By: Mays Alejandra
If you‘re a foreigner living in Taiwan, what was the first Taiwanese dish you tried? If you are a Taiwanese, what is that one Taiwanese dish you missed the most while abroad? Or, if you are neither, which Taiwanese food have you heard of that sparks an interest in Taiwanese culture? Some people have told me they heard that in Taiwan we eat cats and frog legs. Well, lemme tell you: No, we do not eat "chao miao" and yes we do eat frog legs. I've tried it and it tastes juuuuust like chicken. We also have crickets and snake delicacies but, that's another blog by itself. This blog will focus on my top 6 must-try Taiwanese dishes:
During my almost nine years of living in Taiwan, I have tried many, many local dishes, some super delicious and some worth that one try, you know, for the books. There is one dish that I have to have, even if once a week. Let me try to make you visualize it. In Belize, for breakfast, lunch and sometimes even dinner, you take a flour tortilla and add frijoles, Gallo, Dutch, soft or white cheese, egg, and sometimes stewed, shredded chicken. Some people even add ketchup or cabbage, but I'm not about that kind of life. Did you get the mental image? Ok! So here in Taiwan, there is a similar dish which starts with the 蛋餅 danbing, a round, flat "pancake" that resembles a thin, transparent flour tortilla. It's typical companion is the egg, hence the 蛋 dan which is cracked, dropped and spread in a circular motion over a flat hot surface and then the 餅 bing is placed over it during preparation. For an additional fee, you can add sliced cheese and you can also ask for your favorite meat such as ham, bacon, pork, etc. Typically, the danbing is served with a thick-ish sauce on the side of the plate. Even if you are fresh off the boat, you have to try to eat the danbings with chopsticks, like a professional! Now, if you clumsily drop them on the floor, you pretend you did that on purpose and ask the server for another pair. Or, you just go ahead and grab a pair from the little bunch at the corner of the table as that's where they normally are. Nowadays, with Rona around, I would recommend you to bring your own chopsticks, but, if they fall on the floor, there might not be a place for you to wash it immediately, so... your choice. In my opinion, danbings are Taiwan's best breakfast creation. Yum!
牛肉麵 Beef Noodles
As a foreigner, I personally feel that the only way we will find delicious eateries is if a local Taiwanese introduces them to you. The first time I tried beef noodles, Angus, a friend and ex Taiwanese supervisor, took me to his favorite beef noodle stall, very near to our workplace in Bade. It’s a mom and pop’s kind of place - small and cozy. The beef was so soft, it was as if it could melt in your mouth. The soup’s flavor was light and the noodles underwent just the right amount of time under the heat. Everything was cooked with such precision, it was heavenly!
From that day, that tiny stall would become my favorite until this very day. I also introduced other friends and Bee to that eatery and they agreed it was really good. I haven't really eaten beef noodles from many other restaurants, so I cannot say how others make their beef noodles. Maybe you can recommend a place for me?
When I think of dumplings, I think of 八方 bafang or 五花馬 wuhuama. These two chain stores have really good dumplings. You can get a set of 10 for less or equal to NTD80 (around USD2.50). At bafang, if you get there at the opportune time, you will see a staff member sitting at one of the tables in the back, busy putting the meat and other ingredients into the tiny round flour pancakes. They then carefully and craftily close the top like we Belizeans close the empanadas. Taiwanese dumplings are made of pork or leek or chicken, etc. Once the customer puts in their order, one of the staff takes them out of the freezer and steam them to perfection. Normally these stores have sections in their store that have different sauces and additives such as soy sauce, chili sauce, ginger, etc. Recently, I went to wuhuama and they have now started to let people eat in. But unlike before, you cannot get your own soup, sauces and utensils. Now, a server gets all the utensils you need and the sauces you desire, even your napkin and all you have to do is order and pay first then go to your assigned space and wait to be treated like royalty. Now they even make some chitchat with me. I feel special! ;)
There is another place my best friends took me once for my birthday, it's called 鼎泰豐dingtaifeng. This restaurant is mostly famous for their exquisite 小龍包 xiaolongbaos. Most of the time, you have to make an appointment or stand in line for more than half an hour to get a seat and be able to enjoy this restaurant's famous dishes. When dining in, you feel transported to some Chinese past, when you would have been the guest of some wealthy family and they would offer small yet delightful portions of their best cuisine. At least that is how I felt my first time there. Or maybe it was because we were celebrating my special day. Whatever the case, dingtaifeng and its xiaolongbaos will always represent a warm memory in my heart. Too bad I don't have any pictures to show you. Maybe in a sponsored future post? #winkwink
葱油餅 Scallion Pancakes
