Taiwan may be a small country, but it has one of the most diverse cuisines in Asia — from bubble tea to stinky tofu — thanks to a mixture of Chinese, American, and Japanese influences. Whether you are a vegetarian or non-vegetarian, Taiwan has all the dishes to tickle your taste buds and give you a memorable food experience. Here are six delicacies you should try when visiting the island.
1. Bubble tea
No food item is as popular and characteristic of Taiwan as bubble tea. It was after all invented here. Contrary to what the name might suggest, the drink does not refer to tea with bubbles. Instead, the tea has bubble-like pearls that are made from tapioca. “The raw tapioca pearls, which are often black but can also be transparent or white, get cooked in boiling water until they become soft. The pearls are then kept in a simple syrup mixture so that they become sweet and remain chewy until they are ready for use,” according to Mic.
2. Gua bao
This is basically the Taiwanese equivalent of a hamburger. It is a specialty dish from the northern regions. The steamed bread is often filled with braised pork belly, nuts, pickled cabbage, and coriander. The pork belly is braised in a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, and Chinese five-spice powder. The dish is usually very filling and tastes better than a normal burger.
3. Stinky tofu
Many of the world’s most popular cuisines will have some dishes that just smell weird. In Taiwan, that dish is stinky tofu. It is an iconic snack with a unique, indescribable flavor that you can only understand by tasting.
“Stinky tofu is fermented in a brine that usually includes Chinese herbs, dried fish or shrimp, bamboo, mustard, and amaranth greens. The result is moist, tender tofu that’s most often served fried. Most Taiwanese believe the smellier, the better,” according to Eater. Be warned though – some people cannot stomach the smell and often choose not to try it. You might feel the same. If you succeed in overcoming the aversion to smell, you will discover that the dish is pretty tasty.
4. Iron eggs
This is a recipe that originated in the Tamsui District of New Taipei. According to local tales, iron eggs were created by a vendor who recooked and dried out some of the eggs in a broth of sweet soy sauce. The eggs shrunk, soaking up the flavor and creating the “iron eggs” that are popular today.
5. Intestine and oyster vermicelli
“Oysters are coated with cornstarch. Sometimes stewed intestines are used as well. Whether a dish of oyster vermicelli is successful depends on the freshness and size of the oysters. The stewing process of the intestines and the ratio over vermicelli are crucial, too. When enjoying a nice bowl of intestine and oyster vermicelli, you can add some of the store’s signature chili sauce, black vinegar, minced garlic and coriander to elevate the flavor,” according to Travel Taipei. The stock of the soup is usually very thick. Other popular varieties include pork knuckle vermicelli and sesame oil vermicelli.
6. Beef noodles
Beef noodles are considered the national dish of Taiwan. In fact, the capital city Taipei holds an annual beef noodle festival. The dish is basically made of three components — beef, broth, and noodles. Of these, the broth is the “soul” of the recipe. Get it right and the dish will knock you out with its flavor.