Taiwan - Where is your favorite place for...
I'll be in Taiwan for about 10 days in January, and I need advice. I used to live there when I was in middle school. Moving from the U.S. to Taiwan was a shock; my hamburger loving, Chinese-food disliking palate made adjustment difficult (besides the obvious cultural and language issues), and I actually lost several pounds my first year (if you can imagine losing several pounds in a 10-yr-old). But, in my 4 years there, I picked up a love of Taiwanese food that I keep to this day.
I have a ton of wonderful food memories, and I bet you do too. What I'm looking for is your favorite foods in Taiwan, and where your favorite places are to get them. Some of my favorite foods, and where I used to get them:
- boiled dumplings and hot-and-spicy soup (in the mini-market area near the Farmer's Hospital in Taipei)
- wonton soup (the Taiwanese version with really thin, light wrappers and very flavorful filling, in a small ice shop in Taoyeun)
- beef noodle soup (favorites from 15-20 years ago are Old Chang's Dan-Dan Noodles in Xen-Ai Rd, and a large open-air stall near the Pei-Tou market with lots of tables set up in the open)
- meat/fish paste combination (xuo gung) in a thick broth w/noodles (20 yrs ago, there was a great place in the temporary market near Pei-Tou underneath the construction site of the light rail)
- 4 Gods soup (intestine and various herbs in broth, at the same vendor in the market)
- stinky tofu (20 yrs ago, an old former soldier had a tiny pushed stall in an alley-way in Peitou. The tofu was beautifully crisp, the sauce was so savory and garlicky, and the pickled cabbage was perfectly complementary to the tofu; more recently, I had very good stinky tofu at a place in Shih-lin night market where I waited 30+ minutes in line)
- literally, "meat balls" (xuo wan); a pork/bamboo/mushroom mixture in a large gelatinous dumpling that is deep-fried, then cut into pieces and sweet/spicy red sauce poured over it (at the same vendor in the temporary market)
- salt water duck (or goose) (don't know where we used to get it -- but oh -- it was amazing!!)
- Taiwanese breakfast -- sao-bin-yiao-tou dipped in sweet soy milk (there was a terrific place at the base of Yangmingshan which made its sao-bin fresh in an oven after you ordered it, also made a great egg "pancake" (dan bing))
I'm hoping to get to relive some of these, and make some new food memories, too. Where are your favorite places for your favorite Taiwanese foods? We'll probably travel a little up and down the island too, so don't limit your choices to the Taipei area.
Thanks for indulging me, and I hope I get to hear about a lot of your favorite places!
Dave, reading your post makes me homesick (I grew up in Taipei)! Most of the items you listed are "night market" food, so IMO you can find good ones almost everywhere, but hard to find information about which ones are the best. If you can read Chinese, then here is a website sort of like yelp and chowhound with great food reviews: http://www.ipeen.com/
Re: beef noodle, I just posted some information I found in a different thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/647060
Enjoy your trip. I will be back home in December and I can't wait.
There's way too much good food all over Taiwan, let alone just Taipei county and city. I have a ton of favorites and not enough time to cover in 10 days, but you can still get a lot of mileage out.
For the complete list of everything I've tried (or most that I recall)
As for the highlights
- Tu Hsiao Yeh Dan Jai noodle, with 2 locations in Taipei. www.iddi.com.tw. Splendid. Get a noodle bowl (or two), a side dish that represent the best of Tainan (Shir Mo Yu or milkfish, grilled with a side of lime) is a good one.
- For four gods soup, the version sold at Lan Jia Gua Bao by Gonguan (across Taipei University) is pretty darn good. They specialize in Gua Bao, upwards of 5 different cuts of pork (from lean to extreme fatty), shaved peanuts, in house made buns. Too good for words.
- Beef Noodle Soup....this is a whole new category out there. Lin Tung Fong (I reviewed it) is very good by locals standards. The noodles are on the thick side but the broth is excellent (free refills too). Niu Baba/Beef Daddy I have not tried yet, but it is considerably way more expensive and designed for the beef noodle purists who want to go crazy, with like Japanese beef (cooked by a beef noodle fanatic himself, Tony Wang). There is another beef noodle place I have yet to try, run by a guy from Middle East or Iran, who does a fusion spicy style using imported Middle Eastern herbs and spices.
Finally this place by Ji San MRT station: http://0228349739.travel-web.com.tw/
damn, their CLAMS beef noodle looks gooooooooood.
