Facts About Taiwan Food: Taiwanese Food Culture

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Examples of Taiwanese cuisine include beef noodles, bubble tea, and dumplings. Taiwan has affordable and safe-to-eat foods that you can find in many restaurants and night markets throughout the country.

I’ve lived in Taiwan for over 4 years and have tried various foods. I want to combine my experience and other information to teach you about Taiwan’s food culture.

As you make your way through this guide, you’ll find information like:

  • Foods to try in Taiwan
  • Food safety
  • Vegetarianism
  • Desserts
  • Night market culture
  • Drinks

Let’s get the ball rolling.

What To Eat In Taiwan: Popular Taiwanese Foods

Here’s a list of foods you should try in Taiwan:

English NameChinese NameDescription & Some Ingredients
Taiwanese HamburgerGua Bao (刈包)Tender pork belly, peanut powder, and cilantro packed in lotus leaf bread
Oyster Vermicelli NoodlesHézǐ Miàn Xiàn (蚵仔麵線)Vermicelli with oysters
Scallion PancakeCōng Yóubǐng (蔥油餅)Green onion pancakes
Pineapple CakeFènglí Sū (鳳梨酥)Pastry filled with pineapple jam
Bubble TeaZhēnzhū Nǎichá (珍珠奶茶)Tapioca pearls mixed with milk (or milk powder) and tea
Beef Noodle SoupHóngshāo Niúròu Miàn (紅燒牛肉麵)Braised beef, vegetables, and noodles mixed in beef broth
Fish TempuraTian Bu La (甜不辣)Boiled fish paste
DumplingsXiao Long Bao (小籠包)NA
Glutinous Rice BallsTangyuan (湯圓)Like Japanese moshi and oftel filled with red bean paste, peanut, and more
Braised Pork Rice BowlLu Rou Fan (滷肉飯)Pork meat sauce with rice
Danzai NoodlesDān Zǐ Miàn (擔仔麵)Wheat noodles in soup with shrimp
Tea EggCháyè Dàn (茶葉蛋)Hard boiled egg soaked in tea
CoffeeKāfēi (咖啡)They have award-winning coffee at Simple Kaffa [1]
Fried ChickenZhá Jī (炸雞)Tasty deep-fried chicken
Stinky TofuChòu Dòufu (臭豆腐)Fermented tofu served in various ways
Oyster OmeletHézǐ Jiān (蚵仔煎)Small oysters mixed with egg batter and sweet-and-sour sauce
Ice Cream BurritoHuāshēng Bīngqílín(花生冰淇淋)Flour crepe wrapped around cilantro, peanut brittle, and ice cream
Taiwanese Sausage w/ Sticky RiceDachang Bao Xiaochang (大腸包小腸)Large sausage wrapped around sticky rice
Popular Taiwanese foods.

Taiwanese love food. So they have plenty of it to offer. Many of these dishes come from Taiwan. And migrants brought some with them from China (but they cook it well).

Some popular restaurants that come from Taiwan include:

  • Din Tai Fung: born in Taipei in 1958 [2]
  • Chun Shui Tang: the original store was founded in 1983 and became the birthplace of boba tea
  • CoCo Tea & Juice: founded in 1997 and sells beverages worldwide [3]

You can find the first Din Tai Fung store around the Dongmen MRT station (Taipei MRT Red Line) in Taipei City. Then you can find the first Chun Shui Tang shop in Taichung.

Here are the addresses:

  • Din Tai Fung: No. 194, Section 2, Xinyi Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, 106
  • Chun Shui Tang: No. 30 Siwei Street Origin Store, West District, Taichung Taiwan

To me, the original Chun Shui Tang shop’s bubble tea didn’t taste different from other stores throughout Taiwan. But taste is subjective. You may enjoy the flavor more.

Taiwan Food Safety: Is It Safe To Eat? #

For the most part, Taiwanese food is safe to eat and won’t give you food poisoning.

I couldn’t find much data to support this claim. But one study I found said between 2014 and 2018, Taiwan had 26,399 total foodborne disease cases [4]. 46.1% of these cases arose from school lunches.

In 2019 they had 6,944 cases and 2 deaths [5 written in Chinese]. 1 death came from eating a poisonous toad. And the other, a toxic mushroom.

Pay attention to the foods you eat, and you won’t get sick. If you do get sick, get a bottle of Super Supau (Taiwanese Gatorade). It’ll prevent dehydration.

I’d consider myself someone who’s very susceptible to food poisoning. Out of 5 years of living here and eating unknown foods, I’ve never gotten food poisoning.

Not in all scenarios. I’ve ONLY gotten food poisoning twice from Japanese-style ramen.

