When people asked me what I planned to do during my Taiwan vacation, I simply said “eat.” Sure, I threw in a couple of museums and a visit to some tea plantations, but I really spent the days from one restaurant to night market to another eatery.
Earlier this week, I wrote about the famous night markets. Now I fill in on all the rest of my eating adventures in Taipei (the country’s capital) and Taichung, the third largest city (with several modern new features) that’s just an hour train ride away from Taipei on the high-speed rail. Taiwan is a great place to eat because there are always so many choices to choose from (which happened a few times when I went somewhere and find out my original destination was closed) and the prices are pretty cheap.
The Taiwanese are also very proud of their ingredients and their skills, which shows in the prepared dishes that are always fresh and finely chopped with such precision. Here’s a closer look at just some of my favorite bites.
Dou Jiang or Soy Milk Breakfast
One thing I discovered about Taiwan is that the stores don’t really open until 11 a.m. The only places open earlier (other than offices) are breakfast spots. The most traditional Taiwanese breakfast is dou jiang, or soy milk that’s served either warm or cold. Growing up, I’ve traditionally eaten soy milk warm so that’s how I like it.
Dou jiang is served slightly sweetened and there are also special bowls that are a bit more savory with additional toppings added to the soy milk. But the most common side that goes with it is yau tiau, or the Chinese donut that’s like a long, airy churro. I was traveling with my older sister and brother-in-law, so they definitely had the yau tiau since I generally avoid deep-fried foods.
In Taipei, we checked out the popular Fuhang Doujiang, a small stand on the second floor of a food court. It’s so popular the line winds down the stairs to outside the mini mall. But luckily, the service is quick so the line moved pretty fast. I think we waited for maybe 25 minutes. Fuhang Doujiang also serves up egg sandwiches and savory buns.
In Taichung, we went for dou jiang at the often-recommended Lai Lai Soybean Milk Shop, which also had a line when we went (and mostly of locals). Again, service is quick and sometimes that’s intimidating when you have to order quickly with little time to peruse the menu. Along with hot and cold dou jiang, there are dumplings, buns, scallion pancakes and daikon cakes to order. While this place had more items to choose from, I did find the items a bit greasier than Fuhang in Taipei. Still, it was a filling breakfast that kept us charged up all day.
Bubble Tea at Chun Shui Tang
In Taichung, the restaurant Chun Shui Tang claims to be the creator of bubble tea in Taiwan. And even though I’ve talked about how I’m not a fan of bubble tea (too sweet and I don’t like chewing my drinks), I had to check out the spot that supposedly spawned a movement. Bubble tea is so popular in Taiwan that many people buy it morning, noon and night.
At Chun Shui Tang, I was pleased to find that the place is also a tea house, which meant there were several other food items to try along with your bubble tea like noodles and dim sum. As for the tea, there were a variety of milk teas and fruit-flavored “tea” (that were really juices). Most tea comes with the bubble, but you can also order extra bubble to add to any other tea. All the bubble tapioca comes out in simple black, easy-to-chew pearls. My brother in law and I both ordered medium size bubble drinks and they came out in a large mug that was a lot of tea and bubble.
The food is also pretty decent, and done in a different way that you don’t typically find in Cantonese-style tea houses. For example, the daikon cakes are served pan-fried (which is how you’ll find it in Cantonese dim sum houses) but cut into cubes and served with a sweet-savory sauce. And the shiumai was the most unusual because these pork-shrimp dumplings are wrapped in balls of rice instead of the typical dumpling skins.
Chun Shui Tang has several locations, and we went to the original spot that had a lovely setting and seems very popular with the young crowd.
Paying Respects to the Temple of Din Tai Fung
Even though Din Tai Fung is now available in the Bay Area, it felt disrespectful to go to Taipei and not eat at the original restaurant. This popular chain serving up the Shanghai soup dumplings, or xiao lung bao, was started in Taipei.
My sister, brother-in-law and I went for a very late lunch (around 2 p.m. because we spent much of the day sightseeing) so that meant a very short wait when we got our number at the Din Tai Fung at the foot of the Taiwan 101 building.
One of the reasons for going to Din Tai Fung even though it’s available in the United States is that you get the chance to try menu items that may not be available back home. For example, one of the starters we tried is a special seafood salad that was a pleasant combination of seaweed, jellyfish and perfectly julienned vegetables in a light pickled dressing. This was so refreshing to try.
We ordered so many other dishes and were so full near the end we almost didn’t have dinner that day. The xiao lung bao is perfectly made, of course, and everything else were good (but not necessarily extraordinary). Din Tai Fung is one of the few places we went in Taiwan that added a mandatory 10 percent service charge to its bill (tipping is not customary in Taiwan so most places we ate we didn’t leave tip).
Peking Duck at WEIN
On our last night in Taichung, we decided to visit the WEIN restaurant to try its famous Peking Duck.
The typical Peking Duck menu includes the traditional serving of the crispy duck skin that’s carved at the table and then served with a variety of condiments like kim chi, pickled vegetables, bean sprouts, olives, and even cheese. You wrap the duck skin with the typical plum sauce and your choice of condiments in either a wrap or taco shell.
Then at WEIN you have the choice of duck served another two ways. We opted for the specialty duck breast with six house-made sauces that were presented like paint on a palette, and ended our meal with duck bone soup. We also threw in some side orders of vegetables and tofu to round out our meal.
My brother-in-law said after seeing the presentation that he said eating Peking duck any other way from now one will be a disappointment.
Award-winning Beef Noodle Soup
As I mentioned, one of the country’s iconic dishes is niu rou mein, or beef noodle soup. You can find stands all around town serving this popular soup noodles. But when I was craving this bowl on a cold night, I ended up going to a hotel.
In Taipei, the Regent Hotel’s Azie Cafe is known for its beef noodle soup. Sure it may be more expensive than what you get on the streets, but this version has actually won country-wide competitions for the best beef noodle soup in Taiwan.
The bowl (pictured at top) comes out look simple except for the silky soft-boiled egg served with the broth. The meat chunks are super tender and the broth is rich with the distinctive five-spice/star anise flavor. It really hit the spot, and while I felt I had better in other places in Taiwan, it was still a worthy bowl.
Desserts and Pastries
Taiwanese love their pastries as I discovered just looking at the various windows as I was busy sight-seeing. The popular Ijysheng Bakery in Taichung or the even more famous Wu Pao Chun in Taipei tempted me constantly (OK, so I may have visited them more than once).
For dessert, other than the bubble tea, the tall mountains of finely shaved ice with syrup and toppings is one of the most common bites. In Taipei, long lines on a nice day can often happen at Smoothie House (a CNN review also contributed to the long lines, no doubt).
In Taichung, I also tried the popular ice cream flavors of Miyahara, a Japanese-inspired dessert shop that served ice cream that you then top with your choice of cookies or fruits. With all the choices, there was never a lack of sweets in Taiwan.
So this is just a taste of what it was like eating in Taiwan for 10 days. Check back on Sunday as I feature two fine-dining destinations I visited during my trip.
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