It all started with a casual Ho Chi Minh City to “Everywhere” search on Skyscanner.
Flights to Taichung were cheap during the kids’ April school holidays, so I did a bit of research on this Taiwanese city I’d never previously heard of.
I did more research on Taiwan in general, a place — the only place — Darling Man had said he was interested in visiting.
Hmmm. It’s quite an interesting part of the world. And, it turns out, it’s a very popular destination for Vietnamese tourists.
I asked the family what they’d like to do on a holiday.
“Food,” said Darling Man.
“Nature,” said Miss M.
“Trains,” said Sunny.
So far, pretty predictable.
I put together an itinerary catering for everyone’s preferences. I also made a list of Taiwanese dishes I wanted to try.
And so … we worked our way through the list. With excellent results!
When you book a budget airline, you either eat the overpriced and bland food they offer… or you wait to see what’s available at the airport when you land.
Option 2 was an absolute winner for us. Taichung Airport was quite small, with one chain-looking restaurant that was full at 3pm. We ordered two set meals to share with the kids. (I wasn’t quick enough to take pics of both).
This wonton noodle set was the bomb! The first slurp prompted Miss M to comment “if airport food is this good, how good is the stuff cooked by professionals going to be?”
Try it at: Homee Kitchen, Taichung International Airport.
Green Onion Pancake (Cong You Bing / 蔥油餅)
Our hotel in Taichung’s Central District had our most favourite amenity: street food stalls right out the front.
On our very first night we planned to visit a nearby night market. But we ate so much in the first block from our hotel that we were full, so we turned around and went to back to the hotel to go to bed.
Our first snack was this delicious crispy-yet-chewy savoury pancake, filled with – surprise! – green onion, a fried egg and some form of powdered deliciousness. It was so good we ordered another one the following night on our way to dinner.
The teahouse that invented bubble tea was only a 16-minute walk from our hotel in Taichung, and we did discuss visiting the original place. But we ended up just trying some at a random place we walked by.
The kids were huge fans, and sucked down gallons of it during our trip.
We chose the most crowded stall at Second Market for our first street food breakfast in Taiwan. We used the time-honoured point-and-order technique and ended up with a soup and two plates of glutinous stuff covered in sauce.
The dish on the left was probably turnip cake, or luo buo gao/萝卜糕. The soup in the middle was so bland it’s not worth identifying. And the dish on the right is a sticky rice sausage, possibly the big sausage part of the famous da chang bao xiao chang (small sausage in big sausage/ 大腸包小腸).
We ordered a second round of the sausage and the turnip cake, but didn’t bother finishing the soup.
Try it at: Second Market, Sanmin Road, Central District, Taichung
Mystery Noodles #1
This deliciousness was listed as “noodle soup with braised pork” on the menu. We couldn’t work out the Chinese name for it, but it was one of our favourite dishes.
Mystery Noodles #2
Totally rejected by the kids, this dish became all mine! (Sharing food is ok, but I do get tired of not getting a full serve of the good stuff.)
It was labeled “noodles with sour sauce” in English on the menu. The name, and the un-photogenic nature of the dish, bely some extreme deliciousness. Hiding underneath the wontons and noodles was a tasty black vinegar sauce, which elevated this dish into unexpected heights.
Snow, my lovely Taiwanese friend, examined the photo and said it looked like Fuzhou dry noodles.
Try it at: 108 Zhongshan Road, Yuchi Township, Nantou County.
Mystery Noodles #3
This dish was simply outstanding, despite our fear that we were actually homeless for two nights.
Our driver didn’t speak English, and no one in the market spoke English. He asked us through a translation app on his phone if we wanted noodles, and we said yes, and this is what we ended up with. (The almost homeless in Taiwan story is a story for a future post.)
Snow, in her Taiwanese foodie wisdom, identified the dish as 榨菜肉絲麵, or noodles with pork and pickled mustard greens.
Try it at: Nanzhuang Market, Nanzhuang City, Miaoli County
Taiwanese Hamburger (Gua Bao)
There are many types of gua bao, the Taiwanese hamburger, and I really didn’t like the first one I tried from the night time street food stall near our hotel in Taichung.
This one, my second attempt at the beautiful Sun Moon Lake, was awesome. The light fluffy pao-cake bun was filled with braised pork, pickled mustard greens, cucumber and lettuce. I told the vendor to hold the ground peanut on this one. The crunch of the cucumber and lettuce and the tartness of the pickled greens contrasted well with the soft bun and the melt-in-your-mouth braised pork.
The first gua bao I tried was just meat, sauce and ground peanut. It was soft and goopy and the peanut flavour was just odd.
Try it at: Ita Thao shopping street, Sun Moon Lake
Braised Pork Rice (Lu Rou Fan)
Taiwan really knows how to braise pork. Lu rou fan would have to be one of the ultimate comfort foods. Rich soft umami pork served over rice, with some chopped pickles. Delicious!
The kids gobbled this down so fast I’m going to try to make it at home.
Try it at: Old Papa Black Tea, 50 Zhongxing Road, Shuishe Village, Sun Moon Lake.
Pig Intestine Noodle Soup
I ordered this for Darling Man because I’d read it was a Taiwanese specialty. He said he didn’t like it — “I ate intestines too much when I was a kid” – but ate it anyway so it didn’t go to waste.
I had a sip of the soup. It was very offal-flavoured, and I would only recommend it if you’re a big fan of offal.
Try it at: Old Papa Black Tea, 50 Zhongxing Road, Shuishe Village, Sun Moon Lake.
Tsou Cuisine at Yupasu Cafe
There are 16 officially-recognised indigenous people in Taiwan, including the Tsou, who now live in Nantou County and Chiayi County.
While we were in Alishan (for the train and nature portion of the holiday) in Chiayi County, we went to Yupasu Cafe for a set dinner.
It was one of those times when the kids got hungry an hour before we left, so helped themselves to the cup noodles in the room. Darling Man and I didn’t eat the noodles, but were so hungry when we got to the restaurant we started eating before taking photos. (Such a faux pas in this day and age!)
Our “barbecue set” included tasty chicken, pork, Chinese-style sausages, stir-fried eggplant and rice, which we washed down with a big bottle of Taiwan Beer.
The kids didn’t even try any of it, just boosted their sugar levels with several glasses of juice.
We just loved the place, not only because of the friendly white dog who lovingly leaned on my leg just in time to help clear the table, but also because of the wonderful view over tea plantations from the deck.
If we lived nearby, we’d be regulars at Yupasu Cafe!
Visit Yupasu Cafe on Facebook for the address.
Fenqihu Bento Box
The train section of our Taiwan trip came with a convenient train-food dish I could not leave off our itinerary.
It’s a bento box! You might know bento as a Japanese concept, and so it is. For Japan occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, and began logging Taiwan’s beautiful cypress and cedar forests in the early 1900s. In 1912, the Japanese built a the Alishan Forest Railway to access the cedar forest on the Alishan mountain range.
The railway still runs, ferrying tourists up the mountain range. Part of the rail line was damaged in a typhoon in 2009, so now the vintage trains only run from Chiayi station to Fenqihu. This now-final stop has been a popular destination since the rail line began operating, back when most travellers to the area were Japanese. Since Japanese people associate train travel with bento boxes, the market met demand. And so today, Fenqihu is famous for its train station bento boxes.
We followed the crowd to Fenqihu Lunchbox (奮起湖站鐵路便當), which seemed to be “the” place for a bento lunch. Once inside the red-brick building, we were confronted with a very crowded restaurant fitted out with chairs and tables made from tree stumps.
No one else seemed bamboozled by the whole setup, probably because we were the only non-Chinese speakers in the throng.
We eventually worked it out, with the help of an out-of-the-way sign in English, some basic English phrases from the cashier, and watching what everyone else was doing.
Along with our metal box of chicken, vegetables and rice, we were given some paper bowls. Following others’ lead, we filled our bowls with a miso-ish soup from a giant cauldron in the corner of the room. There didn’t seem to be any limit on the soup, so we had a few bowls each (in lieu of buying water to rehydrate).
It was a great meal, generous enough to share with small people and not feel completely ripped off food-wise.
I also liked the self-serve nature of the cleanup. There were two bins and a trolley. One bin for food scraps, the other for other rubbish, and the trolley for stacking the dirty bowls and trays.
To find the place, search for 奮起湖站鐵路便當 in Google Maps. It’s not listed in English!
Fried Leek Pancake
Obviously a close relative to the green onion pancake we sampled in Taichung, this tasty number had some extra vegetables and a dash of pepper inside.
It was the perfect warm snack after a chilly springtime hike through the mist and drizzle of Alishan Scenic Area. The kids didn’t like the pepper, so I didn’t even have to share. Also, I just loved the fact that such a street food-y dish was available in the middle of a forest!
Try it at: Xianglin Service Area, Alishan National Scenic Area, Chiayi County.
Super-Fancy Shaved Ice
Apparently this is a must-eat dish when visiting Nanzhuang’s Sweet Osmanthus Alley. It’s shaved ice topped with fruit, rice balls and sweet osmanthus honey.
It was the perfect pick-me-up after a hike up the steep hill behind the foodie alley, Nanzhuang’s main tourist attraction.
Once again, you’re expected to clear your own table before you leave, depositing food waste into one bin and the paper bowls into another.
Try it at: Jiangji Sweet Osmanthus Tang Yuan (江記桂花湯圓), 15 Wenhua Road, Nanzhuang Township, Miaoli County.
Xiao Long Bao Dumplings
I wasn’t expecting to see these on our trip, but when our overly-attentive hotel owner took us out for breakfast (which was advertised as included in the room rate), we ended up devouring several plates of xiao long bao each.
Funnily enough, when we asked our taxi driver to take us to a dumpling place on our last morning in Taiwan, he took us to the same place. Which must mean it’s the best in town!
To find this morning-only dumpling stand, search for 尖山-小籠湯包, or just go to 45 Minsheng Street (on the corner of Zhongshan Road), Nanzhuang Township. Miaoli County.
This famous Taiwanese dish was number one on Darling Man’s must-eat list of Taiwanese street food. However, we didn’t actually see it anywhere. (Well, maybe we did, but we didn’t recognise it.)
So just before we left our second-last stop, we asked our wonderful guesthouse host to write “stinky tofu” for us in Chinese, so we could track it down during our last days in Taiwan.
Little did we know how over-the-top our next host was. She plied us with two different types of stinky tofu … and wouldn’t even let us pay for it.
Darling Man found the stinky tofu disappointing. It’s far less pungent than Vietnamese stinky tofu, which has to be kept in sealed containers.
Because the fermented flavour was well below the Vietnamese standard, I actually found it to be quite inoffensive, equivalent to a boiled turnip. This type of stinky tofu was stuffed with pickled cabbage and carrot, and topped with chopped green onion.
I’d eat it again … but as you can see by this post, there are a LOT of delicious Taiwanese dishes, and I’d eat any of the dishes listed here before eating stinky tofu again!
And that concludes our culinary tour of Taiwan. I know we missed many great dishes, and so we’ll have to go back.
Let me know your recommendations in the comments!
7 months ago