Taiwan – an island country in East Asia – might be small, but it offers an incredible variety of things. It is hard to put into a single sentence what really puts Taiwan on the map for international travelers.
Due to its complicated history, Taiwan has become a melting pot not only of diverse Han Chinese subgroups but also of indigenous tribes and immigrants from all over the world (Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, etc.) This unique mix of cultures is evident in many different aspects – from music, art, and food to even architecture!
Today, Cat Lin of “For Two, Please” will show you what is Taiwan famous for – from a local’s perspective.
Things Taiwan is famous for
Beef Noodle Soup
A bowl of beef noodle soup is the best way to dive into Taiwan’s food culture. Beloved over all others in Taiwan, beef noodle soup can be found everywhere, from food courts to high-end restaurants, and is often hailed as the national dish.
Braised beef stewed in a deeply savory, spicy broth is the most common (and traditional) type. Clear broth and tomato-based are very popular as well. But every city and restaurant has its own take on this respected food. Don’t be surprised to come across interesting flavors like creamy satay and curry!
Some of the most famous beef noodle soup restaurants in Taipei include Liu Shandong Beef Noodle, Yong Kang Beef Noodles, Beef Noodles, Beef Entrails Soup, and Halal Chinese Beef Noodles, all of which have made Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list in 2019!
To get a taste of the diverse range of street foods in Taiwan, you’ve gotta visit night markets!
Night markets are not just for tourists, locals also frequent to grab quick bites and cheap eats. There is a countless amount across the country. An unofficial survey suggests over 400, basically one in every neighborhood!
Each night market is unique and has its own characteristics. Some have more traditional Taiwanese snacks like braised pork rice and oyster omelets, while others dish out creative inventions like deep-fried yam balls and ramen burgers.
Raohe Street, Shilin, and Shida night markets are the popular ones in Taipei. If you’d like to try something inventive, I would suggest Fengjia Night Market in Taichung.
Bubble tea has become a worldwide sensation in recent years, but did you know that it originated in Taiwan in the 1980s?
It all started in Taichung at a tea shop called Chun Shui Tang, with a simple idea of mixing together black tea, milk, ice, and chewy tapioca pearls (aka bubbles or boba). This creamy delight then quickly turned into a popular concoction. Today, hundreds and thousands of bubble tea shops have taken over the country.
Besides the most basic form, many stores have taken one step further and created various fun, playful flavors. Fruity, cheesy, or herbal, there are all sorts of unique concoctions for you to choose.
Most importantly, at almost every bubble tea shop, you can customize your preferred level of sweetness, amount of ice, and even the type of milk!
Soup dumplings, aka xiao long bao, were originally a Shanghainese invention but were made famous by a Taiwanese restaurant called Din Tai Fung, which was awarded a Michelin star from 2010 to 2012.
What exactly is xiao long bao? Simply put, these delectable treats are minced pork and gelatinized broth wrapped inside a thin dough skin and steamed in a bamboo basket. They are a must-try on the Taiwan food list.
Make sure to dip in a mixture of black vinegar and ginger for a perfectly balanced bite. Most soup dumplings are made with pork filling, but some versions contain crabmeat, shrimp, and vegetable fillings. At Din Tai Fung, you can even find truffle soup dumplings!
Believe it or not, stinky tofu is a wildly popular street food in Taiwan. It is called “stinky” tofu, but it is really not that stinky. The pungent odor might be bewildering at first, but once you’ve tasted it, you will find it surprisingly addictive – just like blue cheese and durian for some people.
So, what gives stinky tofu the funky smell? It’s fermentation. Fresh tofu is soaked in a brine of fermented milk, meat, or vegetables (or a combination of all three) for weeks to months. The fermented tofu is then cut into small cubes and deep-fried to golden color and crisp on the outside. It is usually served along with pickled vegetables and soy-chili sauce on the side.
For the locals, the smellier it is, the better it tastes.
Not that daring? Try the other less-stinky variations: grilled, steamed, or stewed in spicy soup!
