The culinary culture of the Chinese people goes back a very long time; and while Chinese food can be enjoyed in every large city in the world today, true gourmets know that only in Taiwan is it possible to enjoy fine authentic cuisine from all the different regions of China.
In Taiwan, where most locals are huge fans of tasty and special cuisines, it is said that there is a snack shop every three steps and a restaurant every five. These establishments serve all kinds of Chinese food, from the roasted ducks, smoked chickens, lamb hotpot, fish in wine sauce, beef with green peppers, and scallop and turnip balls of the north to the camphor-tea duck, salty fried chicken with spices, honey ham, stir-fried shrimp, dry-fried eggplant, and spicy bean curd of the south. As the country's economy has developed rapidly in the recent years, its culinary culture has expanded beyond the traditional Chinese foods to Chinese-style fast-food chains, bringing greater variety than ever before to the art of Chinese dining. Foreign foods from all over the world have also made their appearance in Taiwan, and the country is now filled with eateries serving American hamburgers, Italian pizzas, Japanese sashimi, German pig's knuckles, Swiss fondues, and just about everything else. All of this makes Taiwan a veritable paradise for gourmands. Taiwan's own native cuisines have also become known around the world, and if you try it just once you will remember it forever.
Snacking is deeply woven into the fabric of daily life in Taiwan. The plethora of snack foods available on the island opens a window on local culture. In fact, one of the quickest ways to experience the local flavor of Taiwan is to visit one of the island's many night markets, each with a tempting array of mouth-watering delicacies. At each market, visitors can sample a wide selection of snack foods made with locally sourced ingredients. Since Taiwan is an island surrounded by the sea, seafood is a major ingredient in night market foods, from oyster omelets and stir-fried cuttlefish to seafood congee, squid stew, and milkfish soup, all of it addictively fresh and tasty.
Taiwanese Food: Cantonese Food; Hakka Food; Sichuan Food
Pearl Milk Tea
Also known as "Bubble milk tea", pearl milk tea originates from Taichung and is made of a mixture of black tea, milk, and sago pearls. The combination of fragrant tea and chewy sago has made this beverage popular not only in Taiwan but in other countries as well. In many Chinatowns across the world, you can find this refreshing beverage.
Oil noodles and bean sprouts are the main ingredients in this Tainan specialty dish. The noodles are served in a small bowl and usually topped with meat or an egg boiled in soy sauce for an extra flavor boost.
Shrimp Pork Soup
With seas on all side, Taiwan enjoys a bounty of seafood that is served up in a wide variety of snack foods that have become ingrained in the culinary tradition of the island. One of these dishes is shrimp pork soup, which has become a night market mainstay. This dish is made mostly of shrimp potage flavored with stewed pork and a thickening dash of potato starch to add flavor and chewiness. Add a splash of black vinegar to increase the sweetness of the soup and make this tasty dish even more delicious.
Sea-fresh oysters are an important ingredient in this popular snack, available at just about every night market in Taiwan. The oysters are coated in potato starch and tapioca. Eggs and leafy vegetables are added to the mixture, which is skillet fried over a high flame. A sweet and sour sauce further adds to the addictively delicious taste.
Meat Rice Dumplings (Zongzi)
These dumplings are made of glutinous rice, mushrooms, peanuts, egg yolks and pork all wrapped up in bamboo leaves, which impart their own subtle flavor. Originally eaten only during the Dragon Boat Festival, this dish has become a year-round attraction at night markets throughout Taiwan.
Stinky tofu is known as "the stronger the smell, the tastier the results". And while many people are put off by the smell, those who take the plunge are usually won over by this distinctively yummy treat. Stinky tofu is made of large squares of fermented tofu fried in oil and then cut into four smaller pieces and served with a garnish of pickled cabbage. The crispy skin of the tofu and the soft inside are the best parts of this dish's charm.
Changhua and Hsinchu counties are the most famous places for Taiwanese meatballs. The meatballs are cooked in an outer wrapper made of tapioca powder, rice powder, potato starch, and water, while the filling includes pork, mushroom, bamboo shoots and other ingredients. The chewy outer skin and fragrant filling make a perfectly delicious match.
This Tainan specialty often turns peoples’ heads for its very unusual name. The sandwich is a thick slice of toast with a hollow center filled with a mixture of chicken meat and liver, shrimp, carrots, potatoes, and milk. The filling is then covered with another piece of toast and cut into four pieces. The coffin board tastes best when served hot.
Veggie and Meat Wrap
These delicacies are packed with goodies, including boiled cabbage, bean sprouts, sliced fried eggs, barbecued pork, peanut powder and powdered sugar, all wrapped up in a thin spring roll skin and served warm. This delicious treat is one of the most popular snacks at night markets throughout Taiwan.
No night market worth the name is without this unassuming little treat. The quality of this dish is judged by the freshness of the oysters and the chewiness of the noodles. The dish is made with a type of red vermicelli noodle that does not crumble easily. The noodles are served in a soup stock with fresh oysters and soy-stewed large intestines, and flavored with black vinegar, a special sauce, and a garnish of cilantro.
Steamed sandwiches ("Guabao") were originally eaten during employee dinner parties held on the 16th day of the 12th lunar month, but today they can be enjoyed at night markets throughout the year. The sandwiches resemble a kind of hamburger made with a soft white bun. The bun is stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth pork and garnished with pickled vegetables, peanut powder and cilantro, creating a nose-pleasing and tasty combination.
Crushed Ice Dessert
This popular dessert has a base of crushed ice flavored with mung beans, adzuki beans, starch balls, taro, jelly, and other toppings, which are sprinkled with sugar water, offering sweet and cool relief on a hot summer day. Today, you can also find creative new variations with toppings of mangoes, strawberries and other seasonal fruit.
Taro ball is a traditional Taiwanese dessert made of taro. It can be found in almost every part in Taiwan, among which Jiufen's taro ball is said to be the most famous.
The taro balls can be made by mixing mashed taro with water and sweet potato flour or potato flour, making the taro balls more springy or softer respectively. The colour of mashed taro makes the dessert appear crystal purple or grey. The mashed taro can be replaced by mashed sweet potato or ground mung bean and becomes the yellow sweet potato ball or the green mung bean ball.
The dessert can be served with syrup either icy or hot. It is also very common to cover some taro balls and sweet potato balls on the other Taiwanese desserts like douhua or baobing.
More information about night markets