bit of… uh, health. At Lan Jia, one can’t go wrong biting into one of these and finding the meat just melt in your mouth. For beginners: order up a mixed bun (ban fei ban shou), which means that your bun will be stuffed with half fatty, half lean meat. But fret not, vegetarians, Taiwan has not forgotten about you. You’ll be able to find veggie options at Shi-Jia right by the Tonghua Night Market.

Where?
LAN JIA STEAMED BUN (藍家割包) – 3, Alley 8, Lane 316, Sec 3, Luosifu Rd, Zhongzheng District
SHI-JIA STEAMED BUN (石家割包) – 21-1, Tonghua St, Da’an District

RICE-BALLS (FAN TUAN)

It seems that another thing left behind by the Japanese in Taiwan is their love for rice-balls, and the Taiwanese have certainly made it their own. However, I don’t mean the ones you can get from 7-Eleven or Family Mart, I mean freshly made in front of your eyes fantuan; bigger and cheaper. I’m talking a ball of rice about as big as the iPhone 6 stuffed with whatever you please, from roasted pork to tuna to cheese, along with pickled veggies and a good ol’ stick of youtiao. It surprised me how amazing (and filling!) these were and I’m sure it’ll surprise you too. My go-to place is Ben Wan Fan Tuan near Taipei 101, along a road of full of food stores and cafes.

Where?
BEN WAN FAN TUAN (本丸飯糰) – 24, Wuxing St, Xinyi District

BRAISED GOODNESS (LU WEI)

Every time I come to Taipei, I absolutely crave lu wei from this exact place. Right along the Shi’Da Night Market, you’ll see a few stalls with a variety of noodles, veggies, tofu and meats. I highly recommend going to the one pictured above, Lantern Lu Wei, who’ve recently moved into a bigger, more permanent space in the market. Pick your foodstuff, put them in a little basket and the chef will braise your food in a spiced soy-sauce.

Where?
SHI’DA NIGHT MARKET (師大夜市) – Shi’Da Rd, Da’an District

Pro-tip: Don’t come here if you’re in a rush as they tend to take their time cooking your food, allowing it to absorb all the deliciousness of their sweet, aromatic sauce. You’ll have the option to add chilli powder on your food and I highly recommend you do so. It’ll take your food to the next level.

BUBBLE TEA

This Taiwanese drink is pretty much available everywhere in the world thanks to franchises like Chatime. While there are a number of Chatime outlets here, I would absolutely recommend scouting for a TeaPa Tea kiosk. My go-to drink is passionfruit green tea with tapioca pearls (zhenzhu), refreshingly perfect for hot days. There’s just something they do better with their drinks here compared to other places, and I haven’t been able to figure it out.

Where?
TEAPA TEA (茶湯會) – multiple locations

MANGO SNOW ICE

As summer slowly approaches with its humid 33°C weather, this is the perfect way to cool yourself down. Taiwan grows their own mangoes, which will be topping a massive mountain of shaved milk (though other topping options are available!). You can find stalls selling this in night markets all over Taipei or you could head over to Dongmen. There are a couple of competing stores to try from, the most popular being Smoothie House, pictured above. Do find a partner to share this with, unless you’re looking to have this as a meal in itself!

Where?
Any night market or SMOOTHIE HOUSE – 15, Yongkang St, Da’an District

Getting There

China Airlines offer the only direct services between Sydney and Taipei, codesharing with Qantas. For the budget conscious, AirAsia fly to Taipei from Australia via Kuala Lumpur, or you can connect through Singapore with Scoot and Tiger Airways. Singapore Airlines offer the same connection. You can also fly via mainland China with any of the major Chinese airlines.