Ask anyone who has been to Taiwan what the national pastimes are and they will undoubtedly tell you shopping and eating. It’s no small wonder that Taiwan’s night markets play such a vital role in daily life. You can find just about anything at Taiwanese night markets from Taiwanese street food, clothing, and household items to family-style games and entertainment. And, of course, the food is out of this world.
The origins of Taiwanese cuisine can be traced back to its aboriginal tribes and through the immigrants who came to Taiwan from Mainland China. Over time, Taiwan has developed its own unique culinary culture. Taiwanese basil, star anise, white pepper, crushed peanuts; chili, pickled vegetables, and oyster sauce are just a few common ingredients that can be found in Taiwanese cuisine. Adding a variety of herbs, seasonings, and sauces to your meal will bring a whole new dimension of flavor to your dining experience in Taiwan. Most dishes are represented by several major categories that are eaten on a daily basis. Known locally as xiao-chi, these traditional dishes are categorized according to their primary ingredients.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Taiwanese Poultry Dishes
It’s not unusual to see kids snacking on Taiwanese fried chicken fillets or deep-fried chicken chunks at school. Tender white chicken breast is dipped in a special batter and then coated with flour before it’s deep-fried. Vendors offer a number of seasonings, such as white pepper, chili, Taiwanese basil, curry, dried laver, plum, and garlic to give it an exotic flavor.
Taiwanese herbal chicken soup is a standard dish that can be found all over Taiwan. Many people believe that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties, and the addition of ginseng and ginger really gives this wholesome soup the punch it needs to help combat sore throats and revitalize the body.
Poultry dishes in Taiwanese cuisine generally consist of duck, goose, and chicken, which are cooked in a number of ways to give it a rich flavor.
San bei ji, also known as three-cup chicken, is one dish in particular that packs a flavorful punch. This local dish has its origins in China’s Jiangxi province, but a liberal amount of
Taiwanese basil, garlic, and fresh ginger make it uniquely Taiwanese. A cup of wine, a cup of sesame oil, and a cup of soy sauce are the main ingredients in this spicy chicken stew.
Taiwanese Meat Dishes
Taiwanese meat dishes have found fame for their flavor and taste as well as their unusual ingredients.
Taiwanese fatty pork sausages are a popular snack in Taiwan. These sweet tasting sausages are formed with chunks of emulsified pork fat and chopped pork. In night markets, they are usually served on a stick and can be glazed or topped with many different condiments.
Braised Meat and Organs on a Stick
Braised meat (and veg) is a popular snack in Taiwan. Braised meat is offered in a variety of dishes, from noodles and rice dishes to served plain on a stick.
You’ll also find organs of every size and shape on offer, from chicken hearts to intestines. Other tasty tidbits on offer include chicken feet, chicken heads, pig’s cartilege, and other yummy delights.
Pig’s Blood Cake is a hot, spicy snack served at night markets in Taiwan. The cake is made from a combination of sticky rice and hot pig’s blood, which is cut into rectangular pieces and served on a stick.
Then, it is dipped in a combination of soy sauce, hot sauce, and topped with powered peanut and cilantro.
Taiwanese Fish and Seafood Dishes
Food in Taiwan reflects the culture of this Pacific island by incorporating plenty of seafood and fish.
The most popular seafood snack in Taiwan is an unassuming little dish called an oyster omelet. Made with eggs, fresh oysters, tapioca starch, Garland chrysanthemum leaves, and cilantro, the omelet is then fried over a high flame and eaten with a sweet and spicy sauce.
Squid is also a popular and extremely tasty snack in Taiwan. Large squid is marinated, grilled, and served on a stick. Deep-fried squid balls are another tasty alternative.
Squid balls are skewered, dipped in flour and then deep-fried to a deep golden brown. White pepper, chili, and fried basil are added to give it a spicy taste. I haven’t tried squid in Taiwan that I didn’t like!
We really enjoy a squid dish called long zhu. It’s basically a bowl of deep fried squid mouths that are cooked with coriander and Taiwanese white pepper.