Taiwan Aboriginal Cuisine #

Taiwan’s indigenous people have various dishes and drinks like:

  • Sticky rice cooked in a bamboo section: the best rice I’ve ever tasted
  • Millet wine: think of it as a sweeter and stickier sake
  • Taro and sweet potato dishes: while common throughout Taiwan, many Taiwanese tribes prefer these crops for farming
  • Grilled boar with papaya
  • Bunun millet cake
  • Sticky rice and meat stuffed in leaves
  • Meat grilled on a stone
  • Taro and meat dumpling

For an authentic experience, you will want to get this food from areas where 1 of Taiwan’s 16 tribes resides [6].

Here’s a list of areas Taiwanese aboriginals reside and the tribe that you’ll find:

AreaIndiginous Tribe
Nan’aoAtayal
DatongAtayal
WulaiAtayal
FuxingAtayal
GuanxiAtayal
JianshiAtayal
WufengAtayal, Saisiyat
NanzhuangSaisiyat
ShitanSaisiyat
Tai’anAtayal
HepingAtayal
YuchiThao
XinyiBunun
Ren’aiAtayal, Bunun, Seediq
AlishanTsou
NamasiaBunun, Kanakanavu
TauyuanBunun, Saaroa
MaolinRukai
ManzhouPaiwan
SandimenPaiwan, Rukai
WutaiRukai
MajiaPaiwan
TaiwuPaiwan
LaiyiPaiwan
ChunriPaiwan
ShiziPaiwan
MudanPaiwan
Taitung CityAmis, Paiwan, Puyuma
ChenggongAmis
GuanshanAmis
BeinanAmis, Puyuma, Rukai
DawuPaiwan
TaimaliAmis, Paiwan
ChangbinAmis
DongheAmis
LuyeAmis
ChishangAmis
YanpingBunun
HaiduanBunun
DarenPaiwan
JinfengPaiwan
LanyuYami
Hualien CityAmis, Sakizaya, Truku
FenglinAmis
YuliAmis
XinchengAmis, Truku
Ji’anAmis, Truku
ShoufengAmis
GuangfuAmis
FengbinAmis, Kavalan
RuisuiAmis
FuliAmis
XiulinTruku
WanrongTruku, Bunun
ZhuoxiBunun
List of indigenous tribes in Taiwan and their locations.

Vegetarianism in Taiwan #

Around 14% of Taiwan’s population (over 3 million people) are vegetarians [7]. Most people choose vegetarianism because of following Buddhism. Moreover, Buddhists will avoid the following ingredients on the 1st and 15th of each month:

  • Onions
  • Chives
  • Scallions
  • Leeks
  • Garlic

And most vegetarian foods in Taiwan are made with wheat gluten, or soy.

Then there are the young people. Because of meat-less alternatives (think Beyond Meat), more young people are taking to plant-based diets.

Most popular Taiwanese dishes aren’t vegan or vegetarian. Nor will they accommodate many strict diets. In some scenarios, stinky tofu isn’t vegan (or vegetarian) because restaurants may soak them in shrimp brine or milk.

If you want guaranteed vegetarian or vegan food, you will want to use an app or website like HappyCow. You can also search for Buddhist restaurants.

Many of these restaurants will have 卐 or 卍 logos on their signs. These AREN’T Nazi swastikas.

Taiwan has many interesting desserts. Some of these include:

Taiwanese Dessert NameIngredients & Description
Shaved IceShaved ice, fruits, and condensed milk
Bubble TeaTapioca balls and milk powder (or milk) mixed with tea
Grass JellyHerb jelly
Pineapple ShortcakePineapple jelly in a pastry
SuncakeCondensed malt sugar cakes
DouhuaSoybean pudding with various toppings
Deep Fried Sweet Potato BallsNA
Peanut BrittleNA
* MooncakeSalted egg yolk cakes with filling
Wheel CakeWaffle-like batter surrounds a creamy filling (various flavors)
Popular desserts in Taiwan.

* Many eat mooncakes during the Mid Autumn Festival. However, you can find them around Taiwan any time of the year. You can find them having various fillings like green tea, red bean paste, and fruits.

Taiwan has bakeries everywhere. And their bakeries have fantastic and affordable pastries.

Taiwanese Street Food Culture #

Taiwan has over 70 night markets. At these markets, you can play carnival-style games, eat food (of course), and buy affordable clothing.

Most of them have dishes that make them stand out. And here are some examples:

Famous DishNight Market
Fuzhou Pepper BunsRaohe Night Market
Shiitake MushroomsAny
Steamed Minced Pork With Pickles In BrothHuaxi Street Night Market
Oyster OmeletAny
Shi Yun Taiwanese Fried ChickenShida Night Market
Stinky TofuAny
Flamed Beef CubesXimending Night Market
Pearl Milk Tea (Bubble Tea)Any
Rice Noodle SoupJingmei Night Market
Soy MilkLehua Night Market
Sesame Oil ChickenAny
Taiwanese HamburgerGongguan Night Market
Hainanese Chicken RiceAny
Taiwanese SausageFengjia Night Market
Popular foods at various Taiwan night markets.

