CNN Travel conducted a survey among their frequent travelers, asking for opinions on the best food in the world. The surprising winner – Taiwan! A few weeks after the world-traveler food survey, CNN published a “Top 40″ list and I spent hours discussing favorite Taiwan foods with my adult English students. Taiwanese people are truly passionate about food, so I decided to compile my own Top Ten list by asking the experts – my Taiwanese students, friends, and other local people with strong food opinions. Join us as we walk through a Taipei night market and sample the deliciousness!
The Top 10 results of our Taipei night market feast are…
1.) Sesame Sauce Dry Noodles (Yvonne)
This dish contains very simple ingredients – sesame sauce, soy sauce, noodles, and vegetables! In Yvonne’s expert opinion “Sesame sauce is to Taiwanese as peanut butter is to Americans- good smell, good taste, good for health!” This food expert spent two years studying in the US so she understands America’s love for peanut butter!
(Yvonne, Avision engineer, former student, now a friend, neighbor, and food expert.)
2.) Mixed Vegetable Thick Soup (Jackie)
Typically served at Taiwanese weddings and other special occasions, this thick soup contains a mixture of vegetables, pork or chicken, fried egg, and dried sea shrimp along with other optional ingredients. At more elaborate weddings held at expensive hotels, the soup will usually include shark fin which is considered a status symbol.
Jackie served this at her wedding and observed that “although the ingredients are not that special, the tradition and the memories associated with this dish makes it special to most Taiwanese people.”
This special occasion soup can also be found at the Taipei night market as well as markets in Tainan, some restaurants in Yilan, and at most Taiwanese weddings. Jackie also explained that the amount of cash given in the obligatory “red envelope” wedding gift is directly related to the quality of the food served. Shark fin in the soup will likely raise more funds for the happy couple.
(Jackie, PR/Communications at ITRI , former student, friend, local food expert.)
3.) Sesame Oil Chicken Soup (Jerry)
Jerry recommends Sesame Oil Chicken Soup as his favorite “comfort food” because it “tastes like childhood.” This isn’t just your average chicken soup as key ingredients, Taiwanese rice wine, and fresh ginger, add a dash of spice to the dish. Jerry highly recommends stocking up on this soup during the cool, damp Taiwanese winters and makes the 4-hour trip to Mom’s house every few weeks to do just that!
During Taiwan’s less affluent past, this soup was reserved for special events such as Chinese New Year celebrations and is often associated with good times and happy memories.
(Jerry, Marketing Director at Winbond with a secret desire to be a teppanyaki chef, student, food expert.)
4.) Vegetarian Oyster Vermicelli (Antonia)
Antonia is a vegetarian food expert and chose Oyster Vermicelli as her favorite. This dish is a delicious concoction of garlic, soy sauce, cooking wine, stock, salt, pepper, and cornstarch, boiled until it thickens. For the finishing touch, stir in oysters, carrots, onions, and top with fresh basil. Antonia chose this dish because she “can’t imagine anything more savory.”
Another tasty option is “Vermicelli with Large Intestine”, in which oysters are substituted with small segments of pig’s large intestine. (I think that’s probably an acquired taste.)
(Antonia, English teacher, daughter of a Buddhist monk, vegetarian food expert.)
5.) Beef Noodle Soup (Chile)
Beef Noodle Soup is sometimes synonymous with Taiwanese cuisine and was named among the top 10 in CNN’s article on this subject. My landlord, Chile, would agree and chose this as his favorite Taiwanese food. According to Chile: “I love noodles and beef, the strong taste of soy sauce and beef soup is the perfect combination.“
During a recent research weekend in Jiufen, I ordered this dish in its “dry” form (less soup, more noodles), and loved it!
(Chile, landlord and “the man who knows everyone”, friend, food expert.)
6.) Steamed Sticky Rice with Crab (Rita)
My next expert, “Rita-The-Boss”, is a food lover and couldn’t pick just one favorite. Since she’s the boss, I allowed her to mention two. Her top favorite is Steamed Sticky Rice with Crab. Her advice, “the sticky rice needs to be mixed and fried with a lot of ingredients first, then steamed with crab on the top.” Since Taiwan is an island, fresh crab is plentiful and delicious!
Rita couldn’t stop at just one. “If you need me to pick one from the Taipei night market, I’ll say spring roll. I love vegetables a lot.” She also added, “we can go to the Taipei night market together when you have time.”
That sounds like a tough assignment, but she’s the boss and I love food!
(Rita, Owner David’s English and Taiwan food expert.)
7.) Braised Pork Belly (Andy)
This handsome Taiwanese bachelor recommends Braised Pork Belly. Andy says, “although the process is very simple, it tastes very delicious. You simply mix pork, garlic, scallions, soy sauce, and sugar. Cook it continuously for 1-2 hours then put it on rice. It tastes a little sweet and a little salty so it one of my favorite Taiwan foods. Adults and children all love it!“
According to Andy, it’s easy to find braised pork belly at many local restaurants all over Taiwan as well as the popular Taipei night market.
(Andy, friend, a former student, handsome, single-and-always-looking, food expert.)
8.) Stinky Tofu (Lynn)
According to Lynn, a barista at the cafe’ I use as my unofficial office, Stinky Tofu “tastes special”. According to me, this traditional Taiwanese food smells like dirty feet! After smelling it for more than two years, I finally mustered up the courage to try it (reviewed here) and was shocked that it tastes much better than it smells.
Lynn agrees that it smells very bad, but recommends adding spicy garlic sauce to really get the full taste experience. It sometimes is eaten with a side of pickled cabbage, another of my least favorite foods.
(Lynn, barista at my favorite OH Cafe’, where I spend hours drinking coffee and writing.)
9.) Roasted Taiwanese Sausage (Jamie)
Jamie’s favorite food is the savory Roasted Taiwanese Sausage, a staple of night markets in Taipei. She explains, “I am always attracted by the hot steam (smoke?) and good smell. There are various kinds of sauces: honey, spicy, garlic, black pepper, and even wasabi.”
Jamie also suggests ordering the sausage with sticky rice, called “small sausage in large sausage. The chef will half cut the sticky rice sausage and put the roasted sausage into it. It’s really delicious to enjoy them together!“
(Jamie, MTK engineer, friend and former student, world-traveler, and food expert.)
10.) Mochi (Julia)
I was first introduced to mochi during my many years living in Hawaii and really loved the Japanese mochi ice cream which is popular in the islands. Julia’s favorite is Hakka Mochi with peanut powder inside and out. According to Julia, “My mom used to take me to the Jinshan temple(金山寺) in the science park. They will provide mochi every month on 1st and 15th (in Chinese calendar) in summer! I don’t know if they still provide mochi, but that is how I love mochi! It’s one of my favorite Taiwan foods!”
(Julia, David’s English Corporate Sales (with a big smile), avid traveler, food expert.)
After two and a half years in Taiwan, I believe I finally understand and appreciate Taiwanese food! CNN Travelers made an excellent choice in picking Taiwan as number one, although my experts didn’t always agree with their “Top 40” list!
What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? Have you ever tried snake? Check out my experience in Snake Alley right here!