Part III of my “The places I called home” series, part of which was about the time I spent in Taiwan, inspired me to write a post about street food in Taiwan. It’s been eight and a half years since I lived and worked in Taiwan but I could never forget the one thing that defined the unique experience – STREET FOOD. From stinky tofu to salted fried popcorn chicken, shredded chicken cold noodles to fruit on shaved ice…I’m hungry just thinking about it. Let’s just get right down to it!
First on the list has got to be the (in)famous stinky tofu, which gets its reputation from its strong odour. It may not be suitable for the faint-hearted, though it’s rather addictive once you get over the original shock and you get used to it. Stinky tofu comes in a variety of forms: deep-fried, grilled, steamed, boiled, etc. It was so popular in Taiwan that you could almost find a stinky tofu shop in every corner, but my favourites stinky tofu joint was the one in Hsinchu (where I stayed for my internship) that served it in smaller cubes, deep-fried, salted and spiced, and accompanied by Taiwanese-style kimchi. Delicacy? Maybe not, but delicious for sure!
Next up we’ve got the “xiao long bao”, which literally translates to “little caged buns”. These mouth-watering soup-filled pork buns are good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even as a midnight snack! There was a shop five minutes away from where I lived that always seemed to be open, and sometimes I would have the hugest craving for xiao long bao at night that I would go and grab a cage with my then-boyfriend…in addition to some radish cake, egg pancakes, chive dumplings, and soy milk too, perhaps. Oh, what indulgence!
I really wanted to post a good photo of the salted fried popcorn chicken because it is my favourite Taiwanese street food ever, but to my surprise, I have not one single photo of it from my 4-month stay in Taiwan. Shame on me! Well, I do have a photo of a street booth that sells it, in addition to a bunch of other goodies like fried squid, fish cake, radish cake, squid balls, and…chicken butt?! Anyway…back to the salted fried chicken. Greasy? Yes! Salty? Yes, considering it’s got “salty” in its name. Delicious? Hell yeah – why else is it my favourite!?
For something simple, here’s a plate of dried tofu with chili sauce, garlic, and Chinese sauerkraut. At this joint, you serve yourself and in the end you pay for whatever is on the plate. The bright colours certainly stimulate the appetite, don’t they? 😉
There used to be a small shop (I wouldn’t even call it a restaurant) nearby where I lived in Hsinchu that served chicken rice for 30 NTD, which was approximately 1 Canadian dollar in 2008. Deal! Often after work I’d drop by and have a bowl, and it’d be the simplest dinner ever, just some rice with shredded chicken and some sauce with the taste of home. But oh man, simple things are often the best!
Speaking of shredded chicken, it also goes very well with cold noodles! The special thing about this bowl of chicken cold noodles was the sauce – it was so ridiculously tasty, but I couldn’t put my finger on what type of sauce it was exactly. In hindsight, it must have been sesame sauce. I tried to make this dish at home many years later (this year, in fact) with sesame sauce, and the taste came right back. Success!
This photo is blurry because I didn’t realize that my phone’s camera was set to “infinity” mode as I was taking the photo, but please use your imagination and believe that the food was delicious! Oh, you couldn’t even tell what this is? Well, the literal translation of this “hong you chao shou” is “red oil wontons”, which is essentially wontons with hot oil on noodles. Hot (spicy) oil is one of the most heavenly things to be invented in the art of cooking…if you enjoy spicy food, that is!
On a hot summer day, a gigantic bowl of shaved ice topped with a variety of fruits is the best way to cool down and recharge. This one portion was enough for five people!
We now come to teppanyaki, which is really just food served on a fiery hot sizzling iron plate. Teppanyaki is also quite popular in night markets and there’s an abundance of teppanyaki booths everywhere. Here’s a combination of a lovely steak, done medium-rare, and a huge grilled prawn accompanying udon on the plate. In addition to the sight of the food, the sound of the sizzling grill approaching the table warns my stomache to get ready for a fantastic treat!
Another teppanyaki meal, this time with grilled steak, grilled chicken, and a fried egg. Simply irresistible meaty goodness for an evening out. My stomach and my taste buds thanked me but with this much good food, my waistline certainly didn’t!
Finally, here’s one that I regret only having once: soup noodle with spare ribs. For some reason this didn’t catch my attention earlier at night markets, and I skipped it again and again. The one time I had a bowl of this soup noodle, I fell in love, and I wasn’t even the one who wanted to order it! The soup was so warm and most importantly, the spare rib was tender and flavourful! I totally missed out all those times – but at least I got a taste of it before I left Taiwan 😛
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the street food of Taiwan! Of course, this is only a very small sample of the things that I’ve had the chance to try, and there were more noodle dishes than I had expected (I do prefer rice over noodle most of the time!) If you ever do visit Taiwan, don’t miss out on the chance to indulge in the delicacies on the streets. Whether it’s a bustling night market, an inconspicuous shop at the corner, or a simple breakfast joint, surprises are hidden everywhere and are yours to discover!