John’s Guide to Taiwanese Food

We’ve had one breakfast yes, but what about second breakfast?

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I have never been a place where a group of people eats so often. Many of the meals are small, but some days I ended up eating 4-5 meals per day. If you ask someone who visited Taiwan what the most memorable thing was, I would bet it would be food.

My first week here, Abigail’s uncle took me out to breakfast one morning. We had four breakfasts, two different restaurants. The food was incredible, I especially liked the egg “pancakes”, which are essentially these small egg omelet rolls filled with various toppings.

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Giant bowl of soy milk and egg roll pancakes I had with Abigail’s uncle!

When cooking at home, often 5-7 different dishes are served. These dishes are actually a fairly decent size, and everyone at the table shares them.

If you have ever been to a sushi restaurant in the US, you’ll be familiar with the ordering style at restaurants used here. Your party is given a sheet of paper that you write on. Next to each menu item, you indicate how many of each thing you want. Just like when cooking at home, it’s normal to choose 5-6 things here for a lunch for two people. Portions are small, and you get to try a variety of things. It’s great!

Be prepared for a difference in food etiquette from a western country. Here in Taiwan, cooks bring out the food as it is ready. Soon as it is out on the table, you are allowed to begin to eat; which is different than the US where usually you wait for everyone to receive their meal. This was difficult for me to get used to at first, but everyone will feel weird if you insist on waiting since they feel like you are waiting on them.

Also, since food is served buffet style, with 5-7 plates on the table you just reach with your chopsticks to whatever food you want to eat. Everyone at the table just reaches over everyone to grab various foods. It’s strange, but you get used to it.

I hope you like soup. In fact, it is common for no beverage to accompany your food choice even at restaurants. Taiwanese soup is normally water, some sort of meat, seafood or vegetable; and occasionally some noodles but not always. The water from the soup serves as your drink for many meals here. At first I complained about all of the soups we had, but over time I have gotten used to it and enjoy them now.

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Taiwanese “hamburger” with pork and cork soup.

When searching for restaurants, a common phrase you will hear is “This place is famous!”. It’s important to choose a place that is “famous” because the places that aren’t “famous” generally have poor food quality. You can spot a “famous” place a mile away, because there will always be a gigantic line/queue to get your food. Finding famous places is similar to Yelp or Google reviews in the US.

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Clearly, this place is famous. The food here was excellent

Last night Abigail and I went to a night market, where the food was so famous the wait to have our order cooked was over an hour and a half! Remember, people in Taiwan love food, so if you have Taiwanese friends you will likely spend 50% of your time traveling searching and eating food at “famous” places.

Three great examples of popular Taiwanese food that is most unique and interesting are pig blood cakes, Taiwanese sausages, and stinky tofu.

Pig blood cake is Abigail’s favorite food. They combine pig blood with rice and press it into a square. These squares are then either put onto a plate, or onto a stick for convenient eating. The cakes are often topped with ground peanuts, but can be ordered without the peanuts if you have an allergy or do not like them.

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Pig Blood, Photo from http://www.taiwan.gov.tw/

By far my favorite food here in Taiwan, is Taiwanese sweet sausage. The sausage looks similar to Spicy Italian Sausage, but its main ingredients are sugar, red/white wine, and soy sauce. The flavor is like a sweet Virginia honey ham, but made of sausage. Abigail is the best, because she ended up combining two of my favorite foods, Taiwanese sweet sausage and fried rice!!!

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An older woman prepares me some Taiwanese Sweet Sausage

My least favorite Taiwanese food is stinky tofu, but of all of the foods I think it is the most important thing to try. It is made from fermented tofu which is fried in oils then cut into squares. It is one of those foods that you will either love it or hate it. It is so popular here, that the majority of food stands here sell it. You can smell this stuff a mile away, to the untrained nose it may smell like a public toilet. How do you tell if the tofu is high quality? The stinkier the better!

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The stinkier the better!

Heading back to Taipei today, if you have suggestions for posts please let me know in the comments! Special thanks to Danny for suggesting this post on food!!

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