Taiwan street food: dishes you must try

updated 7/8/2019
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Taiwanese xiǎochī, or “small eats”, are justly famed, and no trip would be complete without several Taiwan street food feasts. Night markets are among the best – and cheapest – places to try a selection, and you’ll want to leave plenty of time to go from stall to stall to seek out the best. To whet your appetite, here’s our pick of Taiwan street food dishes you need to try around the country.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Taiwan, your essential guide for visiting Taiwan.

1. Pearl tea in Taipei

Night markets are a quintessential part of the Taipei food experience. Shilin Night Market is the city’s oldest, largest and most popular, dating from 1910. There are a vast array of cheap xiǎochī on offer here, from oyster omelettes to stinky tofu. Also worth visiting is Gongguan Night Market, where must-try dishes include the delicious buns (bāo) at Yuanbao and Lan’s Steamed Sandwiches.

The most celebrated stall, however, is Chen San Ding Pearl Milk, specializing in pearl tea (qīngwā zhuàng nǎi). This milky tea with large, chewy tapioca balls was invented in Taiwan in the 1980s before being popularised worldwide.

Explore the lesser-known Taiwan with our guide to Taiwan beyond Taipei: venturing off the tourist trail.

Bubble tea, night market, Taiwan © littlekop/Shutterstock

2. "Iron eggs" in Tamsui

Tamsui is famous for Taiwan street food and makes an easy day trip from Taipei. Favourites include fish crisps (yú sū) sold in packets all over town, fish balls in soup (yúwán tāng) and “iron eggs” (tiě dàn), chicken or dove eggs marinated and boiled in soy sauce and spices until they shrink, harden, and turn black.

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3. Seafood in Keelung

Keelung’s night market is one of Taiwan street food highlights and by far the best place to eat in the city. Today rich in seafood, tasty rice noodles and mouthwatering fruit ice stalls, the market dates from the late Japanese occupation era; each stall advertises its main dishes in english, and it’s open around the clock.

Try the “pot side scrapings” (thick rice noodles in a mixed seafood broth) at Ding Bian Cuo, one of the oldest stalls in the market.

Taiwan's seafood © Shutterstock

4. Taiwanese Meatballs (Ba Wan)

Eating in the northern city of Hsinchu is lots of fun as the city is renowned for its culinary specialities: pork meatballs in soup (gòngwántāng), rice noodles (mĭfēn) and stuffed meatballs (ròyuán), especially at the food stalls in and around Chenghuang Temple Night Market. Head to Wang’s Oyster Omelet for oyster omelettes and Ah-Cheng Rice Noodles for rice noodles and meatballs.

Feeling inspired by the variety of Taiwan street food? Also read our guide to 20 essential food and drink experiences across the globe.

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5. Fish ball soup in Jiufen

Sampling the famous snacks on Jishan Street is an essential part of any visit to Jiufen, with fish ball soup, taro balls and roasted mushrooms the most celebrated.

Make time, too, for a trip to one of the atmospheric teahouses – Jiufen Teahouse is one of the best, occupying a gorgeous old mining bureau’s headquarters dating back over 100 years (though the teashop opened in 1991). Make sure you get a wooden booth with a view, or have your tea outside on the terrace.

Sampling the famous fish ball soup on Jishan Street is one of the essential things to do in Taiwan © wu hsiung/Shutterstock

6. “Shrimp monkeys” in Lugang

Lugang, one of Taiwan’s oldest port towns, specializes in xiǎochī. Favourites include oyster omelettes (é a jiān) and “shrimp monkeys” (xiāhóuzi) – mud shrimp fried with basil. Try them at the stalls and restaurants in front of Tianhou Temple then move on to a cakeshop or bakery for an ox-tongue biscuit (niúshébǐng), a sweet flat pastry that vaguely resembles a tongue

7. Suncakes in Taichung

Taichung is an excellent place to gorge on Taiwan street food and the night markets offer a good introduction to the local specialities. As well as excellent savoury dishes, travellers with a penchant for something sweeter won’t be disappointed, with Ziyou, Zhongzheng and Minquan roads crammed with cake shops selling suncakes (tàiyáng bǐng) – flat, crumbly pastries filled with sweet wheatgerm, honey or taro paste.

Taiwan's suncake © Shutterstock

8. Danzi noodles in Tainan

Taiwan’s former capital is home to some of the country’s best street food and many of its dishes are favourites that are famous island-wide. Dānzǐmiàn (or “peddler’s noodles” with pork, egg and shrimp) is probably the best-known dish.

It was created in 1895 by hawker Hong Yu Tou – the name recalls the shoulder poles he used to carry the noodles to market, while the brand he created, “Slack Season”, is a reference to the slow season for fishermen, when his noodles were a way to make food last.

