I have a lot to say about Taiwan and you better believe I’ll be sharing everything that I saw and experienced over the coming months. But one of the things that worried me the most, as it usually does, was the food. I’ve written a few times about how picky I am as an eater and it can frankly be a major issue in some parts of the world. I don’t eat any seafood and my repertoire of acceptable vegetables is rather limited, so it was with these preconditions that I hesitantly first dipped my toes into the murky waters of traditional Taiwanese cuisine.
Although Taiwanese food is of course greatly influenced by mainland Chinese cuisine, there are also many other influences including international foods and even aboriginal cuisine. The result is a diverse and always interesting food tradition that thankfully includes a lot of meat. Without a question pork is the most common meat in Taiwan, a fact that surprised me a little. I’m so used to the prevalence of chicken in Southeast Asia that I just assumed the same would be true in Taiwan but no; there the pig is king. You can find the porcine goodness in everything from fancy dim sum meals to the most humble of street market cuisine. But its presence helped me get through a lot of frankly dodgy (meaning seafood influenced) meals. Other meats are of course present, including chicken and beef but my favorite meal during my visit to Taiwan was an expertly prepared Peking duck at the Celestial Restaurant in Taipei. I’ve never had anything quite like it and it’s a meal I still think about. Yes, it was that good.
Fruits and Vegetables
It’s Asia so vegetables are incorporated into almost everything, including many that weren’t familiar to me. Instead of potatoes, yams are a common accompaniment along with pumpkins and other gourdy fruits. But it’s the leafy greens that everyone in Taiwan seems to crave and which personally drove me away. I just can’t eat plates of eggplant or pickled anything and so it wasn’t always easy to deal with the many side dishes.
Small plate culture
The reliance on small plates, family style eating really, was a great help as I wasn’t committed to a single dish that may or may not have worked for me. The small plates are also cheaper and gave me the chance to experiment and see what I did and did not like. That’s how I learned that I like giant rounds of bamboo, a fact that still surprises me frankly. Sharing and experimenting was the best way for me to learn more about Taiwanese cuisine.
While not specific to just Taiwanese cuisine, one sees it throughout Asia, the constant presence of soups at most meals was a welcome sight. If served along with a larger meal, the soups tend to be simple broths, but more robust and ingredient filled slurpy courses can be found as well. The best though is cooking in the soup itself by eating at a hot pot restaurant. A cross between a buffet and a fondue restaurant, each table comes with built in soup pots into which you add any combination of ingredients you want. It’s a fun, healthy and delicious way to enjoy an evening out.
Ok, so the preponderance of seafood in Taiwan was a bit of an issue for me. Not surprisingly, the island nation has a strong proclivity for eating fish and other watery delights, which is fine, it’s just not for me. I happen not to eat any seafood of any kind, but if you enjoy it then this is the place for you. More importantly, I was able to eat just fine (for the most part) in spite of my picky eating ways. I was there for ten days and visited nearly every corner of the country and there were always alternatives for me. So if you’re an anti-seafood person like me, rest assured, you’ll be fine.
Don’t laugh and please hear me out when I say that 7-11 convenience stores were an important part of my food experience in Taiwan. Like many other Asian countries, there seemed to be a 7-11 around every street corner. Sure, I loved buying Coke Zero and Pocky chocolate sticks there, but I also loved it for the window it provided into the quirkiness of Taiwanese food preferences. It means something that the potato chip flavors include chicken, kimchi and seaweed. It reveals something about the culture that the brown tea eggs are simmering in the front of the store where in the U.S. pizza would claim the prized spot. Visiting grocery and convenience stores is one of the best and fastest ways to learn about a new culture’s food likes and dislikes and shouldn’t be snubbed by anyone.
So to answer the question posed in the title of the post, yes, it is possible for a very picky eater such as myself to not just subsist in Taiwan, but to thoroughly enjoy the food experience. As with most trips, the food was an extremely important part of the experience for me personally and while I may not have tried everything, I tried a lot and can’t wait to share in more detail what makes Taiwanese cuisine unique and delicious.
I was in Taiwan as part of a special project with AFAR Magazine and Taiwan Tourism in my role as an AFAR Ambassador.
19 thoughts on “Trip Results: Can A Picky Eater Enjoy Taiwan?”
Love your picky-eater posts – They help alleviate my biggest concern about traveling internationally! If you can do it, so can I!
Thanks Vicki, that means a lot and is why I started doing all this in the first place! :) You just made my day and I appreciate it.
I was very surprised with this post. Normally when I read “picky eater” posts I read about how you can survive on seafood if you are picky. But I don’t eat seafood! So reading you don’t either was really surprising (in a good way).
I used to really agonize over eating in foreign countries because I am such a picky eater. It’s funny because seeing a 7-11 makes me really excited because I know I can find something in there no matter what.
Exactly Jennifer! :) And I’m glad you can relate, and that I surprised you. Not every meal worked out, but most did and some were truly exceptional
thank you so much for your very informative insights into taiwans food culture. i’ m going to travel around the island in november for a month and i’m already excited to see and taste all the food myself.
gabriele from germany
I was teaching in Taiwan and literally asked the TAs how to say “anything” so I could ask for it in restaurants. I was never disappointed. Glad things worked out for you too.
Loved this article. I am in love with the fact fact that during travel you can jump in and immerse yourself with the local food. However I am also a picky eater. So the thought of being forced to eat things I would dread in another country makes me skittish. Fortunately it seems as though there may be other options. And of course there is always McDOnalds..lol
I’m glad I could help!
Looks like you found some great food! So glad to hear picky eaters can eat in Taiwan! My husband is picky too, in similar ways to you, and every time I suggest a new travel destination, his first question is “what can I eat there!?” He’s a pork fan too, so now it will be easy to convince him to visit one of these days :) And I’m sure the 7-11 will work for extra leverage! Thankfully food is our only problem–he’s always up for the rest of the adventure!
If I can get through it, anyone can :) I even walked away really loving the food!
Actually I’m glad to see leafy green plates…I’m a vegetarian and had concerns I couldn’t visit taiwan at all –nice roundup, Matt!
Thanks Charu! As a vegetarian you will be just fine LOL
The major pork obsession is a Chinese thing- it’s definitely the #1 meat on the mainland as well. Taiwan is really high on my list of culinary destinations to try!
As it should be :)
Love this post. Although the nature is great and all that, most people here in Asia travel to Taiwan for the food. Perhaps to add, it’s good to visit Taiwan night markets in a group of 3-4. More stomach = can sample the variety of food even more!! I agree about the 7-11 part—I love the local instant noodles! Culinary traveling certainly shouldn’t be limited only to street foods and restaurants. =)
All great points! For me of course visiting Taiwan was about a lot more than just the food, but it was a wonderful part of the adventure.
Great post with good insights.
Heading to Taiwan tomorrow so I can’t wait.
Very nice Infos about Taiwan. I am very picky with my food so i really use your Post for the preparation of my travel to Taiwan.
I will include a short link to your original article when i finish my own (german) article about my problem eating in taiwan if this is ok for you.
Thanks for the help and good work!,
Your post was super helpful. I’m traveling to Taipei next month and am definitely a picky eater. I just got back from India, where I watched what I ate… as to not get sick. Are there any things to avoid in Taiwan so we don’t get sick when traveling? Fruits, vegetables? I would hate to have a day stuck in a room sick. Thanks!
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