Shih Lin night market is too touristy these days, with tons of bus carrying visitors from Hong Kong, Japan, Korea even on weeknights. While I had decent stinky tofu there, I thought the less mainstream night markets had better fare. If you ever trek over to Yong Ho township, their local night market, Lir Hua, has even better stinky tofu if you can believe it (just for example). The only things I will eat at Shih Lin are their branches of Ay Chung noodle, the Pork Pepper Bun (headquartered at Rao He nightmarket), and their Shen Jian Bao. If you are visiting again, perhaps the Hao Da Ji Pai (giant fried chicken steak, made with chicken of course).
Taiwanese breakfast...too many places out there, but Yong Ho township really has the best in terms of soymilk in Taipei county. World Soymilk King is 24 hours and the most famous (where the soymilk has a signature "burnt" earthy taste) and their shaobing and yohtieo cannot be beat. I personally prefer Yongshin soymilk which is much further away and residential. World is closer to Dingxi MRT (probably a 5 minute walk?) but Yongshin is maybe 20++, closes earlier.
One of my favorite night markets is Ningxia Road, focusing on old time Taipei (from 30++ years ago) style street food snacks. Fantastic oyster omlette and many other little things, much less touristy and more local. If your Chinese reading skills are up to snuff, this website is fantastic resource for a general look at night market fare (mostly reviews by random bloggers linked)
Keelung is another great spot, but you're looking to pay NT$1000 one way from Taipei for about a 30 to 40 min ride. But you will be rewarded with 200 food stall choices (on the main strip alone). It's like Las Vegas, except all food porn.
re: K K
KK, great info, especially on the night markets. One of my favorite night markets that you didn't mention is JingMei. It's right next to a MRT station, and it is not touristy at all, actually it has a nice local flavor to it - the old time Taipei like you mentioned. It's where I used to go all the time when growing up.
re: K K
Shilin has always been way crowded, but it's so convenient. The one thing I would go to Shilin specifically for is the herbal pork ribs. Dunno what the Chinese name is. Rao He Night Market has a lot of stands that sell this as well, but I prefer the places at Shilin across the street from the Aquarium. Winter's probably the best time for it, too.
My go-to night market when I lived in Taipei was Tong Hua. Not because it's the best, but it has a decent selection of food, is less crowded, and is easy to navigate since it's just one straight street. Unfortunately, not as convenient to get to as Shilin.
Yes, the herbal pork rib soup is also famous at Shihlin, called Shi Chuan Pai Gu Tang. 十全排骨湯. Don't let the "10" fool you, some places have upwards of twelve herbs. The better places to go would be the ones not inside the night market itself, but on the main road somewhere (ie a proper sit down restaurant that is not part of the various food stalls).
Another fun place for first time visitor would be to take the MRT underground station red line all the way to the end at Dan Shui. You can spend 4+ hours there easily just walking around the old streets. Lots of tasty snacks, very famous for fishball soup (fishballs are perfect toothy bouncy...mostly made with sharkmeat but superbly delish with ground pork or ground eel inside, Fuzhou style), Yu Soo (crispy chips made with dried shaved fish) over thickened daikon and katsuobushi (bonito flakes) broth, Tieh Dan (simmered quail or chicken eggs) aka Iron Eggs. Other must-try items include black bean tofu custard, and something called Ah Gei, a derivation of Japanese "abura age", almost like a vegetable stuffed tofu stew inside to keep it short. You could walk across the bridge to the other side of the bay (Ba Li / eight miles), rent a bike. Basically a nice little adventure.
Rao He also attracts tourists, especially the "Chinatown" looking monument welcoming gate by the entrance, but nowhere near as big as Shihlin, which is definitely worth visiting at least once just to see what choice and variety really means.
For the more seasoned travelers, it might even be worthwhile to spend a day or two to try out the regional specialties of Taichung or Tainan, many of which are likely not available or not even as good as what can be had in Taipei. It's definitely less than 2 hours on the high speed rail from Taipei to Taichung, but navigating beyond there could be daunting without a guide.
re: K K
Might be easier to do if you have a local leading you in Danshui, but I thought checking out the wedding cookie shops was cool. I hear it's the famous place to get them. The shops are on the inner road, not along the water. And I remember getting some yummy free samples.