Every night market has various “famous” dishes. You’ll need to explore each of the guides I wrote for more details. Otherwise, this post would take forever to read.

Many night market restaurants and food stalls are Michelin Star restaurants. That means these restaurants receive awards for having outstanding cooking.

Again, taste is subjective. But I’ve tried many Michelin restaurants throughout Taiwan (like Fuzhou Pepper Buns).

And the verdict?

They tasted amazing. So long as these foods meet your dietary requirements, I recommend at least trying them.

Here’s a tip to keep in mind.

If you see a line at a food stall, that likely means they have good food. Or it’s a new restaurant. While waiting in lines sucks, they often move fast without the food stall or restaurant cooks sacrificing quality.

Most night market foods cost up to NT$100 ($3) per item. And whether you find a menu in English will depend on whether you’re in a night market tailored to tourists.

In that case, you will likely see higher prices.

Befriend a local. Get some food at a night market.

Taiwanese Beverages #

Here’s what you should know about various beverages in Taiwan.

Coffee Culture in Taiwan

Taiwan has over 15,000 coffee shops [8]. These include Starbucks, Louisa Coffee (Taiwanese Starbucks), and local cafes.

It’s also home to Berg Wu. He dominated the 61 competitors in the 2016 World Barista Championship [9]. And then he opened Simple Kaffa.

It’s in Taipei and offers coffee, for which I’d gladly pay an arm and a leg. For instance, there’s Smoky Southern Taiwan. It mixes osmanthus, white gourd syrup, Taiwanese jelly, and espresso.

And it was the most flavorful yet not super sweet coffee I’ve had.

I should move on:

Taiwanese Alcoholic Drinks

I can’t drink it now, but Taiwan’s known for it. Their Kavalan whiskey won 15 out of 28 of the Gold Outstanding and Gold medals in the whisky category in the 2021 International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) [10].

It makes a great “food” souvenir.

They also have various popular spirits. 1 includes Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor.

Then beer. It’s legal to drink anywhere and easily accessible. Many Taiwanese people I’ve talked to said their favorite bar was convenience stores. Because they have various beers at an affordable price.

I don’t know much about beer culture in general. But I can tell you that Taiwan Beer is 1 of the most popular (and cheapest) beers. And it doesn’t taste bad.

Around 47% of Taiwan’s recorded population lacks the ALDH2 gene [11 paywalled article]. Despite the ridiculous paywall, this source told me everything I needed.

The ALDH2 gene is an enzyme in your liver essential for alcohol metabolism. Without it, you have a higher chance of flushed skin, cancer, and other disorders.

Tea in Taiwan

You can break Taiwanese tea into 4 groups:

  • White tea: minimally processed tea leaves
  • Green tea: made from unoxidized tea leaves
  • Oolong tea: made from Camellia sinensis plant leaves
  • Black tea: more oxidized tea than other variations

Because of the soil Taiwanese tea grows from, it has significantly different qualities than tea from China. Thus, making it 1 of the world’s best places to get tea [12, 13].

Before coming to Taiwan, I wasn’t the biggest fan of tea. After trying tea at Maokong Mountain, my opinion changed.

When in Taiwan, you will want to try teas from the following places:

  • Taichung: where bubble tea came from
  • Alishan: known for its high mountain tea
  • Nantou: high-quality oolong tea leaves
  • Hsinchu: known for heavily oxidized oolong tea
  • Maokong mountain: various teas

You can find these teas at many tea houses spread throughout the country. Or, if you’re in a city, you can literally find tea shops on almost every block.

FAQs: Taiwanese Food

Here are some frequently asked questions about Taiwan’s recipes and dishes.

Is Taiwan Food Healthy?

Most Taiwanese traditional food balances vegetables, carbohydrates, and protein. However, a lot of their food is also deep fried. Since they have so many dishes, you will need to pick the right ones for a healthy choice.

Does Taiwan Have Kosher Food?

You can find kosher foods at the Chabad House of Taipei and some convenience stores.

Does Taiwan Have Halal Food?

Taiwan (especially Taipei) has many halal restaurants.

Conclusion

Taiwan’s full of many dishes inspired by the various cultures within their country. Whether it’s the food they brought from China or dishes made by the indigenous folks.

You can visit night markets to sample many popular Taiwanese dishes. However, don’t rely on them to satisfy your foodie desires. Explore recommendations from locals to find potential hidden gems in whatever city in Taiwan you’re visiting.

Speaking of exploring, check out other posts to help you learn more about Taiwanese culture.

person standing on top of Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan City, Taiwan

About Tee

Tee began first experienced the wonders of traveling when visiting Vietnam. Afterward, he went crazy and ventured to at least… More about Tee