The most important tip I can give you on Taiwan  local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Taiwan, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.

What to Eat in 

Taiwan foods photo

Photo by juya

Generally speaking, the foods of Taiwan are derived from mainland Chinese cuisines. It is possible to find Szechuan  food, Hunan  food, Beifang  food, Cantonese  food and almost every other Chinese cuisine on the island. The Taiwanese are also passionately in love with eggs and seafood, as you will discover during your stay on the island. Fruits are another famous part of Taiwanese food.

A wide range of fruits can be found at local fruit shops and stations. The subtropical climate allows different fruits to grow nicely. In fact, you can find almost every kind of fruit you can think of in Taiwan. Taiwan also has many of its own local specialties. A few found island wide include: Beef noodles  niúròu miàn), noodle soup with chunks of extremely tender stewed beef and a dash of pickles Oyster omelet  ó h jin – this is the Taiwanese name, as its Chinese name only exists in characters, but not in oral Mandarin), made from eggs, oysters and the leaves of a local chrysanthemum, topped with sweet red sauce. Aiyu jelly  àiyù), made from the seeds of a local fig and usually served on ice — sweet, cool and refreshing on a hot day Taiwan Sausage  xingcháng),

usually made from pork, it is a modified version of the Cantonese laap cheong  which has been emulsified and is much sweeter in taste. Unlike laap cheong, which is almost always eaten with rice, Taiwanese xiangchang is usually eaten on its own with some garlic. Taiwanese Orange  lidng) is a type of citrus fruit which is similar to usual oranges, except that the skin and flesh tend to look more yellowish like lemon. Unlike lemon, it is usually quite sweet. Taiwanese Porridge  zhu in Mandarin,  beh in Taiwanese) is rice porridge cooked with sweet potato. It is usually eaten with several different dishes.

Most cities and towns in Taiwan are famous for special foods because of the Taiwanese passion for food and influences from many different countries. For example, Ilan  is famous for its mochi , a sticky rice snack often flavored with sesame, peanuts or other flavorings. Yonghe , a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its freshly made soy milk  and breakfast foods. Taichung is famous for its sun cakes  tàiyáng bng), a kind of sweet stuffed pastry and the best place to buy some is arguably Taiyang Tang  along Freedom Road , where the pastry was supposedly invented. In Chiayi, it’s square cookies, also called cubic pastry , crispy layered cookies cut into squares and sprinkled liberally with sesame seeds. Tainan is particularly famous among the Taiwanese for its abundance of good food and should be a stop for all gourmands.

Taiwan foods photo

Photo by jonolist

The most famous dish is arguably the coffin bread . Virtually every city has its own famous specialties; many Taiwanese tourists will visit other cities on the island simply to try the local foods and then return home. Taiwan also has remarkably good bakery items. Most specialize in sweet Chinese pastries or Western pastries adjusted to local tastes, but look out for We Care bakeries which also offer Western options such as whole wheat loaves, sour breads and ciabatta.

Vegetarians are better catered for in restaurants and variety than in most other countries. Places to eat If you’re on a budget, the cheapest food can be found in back-alley noodle shops and night market stalls, where you can get a filling bowl of noodles for around NT$35-70. The Taiwanese love to snack and even many restaurants advertise xiaochi , literally “small eats”, the Taiwanese equivalent of Cantonese dim sum.

There are also the standard fast food places such as McDonalds (a standard Big Mac Meal costs NT$115), KFC and MOS Burger. In addition there are large numbers of convenience stores (such as 7-11) that sell things like tea eggs, sandwiches, bento boxes  and drinks. Night markets are also a good place to try some delicious local Taiwanese fare at attractive prices. Examples would be the Shilin Night Market  in Taipei and the Liouho Night Market  in Kaohsiung, each of which has its own special dishes not to be missed. Etiquette As with Chinese cuisine elsewhere, food in Taiwan is generally eaten with chopsticks and served on large plates placed at the center of the table.

Often times, a serving spoon or pair of chopsticks  gngkuài) is usually accompanied with the dishes and guests do not use their own chopsticks to transfer food to their plates. The usual traditional Chinese taboos when eating with chopsticks apply in Taiwan as well. For instance, do not stick your chopsticks straight up or into your bowl of rice. This is reminiscent of incense sticks at a temple, and has connotations of wishing death upon those around you. When putting down chopsticks, either place them on the provided porcelain chopstick rest (at fancier restaurants) or rest the chopsticks across the top of your bowl. Also, do not use your chopsticks to spear your food or move bowls and plates.

