On our last visit to my parents in Indonesia, I decided to break up our US – Jakarta flight with an extended layover in Taiwan. It turned out to be such a brilliant idea I don’t know why I never thought of it before, having flown San Francisco – Taipei – Jakarta many times. Instead of spending a bleary 10 hour layover in Taipei Airport, we had 4 days to relax, eat, and see Taiwan.
(Wait, how did we get from Bulgaria/Macedonia to Asia? We hopscotched a lot in 2016 and it’s a little complicated. Bear with me…)
I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to do in Taiwan: I had to back out of visiting Taroko Gorge, located on Taiwan’s supposedly beautiful eastern coast. It was at the end of our 3 week Asia trip and I was a little burned out of moving around. Plus it was supposed to rain the whole time. In the end, staying in Taipei was an easy decision to make. Even though I was bummed about missing Taroko, I have a feeling that I’ll be making this extended layover again. I’ll get to see Taroko, and the rest of Taiwan, someday in the future.
For visitors, Taipei has a bunch of museums and temples. Unless it holds erotic potteries or demented taxidermies, they’re not really my thing. But Taipei is also about night markets and street food, which is more down my alley. As a matter of fact, if you’re a self-proclaimed foodie, Taiwan is the country for you.
There’s a long list of food Taiwan is famous for: from street foods to desserts. Many of these can be found in any one of Taipei night markets. Some like pineapple cake, bubble tea, and beef noodle soup are known all over the world. Looking back, we spent most of our time in Taipei going from one eating spot to another, following recommendations our foodie friends told us. I think considering that we’re both picky eaters, we did pretty good.
Taipei: Eat all the food
1. Oyster Omelette
It was our last day and I was running out of time to try this most-Taiwanese snack of all. So I settled for a stand at the food court at the bottom of Taipei 101. I honestly didn’t know what to think of this dish of oysters, egg, and sweet potato flour. Actually, I do. It’s gross.
The addition of sweet potato flour made it goopy and sticky. No food should be that goopy and sticky. That along with the shape and color of the oysters – milky globules with black veins – turned me off the dish visually.
It wasn’t a dish I’d get again. Maybe I just got it from a wrong place?
2. Yong Ha Soy Milk King
Yong Ha Soy Milk King is THE place to go to try Taiwanese breakfast. There’s always a line. (There’s a line for takeaway and a line for eat in – so make sure you’re on the right one). Ordering involved matching picture menus online with chinese-only order card.
I had a chinese donut wrapped in a thin egg omelette wrapped in a freshly-made pancake. Highly recommended is eating it topped with the chili sauce on the table. It was an artery-clogging breakfast that hit the spot on that particular rainy morning. Delicious! I made a mental note to seek a place that does this in San Francisco.
Jack had an egg pancake (minus the donut) that he dipped into a bowl of hot salted soy milk. The hot soy milk is served with dried baby shrimps and sliced chinese donuts. Addition of vinegar curdles the milk. It was definitely… interesting.
I also had the cold soy milk (it was good, but nothing special) and cold rice milk (Delicious! It was like a liquid peanut butter).
3. Mango Shaved Ice
Visually impressive and it was actually quite nice. The ice is made of powdered milk, sugar, and water and it has a smooth texture unlike the Hawaiian shaved ice I’m familiar with. I’m not a big ice cream fan and lately I’ve gotten more sensitive to sweet (can’t stand too much of it – gawd, is this what getting old is like?) so I wasn’t able to finish it.
Would I get again? On a hot day, I definitely would!
4. Stinky Tofu
Not as stinky as I expected and the condiments it came with were such strong flavors on their own they mask the smell. I had it deep fried with Thai sweet chili sauce.
Would I get it again? Like other strong flavored food like durian, it’s not something I can eat all the time. But this is one of those dishes I can see myself going for once in a while.
Jack is not a fan. He quickly realised that the sewer-like smell he occasionally sniffed around night markets originates from stinky tofu stands and learned to avoid them. Which is an impossible task. Stinky tofu is everywhere. I think after awhile, you just get used to the smell.
I find the smell distinct, but not offensive. Then again I’m one of those people who think durian smells delicious. Only one way to find out which camp you belong to, find a stinky tofu stand and take a deep breath.
5. Xiao Long Bao
Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumpling, is my brother’s favorite dim sum dish in Jakarta. Unfortunately back home they are almost always pork based. Since I don’t eat pork I’d never tried them. Until now.
Din Tai Fung is a popular chain famous for their Xiao Long Bao and its original store in Taipei is always packed. Lucky for me, along with their traditional pork-based filling, they also have seafood and vegetarian. So vegetarians – go here and try their famous broth dumplings.
There’s a booklet on each table describing the proper way to eat this broth dumpling (maybe they had enough of tourists squirting hot broth all over themselves?)
The verdict? I enjoyed them. Others might think the ginger is too overpowering, but I thought it was just perfect. It was light, and flavorful, and the dough is just the right thickness to contain the broth, but not so thick as to gum up the bite.
Visiting one of Taipei night markets is definitely a can’t miss experience.
Between all of these eating excursions, we did do other stuff in Taipei as well, you know?