In any case, Danshui is definitely worth a visit. Great people watching and a good place to grab squid on a stick. :D
Thanks for the great suggestions! My girlfriend and I just got back from Taiwan, and it was FANTASTIC. A few observations:
- There is a fantastic abundance of fresh seafood and vegetables. We talk about "farmer's markets" here in the United States, getting back to the roots of our food, and it wasn't until this trip to Taiwan that I really appreciated that this is what people do every day in other countries. A simple market in Taoyeun with stands and stands of fresh fruits and vegetables picked less than 12 hours earlier, most of the time by the same people (or their family members) who are selling you the stuff, stands of flopping fish and shellfish on ice with no fishy odor at all, stands of freshly made tofu, noodles, and of course, all the stands with incredibly fragrant, inviting snack foods that are small bowls of mouth-watering goodness. People care about food, people care about quality, and people expect to work to provide the best quality foods. That 30 NT (~$1) bowl of noodles you're about to slurp down? The pork sauce probably was made from a mother pot that has been continuing for years and simmered for hours yesterday, the crispy fried shallots made yesterday or this morning, the chopped ciliantro, peanuts minced early this morning, and the noodles freshly made, again, this morning. I'm not talking about a special stand featured in newspapers and revered as an institution for 30 years. I'm talking about the regular mom-and-pop stand in a small local market. There's a striking lack of entitlement -- people expect to be successful if they provide a good product, and if something's wrong, it is THEIR fault. All the food I had was fresher, hotter, more lovingly and carefully prepared than 99% of the meals I get in the States.
Summary? While here in the States, it is so important to figure out the few restaurants or places that are REALLY good and worthwhile when visiting a place, it's much less important (in my opinion) in Taiwan. One reliable signpost: how busy is the place? If there are 3 stands for oyster omelettes in the market, but one has a 15 minute line while the other 2 have empty tables, it's a very good shot that there's some seriously good stuff at the busy stand, and it's worth waiting for. What I said about about the Taiwanese caring about good food? Check out the stands and stores that have long lines (of locals) -- you won't go wrong going there, even if you have no idea of what food is being served.
Summary of trip: Most of my time was spent in Taoyeun, because my family lives there and my sister's banquet was being held there.
-Breakfast: A local soy-milk you-tiao (fried cruller) tsao-bing (layered flatbread) place in Tao-yeun which had fantastic fresh tsao-bing from the oven. BTW, if you haven't tried rice milk (mi-jiang), which is a thick aromatic liquid that has the fragrance of toasted rice, you're in for a treat. My favorite breakfast was probably wonton soup noodles, tiny little flavorful dumplings with ephemeral wrappers in a very light, clear broth with tiny crunchy vegetables. That, and the fact that the place's pressed bean curd (do-gan) was incredibly fragrant and flavorful, cut into slices with a bit of sesame oil, soy sauce, and green onions on top. Other flavorful breakfast items: glutinous rice balls with bits of you-tiao, pickled vegetables, dried pork floss, and crunchy dried daikon; steamed and fried glutinous rice with mushrooms, tiny shrimp, bits of pork belly (you-fan); cuttlefish soup; steamed buns (both meat-filled and vegetarian); pan-fried buns filled with chinese chives and egg.
- Seafood -- we had an incredibly good seafood lunch on our driving tour of the northern Taiwan coast -- we stopped at the Fuji (sp?) harbor and there was one seafood restaurant open, with the live seafood in tanks and trays in front. We picked out local clams, crabs, shrimp, and a large fish, which they prepared as sashimi for 1/2 the fish, roasted for the other half, and the head used for a miso soup with really delicious soft tofu. The clams were incredible -- full and fat, sauteed in a brown sauce with lots of basil, red pepper, and garlic which had me licking my fingers. The shrimp was divine; simply steamed/boiled, with your choice of dipping sauces of soy sauce/wasabi, ginger/vinegar, or a cocktail sauce. The sashimi demonstrated to me that there is a thing as TOO fresh sashimi -- the enzymes in the fresh fish meat had not had a chance to break down the proteins for softness and/or glutamate release.
- Beef noodle soup -- we had this 3 times on the trip, once at Lao Chand Dan Dan Mien (on Jen-Ai road), which was a dark, soy-based soup lighted with tomatoes, once at a random place by the Tao-yeun railroad station, and once at Lin Dong Fung (recommended by KK here) in Taipei. Surprisingly, the random place by the railroad station won out as the best place -- the soup was incredibly deep, had a really nice spicy kick, and the noodles were springy and able to stand up to the soup. The meat and tendons were so tender and flavorful.... yum. The other two were really good too (Lin Dong Fung was, surprisingly, a clear broth and very good meat), but, once again, it was the choice of a busy place that had a line (we waited 15 minutes to get takeout) without any other recommendation that resulted in the surprising winner.
