As Taiwan reopens to international travelers, it has an opportunity to prove that it is a noteworthy foodie destination. When you think of Asian-based foodie travel, Tokyo, Singapore, and Bangkok are the milestones. From dumplings, kimchi, pad Thai, and rotis to the more exotic Burger King squid-ink burger and deep-fried insects, their popularity has grown due to the countless satisfied diners.
I count myself as a foodie who gravitates more toward street food and mom-and-pop shops. Sweet to savory and spicy to mild, Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, offered a smorgasbord with the range that I was looking for. Below, I offer my Adventurous Eater’s Guide to Taipei. I had only 84 hours to explore Taiwan, so I had to quickly decide where to eat based on where I saw locals go.
1. Jhu Jian Taipei Zhongxiao 2nd Branch
A bit on the pricey side, Jhu Jian Taipei Zhongxiao 2nd Branch is a good introduction to Taipei’s hot-pot foodie culture with its subdued lighting and date-night atmosphere. Although open for lunch, it is the ideal locale to start your evening out or to finish and return to your hotel. If possible, make a reservation. On weekend evenings, you might have to wait for an available table.
What To Order At Jhu Jian Taipei Zhongxiao 2nd Branch
I chose the popular pork blade shoulder pot with a side of rice. Other popular favorites are the New Zealand lamb shoulder pot and American sous vide top blade sirloin pot. Udon and steamed noodles were other sides that went over well with the diners.
2. Mamalia Cookie Talks
Mamalia Cookie Talks specializes in various cookies in meticulously designed boxes. The themes run from colors, holidays, and television programs to mythic stories. You can also design your own box full of your favorites after trying a few samples.
What To Order At Mamalia Cookie Talks
These cookies are so good that I purchased many boxes of them for my friends. My personal favorite is the assortment of hand-made fried cookies. Other popular items are the fragrant chocolate series and natural fruit series. Feel free to try samples and then create your own custom box of treats.
3. Zhuan Wei Xiang
I found this gem while exploring the side streets of the Da’an District. Small and simple with a few seats, it is a warmly lit and unpretentious restaurant. Unfortunately, the staff do not speak English, so prepare to use Google translate to communicate and place an order.
What To Order At Zhuan Wei Xiang
I was lucky to run into a local who had lived in Manhattan for a few years and he helped me as my translator. He recommended the noodles in a spicy sauce with pork wontons after seeing that I was having difficulty choosing my meal. I dug in and chose to finish it all off with some sour and spicy stewed rice.
4. Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung has many locations and long lines at all of them, so I had to know what the commotion was about. To say they take food preparation seriously is an understatement. For me, a part of the experience was watching the staff meticulously prepare each dumpling in a kitchen that looked more like a lab. If you visit in the evening, it may be a bit busy, so expect a wait if you would like to dine in rather than carrying out.
What To Order At Din Tai Fung
The most popular and delicious offerings are the pork xiao long bao, truffle and shrimp siu mai, vegetarian mushroom buns, house special shrimp and pork wontons with house soy sauce, and bitter melon soup with pork spare ribs. My personal favorites were the steamed ground pork and vegetable dumplings.
5. Taipei 101 Food Court
Taipei 101 offers a panoramic view of the city from its observation decks, a mall, and events hosted on the rooftop, including concerts, as well as one of the fastest elevators in the world (Level 89 in 37 seconds), and the building’s food court rounds out the experience.
What To Order At Taipei 101’s Food Court
By this point in my exploration, I had to add notches to my belt. As one of my favorite food places in the city, I had to try as many dishes as possible, starting with Karen Teppanyaki. The grilled chicken, oysters, and, in my opinion, anything with garlic, are delicious. Mai Sen pork chops were made with their house sauce and bread crumb-coated entrees. KQ Tea’s wide selection of boba juices and teas are an ideal beverage for any meal.
Pro Tip: Be prepared to spend at least 3 hours here.
6. Burger Talks
If you are in the mood for an American-type creature comfort, then I suggest fast-food Burger Talks. A continuous theme with Taiwanese food is the use of fresh ingredients, house-made sauces, and the exploration of bold tastes. Burgers here range from beef and pork to fish and veggie. Hot dogs, nuggets, and fries are also on the menu.
What To Order At Burger Talks
All three locations have a similar menu, so you are not missing out on anything if you chose one location over the other. The East Coast beef cheeseburger is a popular classic burger. Those looking for something with a little more heat can go for the Ghost Pepper beef cheeseburger. The yakiniku (Japanese roast pork) sandwich is a good go-to for lunch.
7. Gongguan Night Market
Taipei’s Gongguan Night Market is only open for a few hours each evening. It’s conveniently located near the metro station of the same name, which makes it easily accessible. Narrow lanes and a multitude of food stalls appeal to university students. While there, I moved around, exploring and sampling from a number of stations whose names were only in Mandarin. If you don’t mind shopping with your eyes and nose and are ready to dive into the options available, then you will enjoy what’s offered here.
What To Order At Gongguan Night Market
Start at Lan Jia Taiwanese Snack to try a gua bao, which is popular with the local students. Sugarcane Mama is a great place to stop if you have a sweet tooth. Try the signature sugarcane smoothie. Nice Thai is another worthwhile stop if you are craving Thai food. The spicy fried chicken and shrimp cake appetizers are delicious additions to your night feast.
8. Taipei Main Station Food Hall
Serving as your portal of entry and exit, the Taipei Main Station is the main stop for the airport line bringing you right into Old Taipei.
Come early before heading back to Taiwan International (TPE). On the bottom floor is a food hall that gets a mix of school students, elders, and commuters. One of the busiest morning stalls is a simple à la carte breakfast shop that will have you elbow to elbow with other eaters.
Very simple. You prepare your meal, pay, grab a communal newspaper, and have a seat. People don’t stay long, and the conversations are kept to a minimum. It’s an ideal first or final meal.
What To Order At Taipei Main Station Food Hall
The food section is called Breeze Gourmet Heaven. No matter the time of day, you will find something open with a wide range of options, from a Starbucks to Hongkong Dumplings at Dim Dim Sum and Nitakaken’s Japanese curry. The most popular options are the assorted curry rice with chicken and beef and sukiyaki beef with rice.
End your food tour at French Pastry for one of their tarts. You cannot lose no matter which one — or two — you go with. My favorites were the strawberry cheese tarts, and if you have room, the French caramel brûlée or the matcha white jade.
9. FamilyMart Convenience Stores
This is a Japanese convenience store chain that originally opened in 1993. You will come across quite a number of locations throughout Taipei. Known for its doorbell jingle when you enter, this is where you stop to pick up provisions ranging from grab-and-go bento boxes to alcoholic beverages.
What To Buy At FamilyMart
Try some of the Famichiki Potato Chips that are often offered in limited-time-only flavors. I went crazy for FamilyMart’s branded juices that had flavors such as grapefruit tea, apple tea, and coffee latte. Overall, my favorite was the mango iced tea, especially after exploring the city. If you are looking for something more substantial, you can grab a MOS Burger on a bao bun.