Dietary restrictions All Mahayana Buddhists, which account for the majority of adherents in Taiwan, aspire to be pure vegetarian in deference to the Buddha’s teaching of non-violence and compassion. So, vegetarian restaurants (called su-shi tsan-ting  in Mandarin, and often identified with the  symbol) can be found in abundance all over the island, and they run from cheap buffet style to gourmet and organic. Buffet styled restaurants (called , which means “Serve Yourself Restaurant”) are common in almost every neighborhood in large cities, and unlike the ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffets (which charge a set price, usually ranging from $250-350 including dessert and coffee/tea), the cost is estimated by the weight of the food on your plate. Rice (there is usually a choice of brown or white) is charged separately, but soup or cold tea is free and you can refill as many times as you like. $90-$120 will buy you a good sized, nutritious meal.

Taiwan foods photo

Photo by avlxyz

However, if you cannot find a veggie restaurant, don’t fret. Taiwanese people are very flexible and most restaurants will be happy to cook you up something to suit your requirements. The following sentences in Mandarin might be helpful:  (Wo chi su literally meaning “I eat vegetarian) – I’m vegetarian,  (Wo bu chi rou literally meaning I don’t eat meat). However, as Mandarin is a tonal language, you might need to say both, plus practice your acting skills to get yourself understood. Good luck! NB: If a restaurant refuses your order, don’t push the issue. The reason will not be an unwillingness to accommodate your request, but because the basic ingredients of their dishes may include chicken broth or pork fat. Taiwanese vegetarianism  isn’t simply vegetariansism, for there is a notion of “plainness” to it.

In most cases it excludes items such onion, ginger, and garlic. Buddhists and Taoists consider these items “un-plain” because they potentially cause physical excitement, which could hinder the mative process. Thus, when offering food to a strict vegetarian, be aware that they may not eat food containing onion, ginger, and garlic. Although vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan do not adhere to vegan principles, due to the fact that Taiwanese do not have a tradition of eating dairy products, almost all non-dessert dishes at Chinese style veggie restaurants will actually be vegan.

What to Drink in Taiwan

As Taiwan is a subtropical island with the south part in the tropics, it cannot hurt to drink a lot, especially during summertime. Drink vending machines can be found virtually everywhere and are filled with all kinds of juices, tea and coffee drinks, soy milk and mineral water. Water Water or ice you are served in restaurants are usually filtered tap water, which is generally safe. However, it is best to drink water both filtered and boiled. Note that water quality in Kaohsiung is worse than in other cities. Water fountains in Taiwan always incorporate filters, and they can be found in practically every lodge or hotel as well as (for example) larger museums and Taipei MRT stations.

Taiwan foods photo

Photo by Mr Wabu

You can refill and reuse your bottles at these fountains as well. If you can’t find one, then you should buy bottled water. Another reason for drinking previously boiled or bottled water in Taiwan is that Taiwan is a seismic active zone. Because of the large number of earthquakes, the water delivery system (pipes) are easily damaged allowing contaminants to enter the water prior to it reaching the tap. Therefore drinking previously boiled or bottled water is probably a wise choice. Alcohol Taiwan’s legal age to consume alcohol is 18 years of age. Minors caught drinking can face fines ranging from $10000 to $50000.

Traditional alcoholic drinks in Taiwan are very strong. Kaoliang  is the most famous alcoholic drink. A distilled grain liquor, it can be extremely strong, usually with alcohol content of 38%-63% (76-126 proofs), and often drunk straight. Taiwan also produces many types of Shaoxing , rice wine, which are considered by many as being some of the best in the world. Taiwanese people enjoy beer on ice. A wide variety of imported beers are available, but the standard is Taiwan Beer , produced by a former government monopoly. It is brewed with fragrant penglai rice in addition to barley giving it a distinctive flavor. The beer is served cold and recognized as an especially suitable complement to Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine, especially seafood dishes such as sushi and sashimi.

Taiwan Beer has won international awards, including the International Monde Selection in 1977 and the Brewing Industry International Awards in 2002. Beer on tap is uncommon in Taiwan, and most places serve beer in bottles. For a special and rare treat, ask for the Taiwan Draft Beer , which comes in a plain green bottle. This has a 2-week expiration, so it can only be found at the breweries (there are a few scattered around Taiwan) or at select stores and restaurants in the vicinity. Tea and coffee Pearl milk tea and pudding milk tea, Chiayi Taiwan’s specialty teas are High Mountain Oolong , Gao-shan wulong) – a fragrant, light tea, and Tie Guan-yin  – a dark, rich brew. Enjoying this tea, served in the traditional way using a very small teapot and tiny cups, is an experience you should not miss.

