If you know of only one reason to visit Taiwan, it’s probably the food scene. Food in Taiwan is a national obsession. There are eateries on pretty much every block, and the Taiwanese always seem to be eating or snacking. If you want to join them, the tips in this post will come in handy. That, together with a sense of adventure and a love of garlic!

So where should you go? And what should you eat in Taiwan?

Beef noodle soup (what to eat in Taiwan)

Beef noodle soup, a traditional specialty of Taiwan.

Below I describe the different types of eating places you’ll find in Taiwan with some recommendations of particular restaurants and foods to try.

A few notes before digging in:

I use the English or Pinyin names of restaurants, but as a rule, don’t expect to find big placards with these names on them. If the name is written on the building, it will be displayed in Chinese characters. Unless you can read Chinese, make sure you have the address written down (with a Chinese translation preferably) or pinned on Google Maps. Fortunately, the numbers on the doors use roman characters.

Chinese signage in Tainan, Taiwan (what to eat in Taiwan)

Chinese signage in Tainan – make sure you know the street address!

Some of the best food places are also tucked away on small lanes off the main streets. This can make finding a specific place tricky as your map may not show every lane. Persevere and ask a local (show them the address) if you’re having trouble. Few people in Taiwan speak English (especially outside of Taipei) but the Taiwanese are very eager to help visitors.

Many eateries will have a menu in English, or at least some illustrations to guide you. However, having a translation app, especially one that can recognize and translate written text, will be useful.

Lastly, make sure you can use chopsticks reasonably well before visiting Taiwan. If you can’t, practice using the image below. This will avoid embarrassment having to ask for a fork at every meal. (I’m not even sure they have them to be honest.)

How to use chopsticks (what to eat in Taiwan)

Where to eat and what to eat in Taiwan

You will not have any problem finding food in Taiwan. Places to eat are everywhere. Note however that the food is generally more expensive (and of lesser quality) in touristy places like Kenting and Sun Moon Lake. Cities have the most variety and value-for-money eateries.

Here are your options:

Night markets

Street food in Taiwan has been said to rival even Singapore’s. If you like snacking and trying a variety of foods, you will love night markets. Every city and town has at least one night market. In larger urban areas, such as Taipei, Koashiung, and Tainan, you will find several. Although they are usually centrally located, the city of Tainan’s is the exception. None of its night markets are in the downtown core, and they all operate on different days of the week, something to keep in mind before heading out.

Kenting Night Market (what to eat in Taiwan)

Stalls at Kenting Night Market

Some night markets are covered or in permanent buildings, but most just set up at night along a street or in a parking lot. Among the different stalls, you will find a lot of meat and fish on sticks (from chicken to calamari to fish balls), sausages, fried items, fruits, sweets, as well as traditional Taiwanese street food like oyster omelettes and stinky tofu.

Fast food and food courts

You will see a few McDonalds in Taiwan, but most their “fast food” is local and a lot tastier than a BigMac. There are outlets selling fried chicken nuggets with different kinds of crumb-coatings, desserts (shaved ice, taro balls, etc.), shrimp rolls, and more.

An ice dessert place in Taipei (what to eat in Taiwan)

An ice dessert place in Taipei

Don’t discount food courts either. Located in indoor markets or shopping malls, these can be very nice and offer lots of local choices. One very popular breakfast place (Fu Hang Soy Milk, listed below) sticks out in my mind. There you can find traditional Taiwanese breakfast items such as the “donut in a bun” (shao bing) and warm curdled soy milk (dou jiang). Sounds weird, but has to be experienced once.

Try:

Fu Hang Soy Milk, on the second floor of the Hushan Market (108 Zhongxiao E. Road, Section 1, Taipei). Don’t worry, the line up moves fast.

Taiwanese breakfast: shao bing and dou jiang (what to eat in Taiwan)

Taiwanese breakfast: shao bing and dou jiang

Hole-in-the-wall eateries

Small mom-and-pop eateries are the most common in Taiwan, but they can be intimidating for visitors who do not know Chinese. There is often no English menu, or no menu at all for that matter. Often consisting of only a few tables in a small room or outside on the sidewalk, they specialize in a limited number of local dishes, such as beef noodle, fried rice, etc. The food will sometimes be prepared at the front of the restaurant, where you can see it from the street.

Ask your hotel or AirBnB host for recommendations, and make sure you have the address written down or pinned on Google Maps.

Try:

Lan Jia (3, Alley 8, Lane 316, Roosevelt Road, section 3, Taipei) is regarded as having the best gua bao (Taiwanese hamburger) in Taiwan. It’s well known and has an English menu.

Lan Jia: most popular gua bao place in Taipei (what to eat in Taiwan)

Lan Jia: hard to find but regarded as having the best gua bao in Taiwan!

Nicer Taiwanese restaurants

If you’re looking for a restaurant closer to what you’d find in North America, Australia or Europe, with nice furniture, heat or AC (and a front door that closes), you will find those too. although they tend to cluster in certain areas. Yongkang Street in Taipei is an example. They should have an English menu and someone who speaks some English. Here are places I’ve tried and liked, and which are affordable.

In Taipei try:

Fuchen Food, (No. 8-1 Yongkang Street) This place serves South Taiwanese specialties. Be sure to try the shrimp rolls.

Chi Fan Chi Tang, (No. 5, Lane 8, Yongkang Street). Comfortable with nice décor, English menu, and English-speaking staff. I had the deep-fried prawns with pineapples, and the pumpkin puree with tofu (a sort of soup), both delicious and reasonably priced. (You can see a photo here.)

