Taiwan is without a doubt one of the world’s street food capitals. In Taipei especially, but also in any other major cities, you will find vibrant night markets selling an almost bewildering array of treats and snacks of every description.
Taiwanese food combines a rich culinary tradition with a penchant for creating original and unique gastronomic delights. The first time you step into a Taiwanese night market, you may have trouble knowing where to start – so to help, here are 29 Taiwanese street foods you have to try while you’re there.
1. Stinky Tofu
This is a street food that won’t be hard to find because you’ll smell it long before you see it. The problem is, the odor might not immediately convince you to try some since, as you might guess from the name, it stinks! However, once this fermented and deep-fried tofu snack is smothered in sauce, it’s actually much tastier than you’d imagine, making it a Taiwanese classic you need to try at least once!
Once upon a time, Taiwan was one of the world’s most important growers of pineapples, and one unsurprising result of this is that one of the island’s quintessential desserts is the pineapple cake. Made with a sweet dough and containing either pineapple jam or slices of fruit, this is a tasty snack to eat as you walk around a night market – and also to take home when you leave.
3. Aiyu Jelly
If your Taiwanese friends offer to treat you to a bowl of frogspawn soup, don’t turn your nose up in disgust – because it’s really aiyu jelly, one of the must-try desserts to experience during your stay. The drink contains fig seeds in jelly – which bear a striking resemblance to frog eggs – and they’re what give the dessert its distinctive texture that makes it so delicious.
This one is so typical of the Taiwanese love for getting creative with what they eat, and as the name suggests, it consists of one sausage served inside another. The outer one that forms the “bun” is made of pork meat mixed with glutinous rice while the inner one is a regular grilled sausage. Served with a delicious soy-based sauce, this is a snack that will fill you up for hours.
5. Dou Hua
Dou hua is a dessert made from soft and silky tofu served with an assortment of delicious toppings like crushed peanuts, mung beans, sugary syrup and more. You can have it hot, an ideal option during the cooler months of the year, but also chilled and even combined with shaved ice as a refreshing treat during the heat of the summer.
Sweet red bean is a popular sweet filling found throughout East Asia, and in this Taiwanese dessert, it’s paired with mini pancakes to make a super-tasty treat. Taiwanese culture has historically been strongly influenced by Japanese trends, and this is a dessert that has distinctly Japanese origins.
7. Fish Balls
A popular snack all over East Asia and as ubiquitous in Taiwan as anywhere. You can pick up fish balls on a skewer or in a small bowl for next to nothing just about anywhere you go – simply cover them in yummy sauce and enjoy!
Pieces of battered and deep-fried chicken served with a delicious local-style sauce and enjoyed either alone as a snack or with rice as a meal. Taiwan being the creative culinary capital that it is, you can also expect to find many unusual takes on this delicious street food favorite.
Fried chicken is a standard street food option just about anywhere in the world that street food is sold – and Taiwan is no different. We mentioned popcorn chicken above, those small bite-sized morsels of deliciousness, but larger pieces are also common in night markets everywhere. Perhaps a good option if you’re hankering after something a little more familiar – although with a few special local ingredients like spices and chili, even fried chicken can be given a distinctive Taiwanese twist.
10. Gua Bao
Something to look out for and sample when you get chance, gua bao has earned the moniker “Taiwanese hamburger” for obvious reasons. It consists of traditional steamed bread with various fillings, usually pork belly, along with other typical local ingredients like crushed peanuts, pickled mustard greens and coriander. So it’s a hamburger, but probably not as you know them!
11. Oyster Omelet
A traditional Taiwanese dish that is wildly popular in night markets on the island and that has also been adapted and adopted by Singaporeans as a local favorite over there. The Taiwanese version is made with potato starch along with big local oysters and is served up in a spicy chili sauce. This is another dish that should be a high priority during your time in Taiwan.
As an island, it is hardly surprising that seafood features heavily in the local diet, and this classic is another dish that incorporates oysters. Along with the vermicelli noodles, the other main ingredient is pork tripe, so this might be a little bit of a challenge for the less adventurous. However, it’s an extremely authentic local dish, so if you want to experience true Taiwanese street food culture, it’s another choice that should be on your list.
13. Pork Blood Cake
Sometimes street snacks have intriguing and exotic names that make you want to try them – and some, like pork blood cake, really don’t. However, if you can forget about what it is you’re eating for just a moment and give it a chance, you might find it’s rather tasty. It incorporates sticky rice and is served on sticks – and if you want to try some decidedly local food while in Taiwan, this one could be an ideal pick.