Whenever I go to the night market, I always get an order of tian bu la. It consists of deep fried fish cakes that are cut to resemble french fries. It’s also cooked with coriander and then coated with Taiwanese white pepper.
Taiwanese Noodles and Dumplings
The Taiwanese are passionate about their noodles and dumpling dishes, with endless variations and flavor combinations that are both nourishing and appetizing.
Don’t miss out on a speciality dish in Taiwan known as Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup. A hot and spicy beef broth filled with hand-pulled noodles and tender chunks of beef hits the spot on a cool day.
Oyster vermicelli is a thick, hearty soup bursting with flavor. Made with fresh oysters, pig intestines stewed in soy sauce, black vinegar, special sauce, and fresh cilantro, its exotic flavor is heightened by red vermicelli, which lends a delightful chewiness to the dish.
Served in 15 seconds flat for $1-2US, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a cheaper or faster way to fill your belly. The best oyster vermicelli is town is served at Ay Chung Vermicelli Noodle Shop in Ximending.
Dumplings and steamed buns can be found in any convenience store or night market. You can order them deep fried or boiled. Most dumpling varieties are served with a sauce consisting of any combination of soy sauce, garlic, black vinegar, chili, and cilantro.
Xiaolongbao are a speciality dumpling that is filled with a little soup to give it an extra burst of flavor with each bite. These are deliciously yummy, no matter where you buy them. These typically aren’t as doughy as regular dumplings.Don’t miss Taiwan’s very own Din Tai Fung dumplings. If you eat at one restaurant in Taiwan, it should be at Din Tai Fung!
And then there’s soup dumplings. An ample bowl of soup dumplings or a bowl of steaming wonton soup is something that no traveler to Taiwan should miss.
Pop one of these bite-sized packages in your mouth and you’ll experience a flavorful explosion that has the unforgettable taste of spiced soup broth, tasty meat stuffing. Slurp up that awesome soup broth when you’re done!
Taiwanese Bean Curd Dishes
Tofu can be found all over the island of Taiwan in various kinds of vegetarian dishes, but nowhere is it more apparent than at a stinky tofu stand.
We promise you’ll be able to find one. All you have to do is follow your nose. The aroma of stinky tofu is a full-on assault of the senses, causing eyes to water and your nose to shut down.
The smelliest tofu, however, is often the best. While many people are disgusted by the smell of this fermented tofu dish, those who rise to the challenge are often won over by this tasty treat.
Cubes of fermented tofu are usually deep fried and served with pickled vegetables and a sauce made with soy paste, garlic, and spices. Don’t miss the grilled version. It comes glazed with soy sauce and is then dipped in a spicy Mala sauce made with duck blood.
Tofu skin is equally delicious. It’s typically served in hot pot. Tofu skin looks thin and crispy when it’s dry, but once it’s submerged in broth, it softens up with a really nice texture, plus it absorbs the taste of the broth.
Sweet and Savory Dishes
Custard and bean filled Taiwanese cakes can be found just about everywhere. Just look for the vendors pouring cake batter into hot-metallic molds. The cake is quickly cooked into various shapes and sizes and come with a variety of fillings including cream, red bean paste, and peanut butter.
Like most countries in Asia, you’ll find an abundance of the sweetest, freshest fruit on Earth. We’re not joking.
Fruit is a staple snack in Taiwan, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to pass by a street stand without purchasing at least a small bag of the freshest fruit of the season.
Pearl milk tea, known throughout the Western world as Bubble tea, is a delightful combination of fragrant black tea, milk, and chewy tapioca balls. Whether it’s drunk hot or cold, the special taste of this drink has made it an instant island-wide favorite and a unique Taiwanese invention that is now available around the world.
Juice and tea stands can be found all over Taiwan and are especially popular on hot summer days. These refreshing drinks range from freshly squeezed fruit juices to fruit and bean smoothies made with milk and crushed ice. The most popular flavors are papaya, mango, watermelon, mung bean, and azuki bean.
What’s your favorite Taiwanese nightmarket snack? We’d love to hear from you!