Din Tai Fung, several locations in both Taipei and the rest of the country. I went to the one in the Taipei 101 building (ground level near the entrance). This chain is famous for their soup dumplings (dumplings that contain broth among their fillings). Expect a wait.

Southern Taiwan food at Fuchen Food, Taipei (what to eat in Taiwan)

Southern Taiwanese food at Fuchen Food, Taipei

Elsewhere try:

Ban Jiushi, (71 Zhongzheng 4th Road, Kaohsiung) an elegant modern teahouse with dimmed lights that serves tasty meal sets of classic Taiwanese dishes such as panfried milkfish (a white-flesh saltwater fish).

Qinyuan Chun, (129 Taiwan Blvd Section 1, Taichung) specializes in Shanghainese dumplings and buns made onsite by their pastry chef.

Pan-fried milkfish at Ban Jiushi (what to eat in Taiwan)

Pan-fried milkfish at Ban Jiushi

Ethnic restaurants

Taiwan is a melting pot of food cultures. There are lots of Japanese restaurants in Taiwan, from sushi bars to curry places. If you like Japanese food, you won’t have to look very far. Given the strong Japanese influence in Taiwan, Japanese food is of very high quality and fairly priced.

You will also see some Korean and Thai restaurants, even Indian. Of course you’ll find cuisines from different parts of China (Shanghai, Fujian, etc.) which I suppose does not really qualify as “ethnic” since most Taiwanese are Chinese after all. One thing I didn’t see much of in Taiwan is dim sum, and when I did, it was ridiculously expensive.

The most widespread western food is Italian. I had pizza a couple of times and it was reasonable, but I never dared try anything else. You’re very far from Italy here (both geographically and culturally). Another European import you’ll see frequently is the Portuguese egg tart (pastel de nata). These can be pretty good.

Shanghainese dumplings at Qinyuan Chun, Taichung (what to eat in Taiwan)

Shanghainese dumplings at Qinyuan Chun, Taichung

Coffee shops and bakeries

Over the last 10 years, coffee has become a big trend in Taiwan, and now you find many western-style coffee shops with professional espresso-making machines serving the usual suspects (espressos, lattes, cappuccinos, and americanos). Some offer unusual flavours, like the “rose cafe latte” I had at WorldRich Coffee in Taichung. (And yes it really did taste like rose.)

Cappuccino in Tainan, Taiwan (what to eat in Taiwan)

There are independent shops and also home-grown chains like Louisa Coffee and CAMA. They even have Starbucks (if you really must). Be warned that good coffee in Taiwan is not cheap. You’ll pay between NT$70 and $NT120 for a latte (US$2.40 to US$4.00). Some (but not all) coffee shops have some food, such as sandwiches or pastries. (Here’s a comprehensive website if you’re interested in the Taiwanese coffee culture).

If you’re in the neighbourhood, try these coffee shops:

2 Shots, Xinyi Road, near the corner of Lishui Street,Taipei (exit 3 of Dongmen metro station)

ALFEE Coffee, No. 15, Xihua S. Street, Tainan City

Talking of pastries… Taiwanese cities have lots of bakeries, both Chinese-style and European-style. The Chinese-style ones sell mostly buns filled with either sweet or savory fillings. Grab a tray and a pair on tongs near the entrance and choose whatever strikes your fancy. Then go to the cashier to pay and get your bounty wrapped up.

Convenience stores

The main convenience store chains are 7-11, Family Mart and Hi Life. You will see them everywhere. Besides convenience items like packaged foods and toiletries, they also sell fresh foods such as steamed buns and tea eggs (hard eggs boiled in tea) for breakfast, bento boxes, and decent espresso coffee, which can be a real life-saver if you’re having a coffee emergency. If you’re just looking for a light Western-style breakfast, you could also get yourself a yoghurt and a bun here too. Be warned that yoghurts in Taiwan contain a large quantity of jello cubes. (Don’t ask me.)

How to order food in Taiwan

When you walk into a casual restaurant in Taiwan, they’ll usually sit you down (or let you pick a table), then hand you a slip of paper and pencil, or a plasticized menu and erasable marker. Many places have an English or bilingual menu. There was only one instance where this wasn’t the case during my trip (in Taichung), but fortunately another customer came to our rescue! Some of the more elaborate menus also have pictures of some or all of the dishes (a great help).

A nice trilingual menu in Taiwan (what to eat in Taiwan)

A nice trilingual menu with photos (if you’re VERY lucky)

To order, put a check mark next to the items that you want and bring this back to the counter where you will probably be asked to pay right away. Tips are not expected. Unless you are dining at an upscale restaurant, there is a good chance you won’t be able to use your credit card, so always make sure to carry enough cash with you. (Taiwan has virtually no crime so your stash should be safe.)

They will prepare your food and deliver it to your table, as the dishes are ready. Food can arrive in any order. If you’re travelling solo and dining alone, this is not a major problem, but if eating with somebody else, this means your food may not arrive at the same time. That’s another good reason in favour of sharing dishes.

If you don’t see utensils on the table, look around the room for a self-serve station where you can help yourself to chopsticks, spoons, napkins, and condiments. Sometimes you will even find a jug of water or tea dispenser. In some nicer places, they may bring you a complimentary pot of tea at the beginning of your meal.

Chi Fan Chi Tang restaurant in Taipei (what to eat in Taiwan)

Chi Fan Chi Tang restaurant in Taipei, where the cutlery is actually ON your table!

This was my (admittedly limited) experience with where to go and what to eat in Taiwan. For more foods and places to try, check out this very nice article.

Note: Most of the restaurants I recommend (for having tried them), I found in my guidebook: Lonely Planet’s Taiwan travel guide.

Bon appetit! (Does someone know how to say this in Chinese?)


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