14. Intestine Soup
This dish might not sound so appealing to everyone, but if you want to sample the authentic delights of Taiwanese cooking, it’s one to add to your list. It consists of pork intestines served in a warming broth along with Chinese pearl barley, lotus and other local ingredients.
Pork knuckle has some of the most delicious meat on the whole pig, and if you take it and stew it slowly over several hours, it becomes so tender that it falls apart in your mouth. Delicious and filling when served with nothing more than a simple portion of steamed rice.
16. Grilled Squid
You might find the sight of locals walking around in night markets happily devouring whole grilled squid on sticks a little disconcerting, but if they’re so popular, they can’t be that bad. Instead, order one and try yourself – and you’ll quickly see why they’re such a popular street food snack.
Another street food snack borrowed from Japan but now enthusiastically adopted by the Taiwanese. These tasty morsels are cakes made from rice powder and then given a range of yummy fillings. Since there are so many possibilities, you’ll never tire of sampling all the variations, and you’ll probably find you quickly become as hooked on them as the local Taiwanese tend to be!
While you can find versions of spring rolls throughout the Far East, most of them are stuffed with savory fillings like pork or vegetables. However, if you feel a little more adventurous – and are in the mood for something sweet – look out for ice cream runbing. Not only totally irresistible but also a great way to cool down during a hot and humid Taiwanese evening.
19. Coffin Bread
Coffin bread is a Taiwanese creation from the south of the island that involves hollowing out a loaf of bread, toasting it and stuffing it with a seafood filling. The top is then put back in place to serve, making it look like a coffin and giving rise to the curious name. A delicious and original meal – and you can also eat the plate if you’re still hungry!
20. Beef Noodle Soup
Among all the weird and wonderful creations available in Taiwan’s night markets, you might also want to try something a little more traditional. In that case, keep your eyes peeled for a bowl of beef noodle soup – simply a bowl of noodles accompanied by slices of beef served in a delightful savory broth. This traditional staple just goes to show that things don’t need to be modern or original to be delicious.
Zongzi are balls of sticky rice wrapped up in banana leaves and steamed. They may contain sweet or savory fillings and are usually a mess to eat since you invariably end up with sticky rice all over your hands – but they’re a delicious traditional treat that is well worth the hassle!
Another uncomplicated dish that is beloved of the Taiwanese, this is no more than soy-braised pork belly served with steamed rice. If you’re looking for a street food meal rather than just an assortment of snacks, this is an irresistible dish that will allow you to fill up without spending lots of cash.
23. Scallion Pancake
Fluffy and delicious, scallion pancakes are cooked up on griddles in the street and served hot and steaming. You can eat them plain, but they’re even better when filled with egg, meat or other delicious ingredients.
Xiaolongbao is a type of dumpling that’s most associated with Shanghai but that is also popular in Taiwan. Along with the meat filling, they also contain a hot broth – the flavor is unbelievable, but let them cool down before biting into them if you don’t want to burn your mouth!
25. Shaved Ice
Another dessert that’s popular throughout Asia, you’ll receive a large bowl piled up with shaved ice and topped with all manner of sweet goodies like jelly, sweet beans, syrup and so much more. Often, they can look like a work of art as much as a dessert and are a perfect way to cool down after spending a long day sightseeing.
26. Deep-Fried Milk
Another of the crazier Taiwanese inventions, this sweet snack consists of frozen balls of milk that are then battered and deep-fried. There’s such a range of unique delights to sample in Taiwan – often, things you’re unlikely to find elsewhere – so while you’re on the island, make sure you don’t waste any opportunities to try as many as you can.
The name of this dish comes from the ingredients that are combined to make the liquid used to braise the chicken – one cup of rice wine, one cup of soy sauce and one cup of sesame oil. This dish is also popular in mainland China, but the Taiwanese version is noticeably sweeter and well-worth tracking down to sample.
Corn dogs have never been the healthiest of options, but if you want to take it the next level, in Taiwan, you’ll be able to find corn dogs with the batter stuffed with fries. Covered in mustard and ketchup, it’s not a great option if you’re on a diet, but it’s fine to try it just once!
29. Bubble Milk Tea
Bubble milk tea was invented in Taiwan but is now popular throughout Asia and the rest of world. Made with green or black tea and filled with tapioca balls along with a whole range of other fun ingredients like jelly, the number of variations will blow your mind. And since you’re visiting the land where it was created, it would be hard to justify leaving without sampling it at least once.
Don’t forget to do some sightseeing
For people who love eating, with the mind-boggling array of street foods to sample in Taiwan, a major part of your time on the island will be spent tasting as many of the incredible treats and snacks you find. If you like trying the local cuisine, you’re going to love Taiwan – just don’t forget to take in a few of the other sights too while you’re there!