During my university summer vacations, I would normally sign up to volunteer at World Passport to "teach" English to high school students. The students loved to have new teachers from different parts of the world every week and would gather courage to speak English and say funny sentences to make their classmates laugh. This would in turn soften the environment and others would feel motivated to also participate. Teaching and getting the kids involved would never have been possible without our beloved Taiwanese teacher assistants aka TA's. It so turned out that the person in charge of these TA's ended up being my good friend. Way after my volunteering days, Bee and I came over one weekend to Tainan, a southern Taiwanese city, and stayed over at her parent's place. During the day, her brother (or mother) lent us a scooter and we rode off in search of breakfast. Elaine brought us to a blue truck which had transformed its pan into a mobile food stall. The person kneaded a HUGE tortilla-look-alike alas thicker, oilier, and with scallions. We ordered ours with a little special sauce and some chili and the vendor cut it from humongous to pizza triangle-shapes. Those were the best 葱油餅congyoubing I’ve had in Taiwan during my student years. Elaine did us all a favor and went to get some fresh pictures from the same truck? (did it change it's color?). She then ate the congyoubing. If you see a little blue truck parked on the side of the road with the characters “蔥油餅”, give it a try. You might end up coming back for more. ;)
What exactly is hotpot? Imagine going into a fancy looking restaurant that enables you to cook your own meal. Once led to your table, there is either an installed stove or the server lets you know they will bring over one top stove or more, depending on your group size. Once you have looked over the menu and ordered, they bring over the ingredients in different servings such as vegetables, noodles, meat, egg dumplings, taro cake, etc. They also provide some sauces for you to choose and some spices as well. You put the ingredients into the pot which has been pre-filled with water. While waiting for your meal, which won't take long, you interact with your family or friends. Once the meal or certain ingredients are ready, Let the servings make their way to your bowl and enjoy.
So what is so unique about this dish? Let me tell you that Taiwanese LOVE their hotpot! I asked my friend Lin, a Taiwanese young lady from Yilan County who now lives in Belize, which Taiwanese dish she mostly misses now that she lives oceans away from home. And there it was, one of the two dishes she misses the most is none other than hotpot. When asked why, she said "因為可以要吃一段時間然後又可以聊天. 當我想跟朋友吃飯的時候就想吃火鍋，或是跟家人吃飯的時候 - When I want to have lunch or dinner with my friends or family, I would like to eat hotpot because I will eat a little and we can talk and spend more time together". Taiwanese are very hardworking people, so going for a hotpot meal is one way they can catch up with family and friends while preparing the meal at the same time. Easy, convenient and time-efficient, isn't it?
Hotpot is especially popular among Taiwanese of all ages during the winter months. My elementary school students would always make sentences like "I like to eat ice-cream during summer and hotpot during winter." And you see the little smiles creep unto their faces.
臭豆腐 Stinky Tofu - 薯條 Fries Version
Do you like fries? Would you like to try stinky fries? You can, in Taiwan! Everyone encourages every foreigner to eat stinky tofu or at least try it once during their stay in Taiwan. The very first time I got a whiff of 臭豆腐 choudoufu or Stinky Tofu was when one of our Belizean bros was taking us on a walking tour somewhere in Taipei. I can't tell you exactly where because those first days of exploring are a big fat blur. This pungent smell just hit me out of nowhere and I asked, what is that smell? The bro nonchalantly responded "Oh, that's stinky tofu, Taiwanese like to eat it". I thought to myself, do people really like to eat something with that smell? The years passed and I just couldn't bring myself to try it, until that one day:
So the first time I ate the stinky tofu it felt like I was ambushed, no lie. We went to a Taiwanese friend's house and his mom thought it a great idea to buy some and share it with us, the foreigners. So my friend says, "my mom bought dinner for us" and we are like, "Oh, wow, cool!" His mom tells him to go and bring the dishes over to us and as he walks towards us, the little brown cubes start looming, the image gets clearer and the sudden realization that there's no escape jumps in front of our faces. What could we do but understand and appreciate the great gesture and eat the smell. Turns out, its not that bad. In the future, if given the choice, I would probably say no thanks but if it's put in front of me, I'll bite.
The one thing I will intentionally go to buy is Stinky Tofu fries. Something about Luodong Night Market's stinky tofu fries make them so appealing. Maybe its because it carries the name stinky tofu, which pushes and fries, which pulls. Or maybe its because the smell is not that strong. I only know that this memory of stinky tofu fries makes me wanna go for the adventure once again. Lin, when you coming back, girl? (when yuh ah come back, gial?)