Fair or not, any discussion of famous Taiwanese food has to begin with a disclaimer. As delicious as the island nation’s cuisine is, Taiwanese dishes have not achieved anything approaching fame outside of Asia.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming: delving into the menu for your upcoming trip to Taiwan, whether you prefer street snacks and sweets, or meals you can enjoy in authentic Taiwanese restaurants.
Below, I’ve done my best to provide a balanced cross-section of the best authentic Taiwanese dishes and, when possible, to give different regions of the country their due.
A second disclaimer? If you haven’t eaten recently, you might want to do so before you continue reading.
7 Must-Try Authentic Taiwanese Dishes
What Exactly is “Taiwanese Food”?
Before we get to discussing what is or isn’t famous Taiwanese food, I should start by defining the island’s cuisine. Or trying to.
You see, as is the case with countries like the US and Canada, Taiwan’s food culture is more of a melting pot than anything pure or indigenous, even if some foods of the island’s aborigines have survived centuries of political turbulence.
As you might expect if you’ve ever been to Taiwan or know anything about the island, the food here has a heavy Chinese influence—rice, dumplings, and noodles, oh my!
With this being said, even Taiwan’s most seemingly derivate foods have seasonings and other quirks that make them unmistakably Taiwanese. As with Taiwanese culture, the country’s cuisine embodies all the best parts of Asia and none of the worst ones.
My Favorite Taiwanese Foods
Steamed Pork Dumplings (Xiao long bao or 小籠包)
Although these dumplings are available throughout the Chinese-speaking world, they’re particularly delicious in Taiwan.
Head to Taipei’s Yong Kang Street, accessible via Exit 5 of the Dongmen MRT station. Assuming you don’t eat at the original location of Din Tai Fung restaurant, you can find these tasty buns at literally dozens of shops in the streets and alleys off the main drag—just look for stacks of wooden long in windows!
Bubble Milk Tea (Bo ba nai cha or 波霸奶茶)
The most famous Taiwanese food product by a long shot, bubble tea is arguably among the most popular beverages in the world, period.
It’s traditionally served as a strong black tea with plenty of milk and lots of sugar—maybe too much. Taiwan’s unofficial national drink, bubble tea originated at Chun Shui Tang in central Taiwan’s Taichung city, though you can now buy it at stalls on almost every street corner in the country.
Scallion Pancake (Cong you bing or 蔥油餅)
As is the case with xiao long bao, cong you bing have their roots in China. One way to get a truly authentic Taiwanese flavor? Make your way eastward to the coastal city of Hualien.
The night before (or after) you make the excursion to nearby Taroko Gorge, visit Lao Pai, whose master chefs manage to fry a sunny-side-up egg inside their pancakes. Absent this, you can find various flavors of cong you bing at any night market throughout Taiwan. It’s a great example of Taiwanese food.
Beef Noodle Soup (Hong shan niu rou mian or 红烧牛肉麺)
I know all too well what a famous authentic Taiwanese food beef noodles (to which locals usually abbreviate the name of this dish) are. That’s because many of the country’s most famous shops aren’t far from my place.
Regardless of whether you eat at Yi Pin (famous for tomato beef noodles) or any other shop in Taipei or throughout Taiwan, enjoy tender chunks of beef in a rich, sumptuous broth. I especially love eating this Taiwanese dish in winter!
Snowflake Ice (Bao bing or 刨冰)
Asian societies tend to have a major sweet tooth, and the Taiwanese are no exception. Among my favorite Taiwanese desserts is snowflake ice.
If you speak some Chinese, you can find this at local (in other words, cheap!) shops throughout the country. Otherwise, you can head to chains like Smoothie House, where you can order your snowflake ice topped with mango (mang guo or 芒果) and condensed milk (lian ru or 煉乳) in English.
Chiayi Turkey Rice (Huo ji rou fan or 火雞肉飯)
Chiayi is one of Taiwan’s most underrated cities—definitely visit if you can, if only to take a day trip to the nearby Alishan Scenic Area.
Can’t make it? Not to worry. Whether in most any Chiayi restaurant, or at various night markets (and food courts—try the one beneath Taipei 101!) throughout Taiwan, the juices from tender turkey meat drip down into steaming hot rice, for an authentic Taiwanese dish that’s simple yet sublimely satisfying.
Bamboo Rube Rice (Zhu tong fan or 竹筒飯)
If you’re looking for famous Taiwanese food that isn’t explicitly Chinese, head to the aboriginal town of Wulai, accessible via bus from Xindian MRT station.
The colorful restaurants that line the main street here serve a wide variety of foods made by Taiwanese indigenous people, the selection of which varies from shop to shop.
One ubiquitous fixture is sticky rice, mixed with pork, and served inside a bamboo tube. Most definitely a taste of Taiwan!
Although this list has provided a broad survey of Taiwanese dishes, it’s neither comprehensive nor exhaustive. Here are some of my other favorite Taiwanese dishes:
- Tea egg (cha ye ji dan or 茶葉雞蛋): These are deceptively simple—eggs hard-boiled and steeped in strong tea—but the result is smooth, creamy and distinctive, especially if you enjoy the famous ones at Sun Moon Lake.
- Taiwanese rice balls (fan tuan or 飯糰): A classic breakfast food, these balls of sticky rice (which is wrapped around pork floss, tea eggs, and you tiao bread sticks, among other ingredients) are available both from street vendors, as well as in sit-down soy milk shops and other Taiwanese restaurants.
- Braised pork rice (lu rou fan or 滷肉飯): This rice with juicy braised pork is most famous in the city of Taichung, but you can find it in restaurants all over Taiwan.
- Stinky tofu (gang chou dou fu or 港臭豆腐): OK, this one is definitely not my favorite! On the other hand, many people do believe it tastes better than it smells, so you might want to give it a try.
- Taiwanese-style fried chicken (yan su ji or 鹽酥雞): Available at almost any night market in the country, this crispy and juicy chicken is usually mixed with fried basil and seasoned with five-spice powder.
Speaking of night markets, these are the Taiwanese dishes that are considered foodie’s paradise. In addition to foods that are distinctive and local, you can find pizza, meat-on-a-stick, and anything else you might be craving.
The Bottom Line
Global notoriety or not, the famous Taiwanese foods I’ve spotlighted over the past several paragraphs have more than earned the acclaim people throughout Taiwan and Asia give it.
From street snacks like cong bing scallion pancakes to bubble milk tea (Taiwan’s national drink and most famous export), to sumptuous xiao long bao pork dumplings, Taiwan is the low-key foodie destination you’ve been dreaming of.
Does it deserve to be more famous than it is? Absolutely! If it was, however, you might not feel like you’ve hit the jackpot every time you go for an authentic Taiwanese meal on the island.
Which of these authentic Taiwanese dishes do you most want to try? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Robert Schrader has lived in Taiwan for more than a year, but didn’t create Taiwan Starts Here until getting (delightfully) stranded in the country during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether you visit immediately post-corona to take advantage of the island’s masterful contagion control or take a trip farther into the future when this nightmare is behind us, Taiwan Starts Here is your one-stop shop for Taiwan travel information—and inspiration.