Taiwanese Dishes You Must Try
Mike and Jessie explore Taiwanese restaurants in New York and try some of the most popular dishes.
Danzai mian (擔仔麵, dànzǎimiàn) from Dùxiǎoyuè (度小月) of Tainan
Taiwanese cuisine (traditional Chinese: 台灣菜; simplified Chinese: 台湾菜; pinyin:Táiwāncài; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tâi-oân liāu-lí (臺灣料理)) has several variations. In addition to the following representative dishes from the people of Hoklo (Hō-ló) ethnicity (seeTaiwanese people), there are also Aboriginal, Hakka, and local derivatives of Chinese cuisines such as beef noodle soup.
Taiwanese cuisine itself is often associated with influences from mid to southern provinces of Mainland China, most notably from the province of Fujian (Hokkien), but influences from all of Mainland China can easily be found. A notable Japanese influence also exists due to the period when Taiwan was under Japanese rule. Traditional Chinese food can be found in Taiwan, alongside Fujian and Hakka-style as well as native Taiwanese dishes, includes dishes from Guangdong, Jiangxi,Chaoshan, Shanghai, Hunan, Sichuan and Beijing.
Ingredients and Culture
Pork, seafood, chicken, rice, and soy are very common ingredients. Beef is far less common, and some Taiwanese (particularly the elderly generation) still refrain from eating it. This is in part due to the considerations of some Taiwanese Buddhists, a traditional reluctance towards slaughtering precious cattle needed for agriculture, and an emotional attachment and feeling of gratefulness and thanks to the animals traditionally used for very hard labour. However, due to influeneces from the influx of out of province Chinese in the early 1900s, the Taiwanese version of beef noodle soup is now one of the most popular dishes in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s cuisine has also been influenced by its geographic location. Living on a crowded island, the Taiwanese had to look aside from the farmlands for sources of protein. As a result, seafood figures prominently in their cuisine. This seafood encompasses many different things, from large fish such as tuna and grouper, to sardines and even smaller fish such as anchovies. Crustaceans, squid, and cuttlefish are also eaten.
Because of the island’s sub-tropical location, Taiwan has an abundant supply of various fruit, such as papayas, starfruit, melons, and citrus fruit. A wide variety of tropical fruits, imported and native, are also enjoyed in Taiwan. Other agricultural products in general arerice, corn, tea, pork, poultry, beef, fish, and other fruits and vegetables. Fresh ingredients in Taiwan are readily available from markets.
In many of their dishes, the Taiwanese have shown their creativity in their selection of spices. Taiwanese cuisine relies on an abundant array of seasonings for flavour: soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, fermented black beans, pickled daikon, pickled mustard greens, peanuts, chili peppers, cilantro (sometimes called Chinese parsley), and a local variety of basil (九層塔 jiǔcéngtǎ, literally “nine story pagoda”).
The Taiwanese xiaochi has gained much reputation internationally. Many travelers go to Taiwan just for xiaochi. The most common place to enjoy xiaochi in Taiwan is in a night market. Each night market also has its own famous xiaochi.
Moreover, the Taiwanese xiaochi has been improving to a higher level. Nowadays, Taiwanese xiaochi not only served in Night Markets but some luxury and high-end restaurants. The prices usually jump 100% or even higher in the restaurants. Also, the Taiwanese government supports the Taiwanese xiaochi and has held national xiaochi events in Taiwan regularly.
A Fenchihu Bento Box
- Chiayi: Turkey rice bowls (火雞肉飯 hǔojī ròu fàn) are bowls of rice with shredded turkey layered on top, often accompanied by pickled daikon radish. The rice is drizzled with a kind of gravy made from the turkey drippings and soy sauce.
- Hsinchu: pork balls, 貢丸 （gòngwán）, which are often eaten in soup， 湯 (tang). Rice vermicelli, 米粉 (mǐfěn), are another Hsinchu specialty. They are often eaten ‘dry’, 乾 (gān, not in a soup) with mushroom and ground pork.
- Dasi, Taoyuan dried tofu (大溪豆乾 dàxī dòugān)
- Taichung: Suncake is the most noted pastries of Taichung. It is baked layered puff pastry with a sweet center often made with honey or molasses. Also, Nagasaki-style Castella and nougats (牛軋糖 niúgátáng, nougat).
- Tainan City Dan zai noodles (台南擔仔麵 Tâi-lâm tàⁿ-á-mī, Táinán dànzǎimiàn), shrimp and meat dumplings (蝦仁肉丸 hê-jîn bah-ôan, xiārén ròuwán), and shrimp crackers/biscuits are among the most notable local dishes. Another popular dish originating in Tainan is “oily rice” (台南油飯 Tâi-lâm iû-pn̄g, Táinán yóufàn), a rice dish containing savoury oils and shredded pork meat, mushrooms, and dried shrimp. Coffin Bread (棺材板 guāncáibǎn) is similar to French toast or bread bowl soups, but filled with savory fillings, such as black pepper beef or curried chicken. Thick cut bread is dipped in egg, deep fried, cut along three sides, opened and filled, and eaten.
