OK, We know what you’re thinking!
“Oh no, not another one “must try Taiwan” food lists! Those are so lao geng （老梗，cliché).”
But stick with us, because we’re going in a bit of different direction here. You’ve already read about Taiwan’s amazing beef noodle soup, and if you haven’t already crossed stinky tofu off your foodie bucket list by this point, you’ve probably made the conscious choice to stay away from the stuff.
So with this list, we’re not going to be mentioning any of those dishes. In fact, to avoid falling into cliche territory, we’ve established some ground rules. (Read more: Food, Glorious Food!)
To make this list, an item needs fit at least three of the following four categories:
- Only found in Taiwan (or at least primarily found in Taiwan).
- Currently trending in Taiwan, I.e., things we’re seeing in night markets in 2017 that we weren’t seeing 5 years ago.
- Delicious, or at least worth trying once.
- Not already written-about-to-death!
As an added challenge, we’re *hoping* to include at least two items on this list that even our most culinarily jaded Taiwanese expat friends haven’t tried yet.
1) Dried Sausages/ 臘腸 / Làcháng
Found in traditional markets and better supermarkets around Taiwan, these are the grownup version of the popular American Slim Jim snack. Meaty with small chunks of fat, these usually come in a variety of spice levels, though for our money the spicier ones are the tastiest, unleashing a torrent of meaty, spicy goodness with every bite. Portable and requiring no refrigeration, Lanchang are especially handy for hikes and bike rides, as they pack a lot of calories into a small space.
2) Blowtorch cooked Beef Cubes / 炙燒骰子牛 / Zhì shāo shǎi zǐ niú
Found at night markets throughout Taiwan (and a few other street food locations like Ximending), the Chinese name for this awesome dish translates to “burning diced cow”. But we think that “Blowtorch cooked beef cubes" rolls off the tongue a bit better, and since that’s exactly what this dish consists of, that’s what we’re calling it. Delicious cubes of beef, seared and spiced on the outside, juicy on the inside. And dude, it’s cooked with a blowtorch. How often do you get to eat something on the street that’s been cooked with a blowtorch?!
3) Puffed Sweet Potato Balls / 地瓜球 /Digua qiú
Though deep fried, these puffed balls made from sweet potato flour are surprisingly light and airy. While mostly found in night markets, we’ve seen a couple of stands set up on random street corners in the suburbs. Though some of the flavor in these puffed snacks come from spices added post-frying (cheese, black pepper, and powdered sugar are usually three good choices), we find them pretty good unflavored as well.
4) Coffin Toast Bread / 台南棺財板 / Táinán guāncai bǎn
Coming in at number four (which is appropriate, as in Chinese the word “four” is a homonym for “death”) is a thick cut slice of bread that’s toasted and hollowed out before being filled with a creamy filling of chicken, vegetables, and seafood reminiscent of Chicken a la king. The end result is an absolutely delicious dish that looks like…well, a Taiwanese coffin. It’s a distinctly local dish, so much so that If any readers know where to find it in Taipei, We’ll meet you there personally and treat you to a slice. ( The first reader to answer in comments below gets the prize – special bonus for finding a spot within ten MRT stops of the MyTaiwanTour office!)
5) 雞屁股 / Jī pìgu / Chicken Ass
OK, we hear our old Taiwan-hand friends screaming “Chicken ass is neither new nor trending!” But it does fit the delicious, worth trying and not written about to death categories, so we’re throwing it in. If you haven’t tried this beloved Taiwanese delicacy, what are you waiting for? Though mostly fat and cartilage, this succulent part of the chicken is incredibly flavorful, great for really absorbing whatever spices the chef throws in, and especially tasty when grilled. Though everyone in Taiwan knows the dish by name Jī pìgu, some trendier stands have rebranded it with the far-loftier sounding qīlǐxiāng (七里香), or “seven-mile fragrance”. (Because it smells so good it’ll draw customers from seven miles away, get it?) But since the dish is found all over Taiwan, it’s unlikely you’ll ever have to travel that far for a good piece of chicken ass.
6)Quail Eggs / 小鳥蛋 / Xiǎoniǎo dàn
This trend for this interesting snack may have peaked a few years back, but there are still plenty of stands dispensing wooden skewers on which a half-dozen bite sized quail eggs are impaled and slathered with sauce. It’s a simple treat, but quite delicious. Perhaps owing to the maturity of the trend, some quail egg specialty stands (and they are specialty stands; it takes special equipment to cook those tiny, tiny eggs) have been getting experimental, putting dried shrimp or other items inside the eggs. Definitely a street food!
7)Spicy Stuffed Chicken Wing
This one is so new we don’t even know the precise Mandarin term for it, but over the last six months, we’ve seen at least a dozen or so stands (including one in Sun Moon Lake that even on a Wednesday afternoon had an impressively long line) selling this dish. Basically, a decent sized chicken wing has the skin peeled back and partially deboned. The larger part of the wing is split open and stuffed with a spicy mixture of rice and finely chopped onions and peppers before having the skin pulled back up to hold it all together on the grill. Forget about eating a dozen of these – two will do you just fine!
8)Buddha Head Fruit /釋迦 / Shi Jia
While the actual Buddha was well traveled, the fruit bearing his name does not travel well, tending to get bruised and mushy within a few days of being picked. So you’re best bet is to get your fill of this sweetly sour fruit with an unusual, almost custard-like texture while you’re in Taiwan (preferably in Taitung County, where they’re mostly grown). The Buddha Head fruit has a lot of smooth seeds, but the flavor is well worth it. It’s definitely not a flavor you’ll experience in North America or Europe.
Looking to have an Ultimate Culinary Experience in Taipei? Have we got a tour for you! What’s it called? Why, MyTaiwanTour’s Taipei Culinary Experience Tour, naturally! Over the course of 4 hours, we’ll take you through traditional Taiwanese markets for snacks and samples, into one of the Taipei Gourmet Ghetto’s best-loved restaurants for a specially curated meal comprised of small dishes, and out for a movable feast in one of the city’s best night markets. We’ll taste at least a dozen distinctly different Taiwanese dishes (including a few on this list), and leave you full, happy, and with an understanding of Taiwanese culinary culture that no internet foodie list (even this one) can offer.
As the Moon Festival approaches, We’d like to invite you to join our new arrival night tours and bathe in beautiful moonlight with your friends and family. Check out these 4 night tours to celebrate Moon Festival with us in Taiwan and enjoy a flash 10%off!
Know where to get Tainan Coffin Toast Bread in Taipei? Leave a comment below!