11 Street Foods in Taipei, Taiwan You Can’t Miss
Taiwanese Street Food in Taipei
It is not too much to say that street food is revered in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei. The city’s night market scene is like none other. Dozens of night markets dot the city, the largest of which has over 500 food stalls.
The locals describe these markets as re nao, or “hot and noisy,” and they mean that in the best way possible. Squeezing through crowds and waiting in lines for a chance to sample some the country’s most famous street foods in Taipei is truly a must-do experience!
In this article, I’m going to introduce 11 ubiquitous street foods you’ll spot in Taipei’s night markets and while traveling around Taiwan. These are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Taiwan street foods in Taipei, but at least you’ll know where to start!
Taiwan Street Food History
The Taiwan street food scene brings together a diverse mix of culinary influences. These include Taiwanese aboriginals, who’ve inhabited the island for thousands of years, Chinese who migrated from Fujian province in China over the last 400 years, Chinese who came from other parts of China more recently, and the Japanese, who colonized Taiwan from 1895 to 1945.
You’ll find all of these cultures represented in the Taipei street food below. As you’ll soon see, many Taiwanese foods were brought over from China but now have a Taiwanese twist, while some are totally unique to Taiwan. This is an ongoing process that is shaping what Taiwanese consider to be their own national cuisine, distinct from that of China.
Most night markets in Taipei began as collections of Taiwan food stalls at street corners or outside of temples. Slowly they grew over time, expanding to take up many blocks. Taipei’s night markets are so popular that they are considered the number one attraction in Taiwan by visitor numbers.
Many Asians travel to Taiwan just for the street foods in Taipei. In recent years, Anthony Bourdain famously visited Taipei’s night markets and introduced them to Western viewers. Taipei street food is also featured prominently in the new Taipei Michelin Guide, with over 20 night market stalls making it into the first few editions so far.
Best Street Foods in Taipei
In no particular order, here are 11 street foods in Taipei that you absolutely can’t miss!
1. Oyster Omelets—Most Popular Seafood Street Food in Taipei
As an island nation, it comes as no surprise that seafood is a big part of the local cuisine in Taiwan. Oyster omelets are one of the most popular seafood street foods in Taipei. The dish originates in the Minnan region of Fujian province in China, the ancestral homeland of most Taiwanese, and in Taiwan the dish is still called by its Minnan (or “Taiwanese”) language name, o-a-tsian.
Oyster omelets consist of fresh oysters and greens fried in a batter with eggs, then doused with sweet red sauce. You can find them in any night market in Taipei, but Shilin Night Market (Taipei’s largest night market) and Ningxia Night Market are especially famous for them.
2. Beef Noodle Soup—Taiwan Street Snack from China
Some kind of variation of noodles served in a beef-based broth is popular in many Asian countries. In Taiwan, the dish was first brought over by veterans in the KMT army after they lost the Civil War in China and fled to Taiwan. In Taiwan, they modified the Chinese dish by adding soy sauce and slightly different ingredients. That’s why the Taiwanese version is sometimes called hong shao or “braised” beef noodles.
Taiwanese beef noodles typically come with beef brisket or shank, tendons, and occasionally tripe. It is one of the most popular dishes in Taiwanese cuisine, and everyone has his or her own claims about which place serves the best. You can find it being dished out from dedicated hole-in-the-wall shops all over town.
3. Stinky Tofu—Notorious Taiwanese Street Food
If Taiwanese people ask you, “Have you tried (insert dish) yet?”, the dish in question is almost certainly going to be stinky tofu. Invented in China by accident when some tofu went bad, the dish is Taiwan’s most notorious street food today. You can literally smell it from hundreds of meters away. But if you can get past the smell, it actually tastes really good (warning: opinions may vary!)
Stinky tofu comes in two main forms in Taiwan. One is crispy deep fried cubes of tofu that are served with crunchy, fermented cabbage. Another is big hunks of firm tofu that are stewed for hours in a spicy broth. You can find stinky tofu in every night market in Taipei, but for the full-on stinky tofu experience, head to Shengkeng district of New Taipei City, where there’s a whole food street devoted to it.
4. Green Onion Cakes—Michelin Bib Gourmand Taiwanese Snack
In yet another example of a dish carried over from China and then modified, green onion cakes (also called scallion pancakes) are my personal favorite. It is believed that these fried flatbreads originated in Shanghai, under the influence of the city’s Indian population, but its exact origins remain uncertain. They are a very popular street snack in Taiwan today, and it doesn’t hurt that green onions grow extremely well in Taiwan.
Unlike green onion cakes in China, though, the large, round, flat ones in Taiwan are typically fried with an egg, Asian basil, and then coated with condiments which may include sweet soy sauce, white pepper, spicy sauce, and sometimes even cheese or kim chi. You can find them in Ximending pedestrian area or most night markets. The green onion cake stall in Gongguan Night Market even has Michelin Bib Gourmand status.
5. Bubble Tea—Famous Taiwanese Drink
Also known as pearl milk tea and boba, Taiwanese bubble tea is one of the country’s greatest gifts to the world. Although there are competing theories, it is most commonly thought that bubble tea was invented by Chun Shui Tang, a teashop in Taichung, Central Taiwan when a staff member poured her jelly ball dessert into her iced tea and really liked it.
