Updated: March 8th, 2021
Born and raised in Taiwan, I absolutely love Taiwanese food. Taiwanese cuisine consists of a wide range of flavors and sometimes more complexity than Western foods I think! Through my Taiwan Food Guide, you’ll get a better understanding of the different types of cuisine you can find when traveling in Taiwan, how to research restaurants in Taiwan (there’s no Yelp!) and what foods to try.
3 Categories of Taiwanese Food
Since part of the Taiwanese population originated from China, much of Taiwanese cuisine takes inspiration from Chinese regions. The food resembles flavors from the Fujian province the most as that’s where a big portion of the Chinese in Taiwan emigrated from.
Dishes are typically served family style, and best eaten with a group of four or more people. Some of my favorite dishes in this category are: braised pork belly, bitter gourd with salted egg, and water spinach.
Xiǎo Chī or “Small Eats”
Xiǎo chī literally means small eats when translated into English and is probably what Taiwan is most known for. These are small dishes that are often served at night markets and can be anything from shaved ice to pork blood rice cake.
Taiwan’s food industry is so competitive that it means a lot to own a small food cart and be able to survive more than a year making profits. I’m a big snacker so I love visiting night markets. I usually get one to two things from each stand and visit about 3-4 stands in one night. This is one of the most unique parts about the food scene in Taiwan and my favorite part of this food guide.
There are also restaurants that specialize in traditional Chinese cuisine served in smaller portions and at a pretty good price point (as low as $3 USD per plate!)
Foreign Cuisine with a Taiwanese Twist
In Taiwan’s largest cities and especially in Taipei, you’ll notice an abundance of foreign restaurants. There’s Japanese, Australian, Italian, German and American…You name the type of cuisine, and there’s probably a restaurant that serves it.
Taiwan was once under Japanese rule, and perhaps the silver lining from that dark period is the abundance of Japanese cuisine that now fills its streets.
One of my absolutely favorite places to visit are afternoon tea spots. Although high tea originated from England, Taiwan has really made it its own. Rose House is one of my favorite places in Taichung and is super Instagram friendly!
How to Research Restaurants in Taiwan
Do Research on Facebook and Instagram
In an era where Instagram and TikTok dominate, you probably think the days of Facebook are over. That’s not quite the case in Taiwan.
Many restaurants, shops, and other types of businesses have a presence on Facebook, and that’s often the best place to find out more about them. Restaurants will also sometimes offer a discount in return for you checking in to their social media page.
Instagram is a good place to do research too. I usually type in a city or district’s name in Instagram and see what restaurants people may have tagged recently. Sometimes this will also lead me to food bloggers with unique suggestions.
Do Research on Blogs
Like you’re doing now! Blogs are a great resource for finding food spots in Taiwan. In fact, I don’t think I ever go to Taiwan without researching Taiwan food guides online.
Go to a Night Market
One of my favorite things to do when visiting Taiwan is going to a night market. There’s food, games, and shops. You can walk around as you eat and try all kinds of cuisines. Things are typically pretty affordable too.
If you’ll be staying in Taipei during your Taiwan trip, Shilin Night Market is a must. Hualien also has Dongdamen Night Market. It’s a great place to stop along the east coast of Taiwan.
What to Eat in Taiwan
Now onto the actual cuisines you should try while in Taiwan.
Beef Noodle Soup
When people ask me what Taiwanese food is, beef noodle soup is usually the first thing that comes to mind. A flavorful beef broth, chewy noodles, big chunks of beef, and sauerkraut are some of the things that characterize the famous dish.
Beef noodle soup restaurants are all over Taiwan, but it’s the ones that have been around for decades and are tucked away in small alleyways that are the best.
Soy Milk and Fried Bread Sticks (yóu tiáo)
There’s a Taiwanese song called “soy milk and fried bread sticks” that’s used to describe two people’s love as “a match made in heaven.” That’s how perfect of a match soy milk and fried bread sticks are.
There’s savory soy milk and sweet soy milk. The sweet kind is what you’re probably used to – soy beans pressed into liquid form – whereas savory soy milk is more like a soybean soup with other ingredients added in.
Yóu tiáo is an airy, deep fried bread that pairs perfectly with soy milk’s consistency, sweet or savory. Taiwanese people often eat soy milk and fried bread sticks for breakfast.
Pearl Milk Tea
Taiwan’s streets are filled with pearl milk tea (aka. boba or bubble tea) shops.
Soup Dumplings from Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)
Din Tai Fung is a popular Michelin restaurant. They make the best Xiaolongbao’s in town.
Even if you’ve been to the restaurant elsewhere, you still have to try the one in Taiwan. I swear the ingredients and flavors are noticeably better.
Aside from their soup dumplings, I also like getting their fried rice and chicken soup. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
Stinky tofu is as exotic as the foods in this Taiwanese food guide get. The fermented tofu can either come fried or come boiled in soup. I personally like the fried version more, but you should try both.
Regardless of which one you try, the tofu’s flavor will definitely take some getting used to. It’s an acquired taste.
Hot Pot at Tripod King (鼎王)
Much like barbecuing, hot pot allows you to cook your own meal and eat until you can’t stuff any more into your stomach.
The meal is served in a large pot that sits on top of a stove that’s either portable or built into the table at the restaurant. You typically order raw meats, veggies, and any other ingredients you want in your hot pot, then cook them in the broth of your choice throughout the meal.
You can customize everything from the soup base, meats, veggies to the side dip. I recommend ordering ingredients that are local to Taiwan, things like taro, pork blood, fried bread sticks etc.
Taro root is very common in Taiwan. Taro balls are a glutinous treat made from taro roots and starch that’s very chewy and always satisfies my sweet tooth.
Almost everywhere throughout the country, you can find dessert shops that serve taro balls with other ingredients like red bean, jelly grass, and peanuts.
Final Note on the Taiwan Food Guide
There is so much good food in Taiwan that I’ve just scratched the surface with this food guide.
If you’re more conservative, I’d say all of the above are safe choices except maybe stinky tofu and some of the ingredients I recommended adding to your hot pot.
If you’re on the adventurous side, order the ingredients that are local to Taiwan and visit a night market to pick and choose whatever draws your attention.
Since night markets consist of mostly food in the small eats category, it’s the perfect place for sampling all kinds of flavors local to Taiwan!