What is Taiwan known for producing? Taiwan is known as the bicycle kingdom since the 1970s. Anyone who is into cycling is no stranger to Giant, the world’s largest bike company and a global leader in the industry. The Taiwanese company was the first to mass-produce carbon fiber for bikes and is the preferred brand for many professionals and world champions.
Quality and advanced technologies differentiate Taiwan manufacturers from competitors from other countries; that’s why many leading brands like Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, Schwinn, and Raleigh have their bike units manufactured in Taiwan.
Cycling-obsessed travelers will have no trouble finding their dream bike on a visit to Taiwan. Maybe they will even want to stay around for extra few days to tackle the 602-mile Cycle Route No. 1 around the island!
Convenience stores are the second home for Taiwanese. I’m not joking!
There is a convenience store on every corner – if it’s not a 7-11, it is either a Family Mart, an OK Mart, or Hi-Life. Taiwan has the highest density of convenience stores globally, roughly 1 per 2,300 citizens!
So why do the Taiwanese rely on convenience stores so much? Well, unlike in North America, Taiwanese convenience stores are actually convenient. We can do A LOT of things there, including (and not limited to) topping up your transportation card, banking at ATMs, buying freshly brewed coffee, using photocopiers, paying bills, mailing, picking up parcels, and even dropping off dry-cleaning! Not to mention the delicious microwave food items sold in-store!
Big convenient stores sometimes let you collect stamps from your purchases, which you can then exchange for limited-edition products! What a smart idea to get you to come back and spend more, huh?
Taiwanese are a friendly bunch to travelers. Period. It doesn’t matter what your skin color looks like, what language you speak, or how you identify yourself. Straight, gay, bisexual, or transgender, you are you. Taiwanese will open our arms to welcome you with a smile.
In fact, Taiwan has recently passed the same-sex marriage bill, the first and only country in Asia to do so. In addition, every autumn, Taiwan hosts the largest gay pride parade in Asia, attracting hundreds of thousands of people from across the island and neighboring countries!
In such a progressive environment, LGTB travelers have no need to worry about being themselves and showing affection to their loved ones in public.
The town of “Spirited Away”
Remember the famous Japanese animated film Spirited Away? Many beautiful scenes are inspired by a mountainous town called Jiufen in Taiwan.
The picturesque town is nestled on the northeastern coast, 2 hours away from the hustle and bustle of Taipei City. Walking on the narrow, lantern-lit cobblestone street, you will feel transported to another time and unique place. Many buildings reflect Japanese influence during the gold mining era.
Movie fans will not want to miss the A-Mei Tea House, the inspiration for the iconic bathhouse in the film. And certainly do not want to leave without trying out the mouth-watering street food and seeing the mesmerizing ocean vistas!
Taipei 101, an iconic symbol of Taiwan, may no longer be the tallest building in the world, but it is the world’s largest LEED-certified Platinum building.
Aside from having an environmental design, the skyscraper is also unique in many ways: the form is inspired by a traditional pagoda; the green glass is used to resemble bamboo; the eight tower sections are a nod to the lucky number in Chinese culture.
On a clear day, visiting the observatory deck on the 89th floor for a 360-degree view of the city and the 91st floor for an outdoor vantage point is worth visiting. For a more intimate experience, I recommend heading down to the 35th floor. There, you will find the tallest Starbucks in the world! Note: an advance reservation is required with a minimum spend of NT $250 per person.
Taipei 101 puts on a stunning firework show on New Year’s Eve every year. Lasting for at least 5 minutes long, the dazzling display is really an eye-opener and brings great joy to the crowds. Why not consider ringing in the next new year in Taiwan?
About the author
This post is written by Cat Lin, a Taiwanese-born food and travel writer. She loves adventure travel and enjoys sampling the local cuisine when traveling to foreign countries.
She currently lives in Calgary, where she runs the food and travel blog For Two, Please with her husband, Kev. You can follow her online on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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