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Food & BeveragesBeef noodle soup

Taiwan is a foodie's heaven. Eating is a very important part of Taiwanese culture, so there is no shortage of different places to eat at here.

Standard Fare

The basic Taiwanese meal is typically rice or noodles, with vegetables and meat either mixed in or on the side. Dumplings are also popular as are many forms of soup, often with noodles.

Eating Out:

Many Taiwanese eat out as often as (or more than) they do at home. Many foreigners adopt this habit, for two main reasons: 1. cost efficiency, as you will find it to be cheaper than cooking at home, and, 2. time efficiency, as eateries are plentiful and operates til wee hours of the day. 

Where To Look
Cheaper restaurants tend to be located on back streets and alleys rather than on main roads. There many simple buffet restaurants, and then there are night markets and countless small restaurants, where no one will think you’re rude if you just point at something that looks good on somebody else’s plate to communicate!

Many large department stores will have food courts in the basement. Prices may be a little higher, but they are air-conditioned and clean. Taiwanese food is very affordable in places where not much attention has been paid to decoration and ambiance.

Night Markets is a dazzling spectacle of cheap yet delicious local specialiti

Breakfast
From about 6:00am – 11:00am, many breakfast vendors open up on smaller streets and alleys. The food is convenient, cheap and delicious. Most breakfast items are between 20-65NT. 

  • Bacon and egg wrap 培根蛋餅 (pei gen dan bing)---a MUST TRY
  • Breakfast burgers (small hamburgers)
  • Green onion pancake (more like a moist green onion flavored bread)
  • Sandwiches, pretty similar to that of the western variety
  • Coffee, milk tea, and soybean milk
  • Steamed dumplings
  • Congee (rice porridge)
  • Bread cakes (you can put egg or other fillings inside)

Specific Styles and Local Favorites:

Hotpot
Hotpots are popular in winter and are usually regarded as a social way for the whole family to get together for food and conversation. Cook your own food in a pot of curry or spicy flavored water. Restaurants usually offer a set price, around 300NT per person, and you help your self to a wide variety of vegetables, tofu, meats and seafood from a buffet.

Korean / Japanese / Mongolian BBQ
The concept of the BBQ is said to have evolved from the traveling kitchens of Genghis Khan’s mounted forces. The Japanese and Mongolian BBQ in Taiwan involves selecting a combination of meat and BBQ-ing them on small grills at your own table, while Korean BBQ is a combination of hotpot and BBQ-ing on a heated ‘brass dome’. These places are usually around 400-500NT per person, and is a social way to cook, eat and drink a few cold beers.

Japanese Influence
For Japanese food enthusiasts, there is a heavy Japanese in Taiwan. For sushi there are regular street vendors at night, and also the Sushi Express chain, which charges 30-40NT for most dishes. You can also find numerous traditional Japanese restaurants serving sashimi, tempura, noodles and other regular Japanese foods. Teppenyaki, where the food is flash-cooked in front of you on a hot grill, is also popular.

Vegetarians
There are lots of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Taiwan. One thing about vegetarians in Taiwan is that they consider onions and garlic in the same category as meat and do not serve them to vegetarians, so if you may need to learn how to ask for these especially. On the other hand, fish or egg may be considered OK for vegetarians, so learn how to say ‘no fish’ 不吃魚 (bu chi yu) and ‘no egg’ 不加蛋 (bu jia dan), if necessary.

Betel nut

Betel Nut
A betel nut is a locally-grown nut wrapped in a betel pepper leaf, after being smeared with an alkaline paste. When chewed, the result is a tingly high and a blood-red mess in the mouth. The mess, frequently spat out onto the sidewalk, is often mistaken for rather nasty tubercular expectoration. Addicts can be readily picked out of the crowd by their stained teeth and bloody grin.

Betel nuts are sold at road-side stands, often by young women who are often, shall we say, under-dressed. Click here if you are curious to see more about the betel nut girls and culture of Taiwan.

Regional Chinese Cuisines:

Taiwan is a favorite hotspot for food tourism amongst overseas Chinese because the best of all regional Chinese cuisine is available here.

Hakka

Hakka stir-fried The Hakka people came from China and settled in Taiwan centuries ago and their cuisine is now very similar to the Taiwanese. Specialties include stuffed bean curd, stir-fried eggplant, and teppenyaki tofu.

Sichuan and Hunan

These cuisines from the south of central China both make liberal use of minced garlic and hot chilies. Look out for hot and sour soup, sautéed shrimp with hot sauce, fish-flavored eggplant, ma-puo tofu, bang bang chicken and ginger tea-smoked duck.

Peking (Beijing)
This is Mandarin cuisine from the north of China. Look for more noodles and breads, and less rice. Famous dishes are Peking Duck, and rinsed mutton chafing dish– a dish which is either cooked or kept warm at your table by means of a small, portable spirit stove.

Shanghai
Cuisine from Shanghai and its surrounding areas features a lot of seafood and fish dishes. In particular, try Ningpo-style eel and West Lake vinegar fish. Food can be heavy on the grease. 

