I’m very pleased to share a guest post by a friend and excellent food and travel writer Erin De Santiago. Erin is a freelance writer from California who’s been living in Taiwan since 2009. She is obsessed with culinary travel, fine wine, and all things Disney. She writes for a number of websites and is a blogger for TravBuddy and Art of Backpacking. Erin also publishes her own blogs: Our Tasty Travels (culinary travel), Pooh’s Travels (Disney travel), and No Checked Bags, her new travel and photography site.
The city of Taipei has been my home for the past three years and when I first arrived, I never imagined I would fall so deeply in love with the cuisine here. Now, I am preparing to move to the Netherlands in two months and the thought of leaving makes me cringe. No more late night street market nibbles or weekly visits to my favorite chefs. I will miss shopping at the grocery stores with 50 different soy sauce options and entire aisles devoted to just rice and noodles.
Friends have already started asking me what I will miss most about living here and aside from the excitement of a “big Asian city”, Taiwan’s cuisine is undoubtedly what I will lose the most sleep over.
If you are traveling to Taipei anytime soon, be sure to try some of my favorites – just don’t torture me with too many mouth-watering photos though!
Not surprisingly, dumplings are on the top of my list, but not just any dumplings. Xiaolongbao, or Shanghai Soup Dumplings as they are sometimes referred to, embody what makes the local Chinese cuisine so revered — the intricacy of pleating the dumpling skin, the labor-intensive multi-day preparation, and the proper ritual of eating xiaolongbao.
Traditional xiaolongbao have pork, or pork with crab roe, along with a soupy broth inside that bursts when you take a bite. There is a process on how to eat the dumplings, which includes black vinegar, soy sauce, shredded ginger, and a good control of chopsticks!
Din Tai Fung really put xiaolongbao on the map, and while there are locations in Japan, Hong Kong, and even two in the United States now, most people agree they are nothing like the original branch in Taipei on XinYi and Yong Kang Streets. Here, it’s not uncommon to see people queue up for hours in hopes of trying their signature xiaolongbao.
Even in the cold winter temperatures, you can find Taiwanese shaved ice stores with lines down the street. Taiwan style shaved ice style is nothing like snow cones or other similar frozen desserts. They are fluffy and overflowing with heaps of fresh fruit, condensed milk, and whatever else might suit your fancy. Mango shaved ice is probably what Taipei is most known for, but my favorite is “snow ice”, which can be a bit harder to find sometimes. Called, Xue Hua Bing, snow ice is more like sheets of condensed milk with fruit and other toppings heaped on.
Sorry chicken noodle soup, you’ve been replaced. One of my top comfort foods, especially when I am sick or it’s cold outside, is a bowl of Taiwan’s signature beef noodles. There are shops all over town and even a street (Taoyuan Street) devoted to beef noodles in Taipei. Much like the good ramen shops you find in Japan, there are varying styles and types of beef noodles. Some variations include differing spice levels, broth base, type of meat, and even noodle thickness and shape.
Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan and can be found around many parts of the world, sometimes known as Boba. It’s basically tea with tapioca pearls floating around the bottom of the cup that you suck up through a giant straw.
I used to order bubble tea in the States a lot, but the best ones I’ve tried have come from local shops here. My two favorites and personal recommendations are passion fruit bubble tea, which is made with real passion fruit and chunks of jelly and tapioca balls inside, or a very traditional milk tea with brown sugar and tapioca.
Taiwanese pigs make some mean sausage. You can’t walk 10 feet at a Taipei night market without running into a sausage vendor that sometimes has five different types available. The basic Taiwanese sausage has a slightly sweet taste with a beautiful crisped skin. When you take a bite, the skin bursts filling your mouth with juice. You can find everything from the mild to the wild with flavors including pig’s blood, squid ink, and even ones made with fish and little roe stuffed beneath the skin. I’m rather partial to the plain sausage – haven’t worked up the nerve to try the fishy ones yet.