There are plenty of reasons to travel to Taiwan, but one thing any traveller to Taiwan should be most excited about is the food.
From restaurants with certain specialties to night markets where you can sample a wide array of snacks, delicious food is pretty much all around.
I recently spent two weeks travelling around the whole island, and sampled as much as I could. These five foods are not to be missed.
1. Coffin Bread (棺材板)
Granted not the most appetizing of names, but coffin bread (also called coffin toast or coffin sandwich) was far and away the most interesting and delicious food I tried.
Coffin bread is a piece of super thick white bread French Toast, that is hollowed out and stuffed with something tasty. Originally invented in the southern city of Tainan, I sampled this snack at the Zhiqiang night market in Hualien.
You can pick from among a wide range of fillings, including three-cup chicken or pepper beef. The mixture of sweet and savoury really hits the spot, and the toast is easy to munch on as you wander through the rest of the market.
Someone needs to make this snack a reality in the States, please.
2. Almond tofu (杏仁豆腐)
Served as a dessert or as a snack, chilled silken tofu comes in many forms and varieties, and the kind I discovered I loved in Taiwan is almond flavored.
I had some at a shopping mall food court that was served cubed over shaved ice. There were plenty of toppings to choose from including fresh fruit, taro balls, and sweet beans.
You can find tofu-related desserts at most night markets as well. There is an excellent shop near the Luodong night market that specialises in shaved ice balls served over your choice of bases and toppings. I went with silken tofu covered in honey and sesame seeds.
The weather in Taiwan is pretty hot, so this is a good treat to help cool off and not feel guilty about eating something sweet.
3. Ice cream dorayaki
I’ll admit it: I have a sweet tooth. Which is exactly why I couldn’t resist purchasing this treat from a street vendor in Jiufen: two small, fresh pancakes (called dorayaki) with a scoop of ice cream sandwiched between them.
Neither the pancakes nor the ice cream (I chose taro flavour, but other options included red bean, green tea, or hazelnut) are too sweet.
There’s another famous vendor who sells ice cream in a rice wrapper with shaved peanut brittle and cilantro, but I preferred this Japanese-inspired treat.
4. Bei Gang spring roll (北港春捲)
If you find yourself in Hualien at the Zhiqiang night market, and you’re not too full already from the Coffin Toast, you should definitely head to the Bei Gang Spring Roll stall.
The concept is basically an Asian version of Chipotle, where you pick your protein and your toppings, and then they roll it all up in a delicious burrito. Your choices are beef or pork, with flavourings like mustard, garlic, chilli, or curry. Most people just had them add all the toppings available: bean sprouts, cabbage, hard tofu, scrambled eggs, and crushed peanuts.
The only downside to this food item was the wait. There’s a long line, and they can only prepare so many at a time, so expect to stand for a bit. But it’s worth it.
5. Beef noodle soup (牛肉麵)
This is pretty much a staple at most restaurants, and can be found sold in paper bowls at night markets many stalls. Basically if you see a big vat of dark broth, and spot some freshly pulled noodles on a counter top, you should order yourself some soup.
And the strangest thing I ate in Taiwan was a mysterious fried cube (糕渣)
Some background: my Airbnb host in Yilan was a great guy who has a couple recommendations for stalls that I needed to check out at the Luodong night market there. He helpfully wrote the names of the stalls in Chinese, and told me what to order at the most popular one.
My theory when travelling abroad is that if the locals like something, it’s probably great, so I should at least give it a try.
As I got to the front of the line at this stall, I still didn’t know what to expect. I gauged from the workers that they were dredging something in flour and frying it, but even my handy Chinese dictionary couldn’t help me when I tried to look up the characters for what I had ordered. The translation for the characters gao zha was “cake” “dregs”.
When my order arrived and I gamely bit into the hot fried cube, I found it surprisingly soft inside. The taste wasn’t offensive, but nor was it indicative of what I was chewing. Still clueless, I assumed I was eating some kind of salty, pulverized vegetable, such as corn.
When I finally returned to my Airbnb (and to wi-fi), I found the answer: Gaozha is a local specialty in Yilan that consists of chicken soup that gets ground up and mixed with potato starch so it thickens as it cools. When it is the texture of soft tofu, it’s placed in the boxes on the left, and when ordered it’s cubed and fried.
I don’t regret trying it, but I can’t say I’d make a repeat visit.
There are so many other great dishes in Taiwan, so I took this postcard as a reminder to myself of what I still need to try when I go back again.
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