- Night markets -- We had a 1-yr old baby that our group was travelling with, so there was more limited opportunities to spend lots of time in a night market. We visited Shihlin, and also Miao-ko. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the really big fried chicken fillet -- it was really crispy, moist, and tasty. The oyster omelettes were a little disappointing -- somehow, they just didn't stand out. But the cuttle-fish and squid soups were amazing -- big chunks of really fresh and flavorful shell-fish. The stinky tofu was really good too. Surprisingly, the Miao-ko night market was a bit of a disappointment -- things were ok, but not as good as I would have expected. The only standout for me was a pork rib-bitter melon soup that was incredibly deep and flavorful. However, I might have missed the primary stands -- I stuck around the area right at the entrance to the temple, which had maybe 30-40 stands. Again, with family, it was difficult to spend as much time walking around and scouting for really good eats.
I feel like we barely scratched the surface of the good eats in Taiwan, but we had a fantastic trip. Maybe next time we'll spend more time in Taipei!
Thanks for reporting back!
Taoyuen is not a place I have spent much time in, other than its airport where everyone has to fly into, but I'm sure there's no shortage of good food outside. There's a lot more good stuff in the next town (or two) over, like Zhongli (a suburb very Hakka concentrated).
Lin Tung Fong....I now have a different perspective of the place. I too recently returned from a 2 week trip and ate beef noodle soup twice at places that not only specialized in it, but were recommended by the 2009 Beef Noodle Soup Festival "Taiwan Michelin" folks (none of them winners, and they generally close around the 9 pm mark, but insanely high quality). The beauty of LTF is that you can get something to eat past midnight all the way up till 4 am or something like that, and the later you go, the busier it gets (usually lines persist around midnight, crazy huh). And you can ask for a broth refill even if you're almost done with your noodles and beef. The prices may be a tad bit higher than average, and given that they open almost 16 to 18 hours each day, the broth is bound to be a bit inconsistent, but when it hits the spot, it can't be beat.
I'm still trying to catch up on my new blog (check my profile for the link), and eventually I'll put up reviews of the beef noodle places I went to.
Shihlin is more well known for pork rib soup, that giant fried chicken, and shen jian bao (actually Shida night market is as well). I must say I've had way better stinky tofu and oyster omlettes, but Shihlin is just an easy one stop shop that sells most varieties of street food, including stuff from Tainan (like coffin bread) but I bet it is nowhere near as good as the ones in Tainan.
Sorry to hear you didn't like Keelung Miao Kao night market. You're the 2nd one on CH who posted recently that your experience wasn't as good. Can you elaborate on what you tried? I thought the minced pork rice near the temple was great, ditto for the Ding Bien Dsor stall (http://100wu.com.tw) which also has an outpost as a food court vendor in the basement of Taipei 101 and maybe one of the Sogo's. The oyster omlette stall right across the temple is good. But given your disappointment, I think you might as well just head straight to Ningxia night market next time for the real authentic old style stuff.
Yes you're dead on about the local seafood. So much variety, and insanely fresh (in a good way) that it has become the defacto standard over there. Even if you're into sushi, local fish for sashimi is great, and plus Japan is so much closer that importing Japanese fish is quite easy (as well as culinary skill). I recently reviewed Goose City seafood in Taipei (very close to Lin Tung Fong actually) on the blog, and it is as you say with most places....just point and decide what you want and how you want it done.
I've been back at least 7 times and every visit there is always something new to experience!
re: K K
I love your blog! I didn't mention that I also hit a really good goose restaurant in Taoyeun that had terrific seafood. I fell back in love with marinated jelly-fish with their version, which had the crunch of the jellyfish, crispness of slivered cucumbers, salt and brininess balanced just perfectly. Their seafood soup with shark fin was terrific too, and the goose was amazingly tender and flavorful with a hit of the sweet soy sauce + slivered ginger.
At Miao-Kao, I tried
- pork rib and bitter melon soup (outstanding)
- thin vermicelli with chitterlings (ok)
- four-gods soup with stomach and intestines (ok)
- gua bao (buns with pork, minced peanuts, sour vegetables, and cilantro) -- just ok
- yen-soo chicken and tempura (ok -- the meat was pretty dry)
I also went to an ice place in Shihlin night market in an alley near the cinema that had a new kind of ice I'd never tried before. The consistency was not like shaved ice, either the coarse or finely shaved... the closest I can describe it as is like soft cotton that just disappears in your mouth. I tried the shaved green tea with red bean, which was outstanding, as was the fresh strawberry with condensed milk. I like that most desserts in Taiwan are not that sweet.
The problem with Miao Kao is that there are way too many choices. At all night markets there are some common offerings you can get, but certain night markets will have their specialties that are just not as good anywhere else.