Classic bubble tea is made with sweetened milk tea and gooey balls of tapioca which are sucked up with a fat straw. The drink is never blended/slushy in Taiwan like it is in Western countries, and you may find they don’t have as many flavors as you might expect. Besides the classic milk tea version, which remains the most popular, look out for passion fruit green tea with bubbles, or the recent fad of pouring brown sugar syrup down the insides of the cup before adding the tea & bubbles. Bubble tea shops are found on practically every street corner in Taipei.
6. Taro Balls—From Ningxia Night Market
Taro is a starchy (and very healthy!) root vegetable that is an important part of the diet of the aboriginal people in Taiwan. You can find it in all kinds of foods in Taiwan, from cakes and cookies to hot pot and even bubble tea. Taro balls are often found among the many QQ (a Taiwanese expression meaning “chewy”) balls served atop shaved ice desserts.
For a really special taro ball experience, try Liu Yu Zai’s taro ball stand in Ningxia Night Market. The stall boss prepares deep fried taro balls stuffed with pork floss and egg yolks. But just a heads up, this is one of the most popular stalls in a city that is obsessed with street food, so you’ll definitely have to wait in a long line to try them!
7. Peanut Ice Cream Wraps—Taiwanese Dessert
A uniquely Taiwanese dessert, peanut brittle ice cream rolls are more interesting than the name may suggest. As far as I know, they were invented in Yilan County, but can now be found at street stalls (often mobile ones) all over the country.
The dessert consists of a few scoops of traditional (usually pineapple or taro) Taiwanese ice cream garnished with peanut brittle shavings and cilantro (!) in a thin crepe-like wrap. The combination of ingredients may sound odd, but the result is incredibly satisfying on so many levels. To find a stall serving it, watch out for the huge peanut brittle block. There’s a stall in Jiufen, which is one of the most of the most popular day trips from Taipei, where they even let tourists take before and after pictures while the treat is being prepared.
8. Oyster Vermicelli—Breakfast in Taipei
Going back into savory territory, oyster vermicelli is a thick noodle soup that few locals or visitors from other Asian countries can resist. The vermicelli noodles used are called mee sua in the Minnan/Taiwanese language and originated in Fujian, China, but this particular dish is uniquely Taiwanese.
To make oyster mee sua, vendors steam the noodles at high heat to caramelize them to a brown color, then serve them in a very thick broth, usually with intestine pieces. The dish is called orh ah mee sua in the Taiwanese language or orh ah mian xian (combining Taiwanese and Mandarin). It can also be called da chang mian xian when it only contains intestines and no oysters. Locals like to eat it for breakfast in Taipei, but anytime time of day will do. The best place to try it is Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodles in Ximending; just watch for the crowd of people standing on the street eating bowls of it!
9. Gua Bao—World-Famous Taipei Street Food
In recent years, one particular Taiwan street food has been catching attention around the world thanks to Taiwanese-operated restaurants and food stalls: the gua bao. Like several others on this list, the gua bao was first invented in Fujian, China, but today is especially associated with Taiwan.
Also called the “Taiwanese hamburger”, the dish is made up of a slice of meat (usually pork belly) stuffed into a steamed bun. It is garnished with pickled mustard greens, ground peanut, and cilantro. The unique combination of ingredients in gua bao truly must be tasted to be believed!
10. Fried Chicken Fillet—Staple Street Food in Taiwan
Who needs McDonald’s or KFC in Taiwan when you have zha ji pai or “fried chicken fillets”? The origins of ji pai are somewhat uncertain, but some believe they were introduced to Taiwan during Japan’s 50-year-occupation, as they are quite similar to Japanese katsu. At first they were served in train bento boxes, then later became a staple street food in Taiwan.
Fried chicken cutlets are made by pounding slices of chicken flat, marinating them in soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, and corn starch, breading them, then deep frying them. It’s a staple oily treat in Taipei, especially at night. Just watch for the long lines and locals walking away carrying paper bags with enormous fillets sticking out!
11. Mango Shaved Ice—A Yong Kang Street Specialty
Finishing on a sweet note, mango shaved ice is a modern take on the classic Taiwanese shaved ice dessert. Shaved ice desserts are popular all over Asia and provide the perfect way to cool down on a hot day in the subtropics. Traditionally, Taiwanese shaved ice came with your choice of toppings, mostly beans and gooey balls, and a dollop of brown sugar syrup.
In the last few decades, modern takes of shaved ice often include fresh fruits, ice cream, and sweetened condensed milk. Mango shaved ice has all of the latter, and the combination is to-die-for, especially when mango is in season (summer). It is believed that mango shaved ice was invented on Yong Kang Street in Taipei, and that remains the best place to find it.
If you now find yourself drooling, that means it’s time to start thinking about paying a visit to Taipei, Taiwan. This list of must-try street food in Taipei is your Taiwanese food guide! Come visit the night markets in Taipei and find out what makes this tantalizing Asian metropolis’ street food so sought after!
For planning a trip to Taiwan, feel free to join my Taiwan Travel Planning group on Facebook, where I offer free advice and travel consultation!
About the Author
Nick Kembel is the author of Taiwan in the Eyes of a Foreigner and creator of Spiritual Travels, a Taiwan-focused travel website. He lived in Taiwan for 11 years, where he married a local and his two kids were born. They recently moved to his hometown: Edmonton, Canada.