Though small in size, the island of Taiwan is a gastronomic haven for the curious, and ever-hungry, traveller.
Formerly known as Formosa, Taiwan’s a dainty island of 36,000 square kilometres in East Asia. Its neighbours include Japan to the north, China to the west, and the Philippines to the south.
It’s a rich landscape with many natural resources, green hills and long coastlines, that offer the curious traveller plenty of travel inspiration. The island’s climate sways to the warmer side, with tropical and sub-tropical temperatures given the Tropic of Cancer passing through its centre.
To see the best of Taiwan’s stunning landscape, head to one of the 8 national parks in the country, along with 13 national scenic areas and 18 national forest recreation areas. For animal lovers, Taiwan’s home to many rare species, such as the Formosan rock monkey and the Formosan black bear.
Taiwan — the basic facts
Taiwan’s capital city is Taipei. The main airport is Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, where there are many transportation options, like the MRT or bus, to reach the centre.
The country’s official currency is the New Taiwan Dollar, and foreign travellers may need to obtain a tourist visa before entry. Check this website to see which countries are eligible for a visa exemption, and which countries require a visa.
Taiwan’s population is around 23 million, the majority of whom identify as Han Chinese. The principal language is Mandarin and Taiwanese, and the majority religions are Buddhism and Taoism.
Taiwan’s food culture
The country’s home to many cultural backgrounds, such as the Hakka people who descend from southern China, and the indigenous Austronesian population. That said, the food culture reflects all these influences, and there are many delicious treats to try.
As well as traditional Taiwanese dishes, there’s also Hakka food, Sichuan, Japanese and Korean. The cuisine brings together delicacies from China’s Fujian and Guangdong provinces, the Hakka people and other Chinese regions. It’s little wonder therefore why the island’s earned the title of ‘culinary kingdom’, and this post is all about some of the best dishes Taiwan has to offer.
There are many dishes that foodies and the locals flock to Taiwan for. Dumplings are a popular staple here, whether in soup form (xiaolongbao) or handmade Dongmen Dumplings. Xiaolongbao dumpings are small steam parcels typically filled with minced pork, or other meats, and served in a hot broth.
Another Taiwanese favourite, with a very memorable name, is Buddha Jumps Over the Wall! This dish originates from the time of the Qing Dynasty in the Fujian province of China. Its name, Fo Tiao Qiang, is essentially about the taste being so good, that it can entice monks from their temples and over the wall to enjoy the meat-based dish!
This soup is similar to the popular Chinese shark’s fin soup, with a couple of extra ingredients added, that include abalone and sea cucumber. In short, this dish is a must try in Taiwan, and one you won’t forget for a long time after!
Beef soup noodles
Treat your tastebuds to a Taiwanese favourite with a big bowl of stewed beef noodle soup. So popular is this beefy noodle soup creation, that there’s even a yearly festival held in its honour!
Chefs and restaurants around the country come to compete at the Taipei Beef Noodle Festival and show off their best broth.
Taiwanese people are big on snacks, and once you see the variety, you’ll understand why. Varied, tasty and easy on the wallet, it’s almost a taste of the best of Taiwan in one bite.
The majority of these snack foods include locally sourced ingredients such as fresh seafood from its waters. Choose from oyster omelettes, and Taiwanese meatballs, or tempura and fresh spring rolls — there’s plenty to make you salivate.
If you’re unfamiliar with the popular bean curd that’s eaten in many south-east Asian countries, this may not be the best introduction! Many Taiwanese people like to sink their teeth into a snack of stinky tofu.
The stinky part comes from the strong smell of the tofu. However, once these cubes are deep fried and served with pickled cabbage and chili sauce, you may just change your tune, and want to try a few.
Think of a meat and rice parcel wrapped in banana leaves, and you have yourself an ongzi. This wrapped-up delicacy originates from a poet, named Qu, who lived during the time of China’s Warring States, and is an ode to his tragic death.
The parcel also contains yummy fillings like mushrooms, peanuts and/or egg yolk.
Shredded chicken on rice
Do as the locals do, and grab a big plate of shredded chicken on rice.
As the name suggests, shreds of chicken meat are layered over rice, and then covered with braised minced pork gravy. Delicious and filling!
Baked pepper buns
If you love meat-stuffed buns, this dish is for you. Doughy buns are filled with pork and green onions, before being baked till they’re golden brown. You’ll find these little treasures around the night markets around Taiwan.
Desserts and miscellaneous
Though you’re more likely to come across more savoury items around food markets in Taiwan, there’s also something for fans with a sweet tooth.
Cool off after a hot and spicy dish with an icy cold dessert. These desserts tend to consist of shaved ice, candied fruits and finished off with some condensed milk and sugar.
Usually a summer dessert, Aiyu Jelly is a clear jelly that’s made by rubbing together natural aiyu seeds. It’s served with lemon juice and sugar water, and a light dessert when in the mood for something light.
Alternatively, you may want to try a long cup of pearl milk tea instead. Tea is very traditional in Chinese culture, and this drink perfectly reflects its heritage. A creamy milk tea is poured over bite-sized tapioca balls, or fruit jelly depending on the establishment.
This drink has become so well-known internationally, that there’s probably have a bubble tea shop closer to you than you might think.