The the city’s other snack foods are equally renowned and include milkfish, eel noodles, oyster omelettes, shrimp rolls and “coffin bread”, hollowed-out thick toast filled with a creamy mix of vegetables and seafood.

Danzi Noodles © Shutterstock

9. Biǎnshí in Hualien

Hualien is known throughout Taiwan for muaji – cakes made of sticky, glutinous rice and stuffed with sweet fillings – and biǎnshí, a type of wanton or dumplings in soup, filled with pork and shrimp. Its night markets are great places to try these and other dishes – the most central is the small but diverse Ziqiang Rd Nightmarket, while Nanbin Night Market is bigger but harder to get to.

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Hualien market, Taiwan © kross13/Shutterstock

10. Pigs’ blood soup in Taitung

Not one for the finicky, pigs’ blood soup (zhūxiě tāng), a thick broth filled with diced cubes of congealed pig’s blood, is one of Taitung’s specialities – try it at the lively Sunday night Siwei Rd Night Market. Taitung is also known for its amazing variety of fruit, most famously the custard apple (shìjiā), which you can buy at the “Fruit Market”, on the long stretch of Zhengqi Road between Zhongshan and Boai roads.

11. Beef Noodle Soup

Taiwanese beef noodle soup is a popular dish that is made with stewed or braised beef, noodles, and a variety of vegetables and is often found at street food stalls throughout Taiwan as a classic example of Taiwan street food. The broth is typically made with beef stock and is seasoned with soy sauce, Chinese spices, and sometimes chilies.

The noodles used in the soup can be either wheat noodles or rice noodles, and the beef is typically cooked until it is tender. The soup is often garnished with a variety of fresh herbs and spices, such as cilantro and green onions. It is a hearty and flavorful dish that is enjoyed by many people in Taiwan.

Beef noodle soup in Taiwan © Shutterstock

12. Sampling stinky tofu - one of the strangest things to do in Taiwan for a foreigner

Every region, town and even village in Taiwan seems to have a speciality, eagerly dished out by local vendors. Shenkeng is Taiwan’s tofu capital. The most infamous tofu dish is chòu dòufǔ, or stinky tofu, the smell of which sickens most foreigners but tastes delicious (it’s actually fermented tofu cubes deep-fried in pig fat). It is a popular Taiwan street food found at night markets and street food stalls throughout the country.

13. Pork belly buns (Gua Bao)

Pork belly buns, also known as gua bao or "Taiwanese hamburgers," are a popular snack in Taiwan. They are made by filling a soft, steamed bun with slices of braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, and a variety of other ingredients such as crushed peanuts, cilantro, and hoisin sauce. The buns are often served at night markets and street food stalls in Taiwan.

This Taiwan street food is known for their savory and slightly sweet flavor, and the combination of the soft bun and tender pork belly is very satisfying. If you visit Taiwan, be sure to try some pork belly buns - they are a local specialty that you won't want to miss!

Gua bao, steamed buns with pork belly and vegetable © Shutterstock

14. Scallion pancakes (Cong Zhua Bing)

Scallion pancakes are also known as green onion pancakes or cong zhua bing. They are made by rolling a thin layer of dough into a flat, circular shape, and then adding a layer of scallions on top. The dough is then folded over the scallions and rolled out again to form a thin, layered pancake. The pancakes are then pan-fried until they are crispy and golden brown.

Scallion pancakes are often served as a snack or appetizer, and they can be found at street food stalls and night markets throughout Taiwan. They are known for their crispy texture and savory flavor, and they are a popular choice for people looking for a quick and tasty snack on the go.

15. Flame grilled beef cubes

Flame-grilled beef cubes are also known as "beef cubes on a stick". They are made by marinating pieces of beef in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and other seasonings, and then grilling them over a high heat until they are charred on the outside and cooked to the desired level of doneness on the inside. The beef cubes are often served on a stick, like a skewer, and are accompanied by a variety of dipping sauces.

Some of the best places to try flame-grilled beef cubes in Taiwan include Shilin Night Market in Taipei and Fengjia Night Market in Taichung but these are just a few of the many places in Taiwan where you can find flame-grilled beef cubes.

16. Shaved ice dessert (Chua Bing)

Shaved ice is a popular dessert in Taiwan that is made by shaving a block of ice into thin, fluffy layers and then topping it with a variety of sweet syrups and other ingredients. The ice is typically shaved by hand using a special tool, and the resulting texture is very light and delicate. Some popular toppings for shaved ice in Taiwan include fruit syrups, condensed milk, and red bean paste.

Shaved ice wit mango and mango ice cream © Shutterstock

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updated 7/8/2019
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