This way of taking tea is called lao ren cha  – ‘old people’s tea’, and the name is derived from the fact that only the elderly traditionally had the luxury of time to relax and enjoy tea in this way. Check the small print when visiting a traditional tea house though: in addition to the tea itself, you may be charged a cover , literally “tea-water fee”) for the elaborate process of preparing it as well as for any nibbles served on the side. One should also try Lei cha ; léi chá) a tasty and nourishing Hakka Chinese tea-based beverage consisting of a mix ground tea leaves and grain. Some stores specialize in this product and allows one to grind their own lei cha. Pearl milk tea  zhnzh nichá), aka “bubble tea” or “boba tea”, is milky tea with chewy balls of tapioca added, drunk through an over-sized straw.

Invented in Taiwan in the early 1980s and a huge Asia-wide craze in the 1990s, it’s not quite as popular as it once was but can still be found at nearly every coffee/tea shop. Look for a shop where it is freshly made. The cafe culture has hit Taiwan in a big way, and in addition to an abundance of privately owned cafes, all the major chains, such as Starbucks, have a multitude of branches throughout major towns and cities. Soft drinks Taiwan is a great place for fruit drinks. Small fruit-juice bars make them fresh on the spot and are experts at creating fruit-juice cocktails (non-alcoholic, of course). zong-he – mixed – is usually a sweet and sour combination and mu-gwa niou-nai  is iced papaya milk. If you don’t want ice (though it is safe in Taiwan, even at road side vendors) say, chu bing  and no sugar – wu tang .

Soy milk, or doujiang , is a great treat. Try it hot or cold. Savoury soy milk is a traditional Taiwanese breakfast dish. It is somewhat of an acquired taste as vinegar is added to curdle the milk. Both sweet and savory soy milk are often ordered with you-tiao , or deep fried dough crullers. There are a lot of pseudo health drinks in Taiwanese supermarkets and convenience stores. Look out for asparagus juice and lavender milk tea for example. Sleep[add listing] The Grand Hotel, Taipei Taiwan doesn’t sleep – just look at the number of 24-hour stores out there. But, since you have to…. For the budget-minded, there are hostels in Taipei and most other sizeable cities. Camping is also available in many areas. Motels  can be easily found in suburbs of major cities.

Despite the name, these have little if anything to do with the cheap functional hotels that use the name elsewhere; in Taiwan, motels are intended for romantic trysts and can be quite extravagant in décor and facilities. Many feature enormous baths with massage jets, separate massage showers, marble tiles, and so forth. Suites come with flat screen TVs as well as centrally controlled sound systems. During the daytime, most offer “rests”  of a few hours, and indeed check-in times for overnight stays  can be as late at 22:00. Taichung is considered the motel-capital of Taiwan. Taiwanese hotels range in quality from seedy to very luxurious.

Taiwan foods photo

Photo by cotaro70s

Despite the complexities of doing business with both mainland China and Taiwan, most Western hotel chains operate in Taiwan such as Sheraton, Westin and Hyatt. Also, there are plenty of five-star hotels around. Keep in mind, however, that many of the international hotels tend to be outrageously expensive, while comparable and much cheaper accommodation is usually available in the same vicinity. For example, the airport hotel at CKS International charges about three or four times as much as a hotel in Taoyuan which is a half hour cab ride away. Taxi drivers and tourist offices are invaluable resources for finding cheaper hotels. Many hotels in Taiwan have both Chinese and Western names, which can differ radically.

Find out and bring along the Chinese name (in Chinese characters), as locals will usually not be able to identify the English ones. Especially when you visit the regions less travelled by westerners (mostly because there is no business there), don’t be shy to walk in on the more pricey hotels, especially off-season. The Caesar , the Chateau  and the Howard Beach Resort  at Kenting, for example, located at one of the nicest beaches of tropical Taiwan, can be of exceptional value if you stay there during wintertime, as the rooms not yet let for the night are offered far below their normal price at last minute. Hotel beds in Taiwan are generally much harder than in the West because of the old Asian tradition to sleep on a wood board. Modern mattresses can be found in most hotels, but only in the most upscale Western style hotels will you find beds in a real western style.

Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend Please add and comment.