- Changhua: Ba-wan, literally meaning ‘meat sphere’. They are a kind of large dumpling made from a gelatinous dough and stuffed with pork and vegetables, most commonly mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
- Nantou: Yimian (yīmiàn), which is tasty, soft noodles in soup, and Rou-yuan (肉圓, ròuyuán), which is similar to Ba-wan. Rou-yuan’s exterior is made of tapioca starch and is filled with mushrooms, thin shredded bamboo, and a meatball. It is eaten with a reddish sweet and sour sauce
- Tamsui: A-gei (阿給, āgěi), which are deep fried tofu that have been stuffed with crystal noodles and sealed with fish paste and drizzled with spicy sauce on the outside. Tamsui fish ball (魚丸, yúwán), because Tamsui is near the ocean, therefore, it is a good place to try their fish balls, which are balls of fish paste stuffed with meat and garlic cooked in light broth. Iron eggs (鐵蛋, tiědàn), are eggs that have been repeatedly stewed in a mix of spices and air-dried. The resulting eggs are dark brown, chewy and full of flavor compared to normal boiled eggs.
Many flavors of Taiwanese sausages are sold at a night market vendor
Vegetarian restaurants are commonplace with a wide variety of dishes, mainly due to the influence of Buddhism and other syncretistic religions like I-Kuan Tao. These vegetarian restaurants vary in style from all-you-can-eat to pay-by-the-weight and of course the regular order-from-a-menu.
There is a type of outdoor barbecue called khòng-iô (焢窯, hōngyáo). To barbecue in this manner, one first builds a hollow pyramid up with dirt clods. Next, charcoal or wood is burnt inside until the temperature inside the pyramid is very high (the dirt clods should be glowing red). The ingredients to be cooked, such as taro, yam, or chicken, are placed in cans, and the cans are placed inside the pyramid. Finally, the pyramid is toppled over the food until cooked.
Many non-dessert dishes are usually considered snacks, not entrees; that is, they have a similar status to Cantonese dim sum or Spanish tapas. Such dishes are usually only slightly salted, with lots of vegetables along with the main meat or seafood item.
A plate of bàobīng (刨冰) with strawberries and condensed milk
- Moi-ji (môa-chî 麻糬), a soft rice cake like Japanese Mochi. Flavours of the fillings can vary, ranging from all kinds of beans to nuts.
- Bubble tea, aka boba milk tea; also known as pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶, zhēnzhū nǎichá) – chewy tapioca balls added to milk tea.
- Grass jelly (仙草, xiāncǎo, sian-chháu) – (Mesona procumbens) Served hot or cold.
- ò-giô-peng (àiyùbīng [愛玉冰]) – a gelatinous dessert, aiyu jelly, made from the seeds of a fig-like fruit, Ficus pumila var. awkeotsang. Served on ice.
- ō͘-á-peng (芋仔冰 yùzǎibīng, yùbīng [芋冰]) – an ice cream made of taro root paste.
- Zukak kway (鼠麹粿 chhú-khak-ké shǔqūguǒ, 草仔粿, chháu-á-ké cǎozǎiguǒ) – Cakes made with a dough from glutinous rice flour and combine with a ground cooked paste of Gnaphalium affine or Mugwort to give it a unique flavor and green color. The dough is commonly filled with ground meat or sweet bean pastes.
- Traditional Cakes – They are not always of the same composition depending on the flavor.
There is the moon cake which has a thick filling usually made from lotus seed paste or sweetened red bean paste and surrounded by a relatively thin (2–3 mm) crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. It is traditionally eaten during the festival is for Lunar worship and Moon watching. Mooncakes are offered between friends or on family gatherings while celebrating the festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the four most important Chinese festivals.
There are other cakes that can mix salty ingredients with sweet ones to create a balance while enjoying these delicacies with tea. The crust could be shiny from applying a layer of egg yolk before putting in the oven, or not in that case it is often whiter and the crust has more layers.
Night Market Dishes
Surrounded by ocean on all sides, seafood has been an important staple in the Taiwanese diet. Here is grilled squid sold at a night market vendor.
Taiwan’s best-known snacks are present in the night markets, where street vendors sell a variety of different foods, from finger foods, drinks, sweets, to sit-down dishes. In these markets, one can also find fried and steamed meat-filled buns, oyster-filled omelets, refreshing fruit ices, and much more. Aside from snacks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts, night markets also have vendors selling clothes, accessories, and offer all kinds of entertainment and products.Various drinks are also often sold, ranging from bubble tea stands to various juice and tea stands.
- Crêpe – Adapted from the original French version, a very thin cooked pancake, it has a much crispier texture, rather like a cracker. Very popular in the early 2000s.
- Fruit or bean smoothies – milk or ice is blended on the spot with fresh papaya, mango, watermelon, azuki bean, or mung bean.
- Fried glutinous rice balls – slightly sweet in flavor.
- Fried chicken pieces – thumb-size chunks of deep-fried chicken sprinkled with white pepper, chilli and fried basil.