Taiwan has been nothing but amazing for me on my vacation from teaching English in Korea. My one week trip, which should have been so much longer, was just a week of eating and adventures with a group of close friends. Okay, maybe I stretched the truth a little, it was more eating than anything else! I mean you can't blame me because the food was just so good. From the Taiwan delicatessens to the random street finds, I think I spent 80% of my time eating. Even at all of the tourist locations, there were so many good eats that we would walk a few steps, grab a new goodie and munch our way down the rest of the street. I would've put on a lot more weight had I not walked everywhere instead of taking a cab, but I'm glad I was able to eat everything on my list of foods.
The number one thing for me was definitely bubble tea. Where can you find bubble tea in America for a dollar? While teaching English, I've found the price of bubble tea in Korea is so much more expensive, but the problem is the authentic taste. I think I had at least two or three cups of bubble tea everyday which is probably a bad one week diet, but I just had to get in as much as I could before the week was over. Thank god I am going back to America soon to my favorite bubble tea store. In addition to the amazing bubble tea, fresh soy bean milk is a must. It is the perfect breakfast drink to have with a hot steam bun or even the rice porridge (congee and youtiao, a fried dough). There is of course the regular mill tea and coffee (it is pretty difficult to find a coffee shop in Taiwan, but they're there). If you're looking for a Taiwan drink that is special to their culture, try the almond milk. You can find a few stores around tourist areas that ground up a fresh cup of almond milk.
In regards to food, there is just too much to talk about! Starting with breakfast, there are so many types of steamed buns to have. These buns are made with a white dough and stuffed inside with all types of flavors. Sweet buns like my all time favorite sesame and red bean, vegetable buns, plain buns, meat buns, and a mix of flavors is one breakfast favorite that costs less than a dollar! There are also a handful of pastries and breads to have for breakfast. Bakeries are everywhere in Taiwan like they are in Korea, but you'll find a lot more different kinds of bread and creations because there are less chains in Taiwan.
If you're not a breakfast person, you can wait for dimsum which is a collaboration of breakfast and lunch tea time that I suggest going with a big group of people. The reason for this is that you want to sample all different kinds of foods. The suggest and number one restaurant in Taiwan is Din Tai Fung which can be found in Korea as well, but going to the one in Taiwan is the number one tourist and local thing to do. There are a handful of chains around town, be sure to make reservations so you can skip the long wait. Although there are no reservations on the weekends, we definitely got lucky and got a table within 10 minutes without the need to share our table with others like they do in Chinatown.
For main entrees whether for lunch or dinner, Taiwan is known for their beef noodle soup. Beef is a very big dish in Taiwan and it is pretty much delicious at every place! Another is their egg noodle soup which is noodles topped with an egg and a signature sauce. Of course every restaurant differs, but it is worth trying because the noodle is freshly made. