Having been to a few places in Asia known for street food like Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Tokyo, I would have to say that for me, Taipei is probably tops. Tokyo gives it a run for the money, but I would say I enjoyed eating in Taipei slightly, just slightly more than Tokyo.
Here is what, and where I ate.
Tiger Sugar – bubble tea – Taiwan is the birthplace of bubble tea so I had to try it there. One really popular place is Tiger Sugar. There are multiple locations. Since milk is one of the few foods I avoid for allergic reasons, I ordered one without milk and no sugar.
It was coffee flavored, and just ok the way I ordered it. I would not have it again. However, note that bubble tea is generally better WITH milk AND sugar so my assessment is not accurate. No matter where I go, ordering it without sugar or milk will always result in a just ok experience.
Yong – Kang – beef noodle soup – this is the first dish that most people will think of when they think of Taiwanese food (and the fried basil chicken which we unfortunately, could NOT FIND!). Yong-Kang is a popular place and is in the Michelin Guide as Bib Gourmand.
On a relative ranking, for me, beef noodle soup is not tops when it comes to Asian soup noodle dishes. Here is my ranking:
- Beef Noodle Soup
- Won Ton Noodle Soup
I was sick the day we went here so I ordered the beef noodle soup non-spicy. Most Taiwanese would order the spicy version. The version I ordered had a nice clean tasting broth, but not complex like a good pho or ramen broth. Not as savory either. The noodles were ok, but I like the texture of a firm ramen noodle more. These were soft. The beef was very tender and tasty however. I need to try the dish again spicy to be sure of where this ranks compared to other Asian soup noodle dishes.
Shi Dong Market – this is a traditional food market selling everything from fresh fish, to meat, to prepared food. I learned that the majority of food in Taiwan is grown locally.
I loved watching people take pride in their craft like this stall making fresh noodles:
…and this one making fresh dumplings by hand:
One of the first things I ate were some cheese buns from this stall. They were delicious. Very soft textured fresh bread and nice flavor from the cheese.
…next we tried some sushi.
The otoro was just ok. The fish was fresh but not a lot of fatty flavor and still a tiny bit frozen. The rice could use improvement. We also tried uni from Japan and a Taiwanese swordfish. These two were better than the tuna.
Next we had these knock out souffles. These were to die for! They were just fresh out of the oven so perfect temperature, perfect fluffy texture, taste was amazing and not too sweet, and I can’t say enough good things about them. There was a bit of a langage barrier so I am not sure what the place was called but I think it was “googgoo”. We also tried a coffee flavored one which was sitting in the fridge and they warmed up. It was not good. If you go, definitely make sure you get a fresh out of the oven one.
Next door, I had a coffee from a true coffee artisan. He was very knowledgeable about coffee and helped me select one based on the flavors I told him I liked.
Watching him make the coffee was as fun. He was clearly very passionate about it, and moved with a lot of finesse. He explained details at certain steps. For example, how the process he uses creates this puff which is an indication of a perfect brew.
For all the theatrics, the coffee was just ok.
Jiufen Old Village – walking around Jiufen is a very pleasurable exercise. There are a lot of people, tons of food and other stores, and lots going on.
Ginkgo Lin – bubble tea – This place has been around since 1939 and specializes in almonds. So I got a bubble tea with almond milk and 1/4 sugar. It was good.
Ice Cream Burrito (wrap) – This was so good I craved more after I finished. Every where we went after, I tried to look for people selling this. ITS SO GOOD. Its a crepe/spring roll type wrapper, with shaved Taiwanese peanut brittle, and two scoops of ice cream. It may sound and look at bit odd, but trust me, if you encounter someone selling these, you should have one. Everything just works well together. You get the taste of fresh peanuts and sweetness from the brittle, nice chewy texture from the wrap, and of course, cold temperature, flavor and creamy from the ice cream.
Black Bridge Chinese Sausages – OK, this was the BEST Chinese sausage I have ever had! Absolutely, mind blowing good. Perfect sausage. I wish I could have this everyday.
Xiao Long Bao – Towards the end of the old street, there is a restaurant selling XLB. Since we have had Din Tai Fung many times, and Taiwan is its birthplace, we wanted to try a different place and compare. This one came highly recommended.
While it was good, I prefer Din Tai Fung.
Skin – these ones were thicker and not as elegant as DTF
Meat filling – was good
Soup – not every dumpling had soup, and the ones that did, did not have much. Also, the broth was good but not amazing.
We also had some ham fried rice which WAS very good.
Shilin Night Market – Although there are many night markets in Taiwan, this one is one of the largest and most well known. Going to night markets is a regular activity for locals. There are lots of things for sale, games, and of course, food!
Sausage and sticky rice – This place, as with many of the more popular stalls, had a long line. This one did not move that fast. This, to me, is the Taiwanese version of hot dog and a bun. Its also in the Michelin guide according to the signs on the cart.
Basically, you choose your flavor which they then stuff into the sausage and also baste it with while grilling. I could see from the raw sausages, they were freshly made. I chose to order two since I lined up so long – one was garlic, and the other bbq satay. Both were very delicious.
Grilled wagyu beef – The beef was well seasoned, well cooked and delicious. The person at the cart told me the beef came from the USA.
Pan fried pork baos – See what the guy has in the big red round pan/pot? They are mind blowingly good. Another must eat when you come across it. I believe they come in beef also. There are many stalls selling this item.
Corn on the cob – Before serving, they dip it in salted water. There is no butter. This was just ok.
Fried Chicken – This was one thing I was determined to eat in Taiwan. Surprisingly, it was hard to find. When we did find it, it was not as good as I was used to at home. At home, they are deep fried with basil, and lots of seasoning. I had this twice in Taiwan, and both times, lacking flavor. Maybe these are the way they are supposed to be originally and our version in North America is not authentic. Who knows.
Puffy’s Souffle – Given my earlier knock out experience with souffle cupcakes at the market, I wanted to try these ones. They were not as good. First, the stall is very disorganized and you will wait a long time for your order. Second, the souffle was not cooked through in the middle.
Ice Cream burrito (2) – Again, given my experience with this earlier, I had to have it again when I came across another stall at this night market. Unfortunately, it was just ok this time.
All in all, I had an amazing time eating the street food in Taipei. There were a few mind blowing things and the experience of walking around and eating many little things that look good is a good way to try a variety of food. I would say that on a given day walking around eating, I had more crazy delicious things in Taiwan, than I experienced anywhere else in Asia for street food. I definitely will come back and try more!