Dimsum
Normally associated with Cantonese cuisine, dimsum eating is very popular in Taiwan. It is also known as yin-cha (roughly meaning ‘tea time’, and is often served as bite-sized parcels of food in bamboo steamers.

International and Ethnic Food:

There are quite a variety of ethnic cuisines in Taiwan, but dining at these restaurants is usually more expensive than eating local cuisine. Japanese food and Italian food are both quite popular. Thai food in chain restaurants with nice settings costs as much as other cuisines, but go to an area with a high number of Thai or Vietnamese immigrants to find authentic yet inexpensive Thai or Vietnamese food.
Domino's and its fleet of delivery scooters

Well-known Western restaurants in Taiwan include: Fridays, Sizzler, Swensons, Tony Roma, Chilis, Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill, just to name a few. Check with your experienced colleagues to see what is available in your area. Fast food franchises found in Taiwan include: McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Subway, Burger King, Dominos, Starbucks, plus more.

 

Drinks:


Pearl milk tea Pearl Milk Tea 珍珠奶茶 (zhen-zhu-nai-cha)

If you are going to talk about drinks in Taiwan, you cannot go past pearl milk tea. Made from milk tea with tapioca balls, it is a favorite of many locals and foreigners who come to Taiwan. Like most drinks, you can find them easily available at the multitude of drinks shops in any town or city, and come both hot and cold.

Fraps and Slushies 冰沙 (bing-sha)
Slushie drinks, called bing-sha, are a great way to hydrate and cool down during the heat. They are available from coffee shops, tea shops and small drink stands and come in a variety of flavors, such as coffee, mango, lemon, yoghurt, passion fruit, and many more.

Coffee and Tea
Traditionally, Taiwan has a strong tea culture. However, drinking coffee has become very popular as well.

You can find Starbucks, Mr. Browns, Dantes and Barista coffee chains here, as well as a lot of smaller coffee shops. A note of caution: whenever in Asia, don’t expect an aromatic, perfectly-frothed, full-bodied God’s-gift-to-mankind coffee just like back home from a local store, as the culture is still developing. Be adventurous and try the huge plethora of fruit, flower, green and herbal teas (hot and cold) available too.

Etiquettes and Reminders:

Splitting the Bill
Usually among loose groups of friends, the custom is to pay individually or get a total price for the group and everyone pays their share. In a more formal occasion, a boss or host might pay for everything or pick up some of the extras.

Close family groups or friends often like to pay for each other too. This can occasionally result in someone physically hiding the bill from others, or a scramble to see who can get their money out first followed by lots of animated discussion involving phrases like “Let me pay!”, “It’s OK, I’ve already paid”, “Take this money” and “No, it’s fine.” Over a longer time frame, everyone pays a few times each and it all works out well enough.

Chopsticks
Taiwanese eat with chopsticks, unless at a Western restaurant. However, white plastic spoons are also often placed on tables if you struggle with chopsticks. Also, you can usually ask for a metal spoon or a fork if necessary.

Leaving your chopsticks stuck like daggers into food is considered rude as this invites ghosts to eat the food and is culturally insensitive. It is polite to rest them together beside your bowl, or across the bowl.

Business Cards
Take business cards from every restaurant you go to (most will have them). Take some to give your friends and get them into the habit too. In no time you will have a variety of good eating options, with the cards giving you the Chinese addresses to show to cab drivers and the phone numbers to use for booking on busy weekends.


Eating In & Buying Groceries:

Cooking at home
Most kitchens in Taiwan are small and cramped. There are usually only two gas elements in a kitchen. These are typically run on bottled gas (600-640NT per 20kg bottle) or sometimes by pipes (about 300NT per month).

Dishwashers are very rare as there is seldom space for them. Convection ovens are also unusual, but small toaster ovens and microwaves are easy to find at major retailers such as Carrefour.

Grocery Stores
Most cities have large grocery stores, such as the chain Welcome, that are stocked with foreign imports. You will also find places like the RT Mart and Carrefour very useful as they are filled with almost anything you might need to buy. Sogo supermarkets also carry a large supply of western goods. The wholesale chain Costco sells a large range of foreign imports at amazingly good prices, the only drawback being that you have to spend NT$1,200 on a membership and almost everything comes in bulk.

Bakeries
Bakeries are plentiful and delicious. Different from its Western counterparts, though, the bread in Taiwan is often sweet or stuffed.


Open Markets
You’ll find all kinds of fresh produce and Chinese specialties here. If you have the time to cook and think you can adjust well enough to using the local ingredients to save money doing so, then the fresh produce markets are the place for you.

Usually these markets will also sell a variety of other goodies. You can bargain a little, but at the already-low prices, expect no more than 10% - 20% discount. Try the line ‘Suan wo pian yi yi dian’ (count it a little cheaper for me) when a vendor adds up your purchase.

Asian Consultants International