I crave Taiwanese food for years at a time. I can keep it somewhat at bay by eating by grabbing a bowl of minced pork over rice at Mee Sum or ordering some xiaolongbao at Jade Garden, but it’s nowhere near the absolute glory that is real Taiwanese food.
The most exquisite parts of Taiwanese cuisine are the fruits and vegetables. As much as I adore so many aspects of American food, Americans do not know how to prep vegetables. In my experience, American veggies come in one of two forms: bland as a piece of paper or slathered with butter & microwaved. Both are awful. I dream of Taiwanese greens: pumpkin leaves, cabbages, a-chai, mustard greens, kong xin vegetables (translates to empty heart/hollow stem veggies, but I’ve seen it in English as “water spinach” or “swamp cabbage/morning glory”), bok choy, bean sprouts, mei gan greens… And loads of garlic and green onions on everything.
Taiwanese fruits are integral to the Taiwanese meal. Just as the Italians end their repasts with espresso, the Taiwanese end with fruit. When I was growing up, my family had fruit every single night. I still love fruit as an evening snack, but alas, Washington apples and pears and cherries can’t compare to the perfection of Taiwanese fruits. (not pictured: mangoes… my favorite.)
One of my favorite Taiwanese things is tie ban shao, “iron griddle cooking,” which is Taiwanese style teppanyaki. Because the island was colonized by Japan for so long, there is a powerful Japanese influence in our food. The typical tie ban shao meal is founded on your order of a saucy main entree of your choice (chicken, beef, pork, lamb, seafood, tofu, etc) grilled to perfection with typical Taiwanese ingredients (combos of soy sauce, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, 5-spice, etc, and always with piles of garlic). It comes with rice, soup, two or three types of veggies, and Taiwanese sweet red tea (which I could write ballads about, honestly).
Other Taiwanese fare with Japanese influences:
Another favorite of mine: steaks! I really don’t care for steaks in the states, no matter how fancy. I don’t have a sophisticated palate for meat. I think Taiwanese steaks are wonderful though. Mostly because of the amazing sauces, especially the black pepper steak sauce. Steak meals are a lot like tie ban shao in that they include everything. The steak and oyster dish pictured below came with: three drinks (plum tea, red tea, and a choice of juice/milk tea/coffee/soda/etc), a choice of soup, a choice of salad, a shrimp appetizer, and a choice of dessert. All delicious, and all for NT$570 (US $17).
Okay, so I have a lot of favorites. 🙂 Here are more:
Other favorites on our trip:
Last bits of interesting things about Taiwanese cuisine:
- Taiwanese folk are all about that QQ texture! QQ is what we call that bouncy, springy, chewy texture of certain noodles, as well as things like mochi, tang yuen, and the bubbles/boba/tapioca in bubble tea.
- If you want the real Taiwanese food experience, go to a night market and just have a little bit of this and little bit of that. Taiwanese vendors specialize in xiao tsi (small eats).
- Taiwanese people mostly eat out or get take-out (in the form of bian dang, Taiwanese lunchboxes). However, many families do cook meals at home. If you’re invited to a Taiwanese home for dinner, you’re in for a treat! Be sure to learn the important Mandarin phrases though. The first Mandarin words I taught my husband were “That’s enough,, thank you! I’m full!” 😉
- If you see a long line for something… GET IN IT. You will not be disappointed.
One last-last note! There were loads of other foods we had that I didn’t take pictures of… mostly because we ate them too fast. This is by no means a comprehensive catalog of Taiwanese cuisine. Despite the ridiculous length of this post, there’s still more to be said and tasted.