I have some rather poorly taken photos from 2005 of my first visit of Keelung Miao Kao that I don't think would make a good blog picture but there are some pig feet vendors (2) that are famous. 3 brothers tofu fa shop originated in Keelung, and the fried chicken roll (ji juern) is almost a must have. Another fun thing to have is local sashimi, just because the port for seafood and distribution is right nearby! And for the not feint of heart, the original "nutritious" Keelung sandwich that involves deep fried bread, Taiwanese sausage (the one bite sausage skewers with garlic is another must have at Keelung), marinated hard boiled egg, tomato, lettuce, mayo, while a calorific overload, is a fun novel yet delicious item (you are even requested to take a number at the stall! Then when you # is called you can order and purchase your sandwich...) I should record all of this somewhere so it will be easier to remember.
Lan Jia Gua Bao by Gonguan District makes one of the top gua bao's in Taipei (I'm told Shih Jia/Stone House is another famous Gua Bao place), and their four gods soup is damn tasty as well (I definitely will put up an entry in the future).
The ice dessert you mentioned sounds like the latest invention of shaved snowy creamy frozen milk or sweet milk (or a mix that has that inside)...
re: K K
Hah! I saw the sandwich stand at Keelung, but figured that I didn't want any faux-western "sandwiches" filling up my precious stomach space while on my one trip to the Miao Kao night market. Plus, there were very few people at the market as a whole, so it was difficult to see which stands stood out with lots of customers. I would have been interested in sashimi, but I had just had the terrific seafood lunch (with sashimi) a few hours earlier...
I guess I didn't have enough time in Taipei -- I remembered your recommendation about the gua bao place near Taiwan National University, but I didn't get a chance to get there.
I mentioned the shaved snow ice in another Taipei thread on here. I wouldn't call it new since I first went to those shaved ice places in Shilin many many years ago, but it's not something I've seen in the LA Chinese food scene until the last year or so even though regular Taiwanese shaved ice and the mango/fruit variety made the jump fairly quickly. So it didn't spread very far. Recently, a couple of different places serving shaved snow ice or variations of it have popped up here in So Cal.
A lot of the bubble tea cafes that serve snacks and such will usually have shaved ice. Chains like Tea Station, Lollicup, Tapioca Express, etc. usually have it.
Up in the SGV, you can find quite a few places that do it Taiwan-style where you choose the toppings from a display where they're all laid out.
Someone just bumped the shaved ice thread on the LA board actually:
And 2/3rds of the way down the page you can see people talking about shaved snow ice. On another thread on the LA boards around late 2008 or early 2009, people discuss a couple of places in LA that have started serving shaved snow ice.
Hi Dave, I hope this is not too late... you might not be in Taiwan now but still I'd like to share something with you guys.
One of my friend from the states just visited me in Taipei not long ago, and I took him to as many places to eat as I could! There are just too many of them, take the famous Shi-Lin night market for example, there's no way you can try all of the street food in one night! One of my favorite there is the traditional 潤餅，a stand owned by an old couple. Their ingredients are just fresh and simple, nothing fancy but definitely satisfying! The rest of the well-known food there are giant fried chicken( 豪大大雞排), traditional Chinese sausages, Shanghai fried dumplings, and Indian nan with curry or yogurt sauce....if you are a hot pot fan, there are tons of hot pot shops at the end of the night market. There are varieties of choices, you get to choose different base of the soup, from Korean kimchi flavor to Thai curry.... basically you just throw yourself there in the night market with an empty stomach and eat!
Green onion pancake (蔥油餅)- I love the old shop in Tien-Mu, it's crispy outside and soft inside. They don't offer any hot sauce or soy sauce cuz it tastes the best when it's plain...you get to taste the amazing yet simple flavor brought out by flour and green onions.
The best dan-bing I've had is near Wu-Xin market. It's always fresh made and the texture of the pancake is incredibly good.
Si-Chuan cold noodles- one stand I love is on Song-Ren road, the owner's wife came from China and has her own secret recipe. It's the sauce....the thick peanut paste, garlic paste, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, hot sauce...everything balances perfectly!
Taiwanese rice-noodle soup (米粉湯), I like the one in Shi-Pai market, the broth is the best part! They'll cook the pork bones, fried tou-fu and other stuff all together for a long time which gives the broth a unique, rich flavor.
And this one I really don't know how to translate...it's called 滷肉飯 (ground pork stew rice..?). I'm totally weak when it comes to this traditional dish! The ingredients include soy sauce, crystal sugar, shallots, ground pork and maybe some other spice. The brown sauce goes perfectly well with rice, and I like the heavy taste of it. There are many shops that sell this dish since this traditional dish is very homey and popular still. My favorite one is in an alley on Zong-Chen Road in Tein-Mu,
Well...I'm getting really hungry now and hopefully this helps :)