Welcome to a new series! This is the first of many posts that will highlight my trip in February 2017 to Taiwan and Japan. Enjoy!
When I’m on a trip, I hate wasting time and stomach space on bad food. This is why I research restaurants religiously before embarking on a trip. If there are restaurants that are difficult to book, I try to book them early. Ideally, we would never be desperately scrambling for food and then settling for expensive mediocre food because we didn’t plan.
This typically works fine. Unless, of course, you are planning on eating casual street food.
It’s still possible to research street stalls. However, it’s much harder to find them in a sea of a night market, especially when it’s dark out and signs are not always written in English. It’s times like this that I really, really wished I had a personal guide.
We lucked out this past February when we flew to Taiwan to attend a wedding. The bride is originally from Taiwan and knows ALL the best eats. A couple days before the wedding, the bride and groom took us around on a tour of the bride’s favorite top Taiwanese dishes.
Here’s a summary of our extensive tour! (Part I)
Breakfast: Chou's Rice Congee & Meat Shop 周記肉粥
We started out our trip to Taiwan with a warm breakfast from Chou's Rice Congee & Meat.
We munched on fantastic deep fried pork belly while slurping this soup-like rice porridge (congee) made with a flavorful pork bone broth, deep fried shallots, and dried tofu.
Simple pieces of pork liver and sweet sausage completed our meal.
It was very local, authentic, and nostalgic, reminding me of my childhood visits to Taiwan.
Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial
The Chiang Kai Shek memorial is one of the most visited monuments in Taipei. Most first-time tourists will likely go there. If you do go, you can enjoy some excellent boba milk tea and soup dumplings not too far away.
Boba Milk Tea from Chun Shui Tang (春水堂)
This tea shop’s claim to fame is that it invented the boba milk tea (!). There are multiple locations around the city. A convenient one to visit is the one right on the grounds of the Chiang-Kai Shek memorial (one the first floor of one of the golden-roofed buildings in the photo above).
Warning – portion sizes are HUGE and it may be worth sharing if you don’t want to be too full before dinner. When I first saw my glass arrive I decide immediately that I would not finish it. Heh, famous last words (or thoughts). I finished the whole thing because it was so good . . . (oops!).
We also tried some fun snacks, like this cheesy purple sweet potato and black sugar steamed cake.
Everyone has heard of Din Tai Fung, Taiwan’s most famous dumpling shop that has now spawned over dozens of locations around the world. A much older, more historic and traditional dumpling house is Hanzhou Xiaolongbao, also located right near Chiang Kai Shek Memorial and not too far from Longshan Temple.
This old dumpling house started as a roadside stand back in the 1800’s and is still going strong today.
Though the technique and intricate folding are not quite up to par compared with Din Tai Fung, the bold flavors of the fillings are fantastic. Definitely try the pork and crab roe dumplings.
The pan fried dumplings are excellent as well.
Yong Kang Beef Noodle
Taiwan has declared that beef noodle soup is a national dish, and Yong Kang Beef Noodle is almost always touted as one of the best.
Opened in 1963, Yong Kang is extremely famous and popular, and the lines show it.
Thankfully, it moves quite quickly. I think we waited less than 20 minutes.
Definitely get the beef noodle soup (the spicy one with the darker hongshao broth is supposed to be the most famous one).
We also tried the stewed bitter melon (soooo flavorful and delicious) and the spicy wontons.
Pictured above, from top left, clockwise: rice covered pork ribs, white bitter melon, rice covered intestines, and pig ears.
Look at that crazy line outside!
Slack Season Noodle (Tu Hsiao Yueh 度小月擔仔麵)
Slack Season Noodle originated from Tainan and serves a very regional Taiwanese soup noodle that consists of minced pork, shrimp, and a flavorful broth.
The name comes from history. The founder, a fisherman from Tainan, used to sell these noodles on the street in order to make a living during the off-season, or the "slack" season. The name stuck, the noodles became super popular, and now there are multiple locations of this restaurant throughout Taiwan.
The decor is pleasant, and they serve the signature noodles right at the front of the restaurant. It's cute that the workers actually dress in traditional outfits while serving the noodles.
Overall the food is great at this restaurant. I would highly recommend the signature "danzi" noodles and the roast pork belly. Honestly, though, everything was pretty tasty. I don't think you can go too wrong.
Classic Taiwanese Breakfast #2
It's imperative that you stop by a street-side Taiwanese breakfast place. They are all over the place, and the experience is so distinctly Taiwanese, I love it. Yonghe is a famous one, but there are many that are great.
I loved watching these men painstakingly flip each pastry one at a time inside a traditional fire oven.
The final product, which was filled with ground meat, was hot (juicy!), flavorful, and delicious.
Classic must-try dishes include a shaobing (sesame pastry) youtiao (fried cruller) "sandwich" with hot soy milk on the side (for dipping).
I love egg crepes (danbing) as well, which include a fried egg on top of a thin pancake-like base.
Wow, if you've made it to the end of this LONG post, I commend your patience! There is so much good food in Taiwan, it's hard to fit it all in one post. This is why there is a part II to this series, with another tour of top Taiwanese dishes which will focus on what we ate at various night markets!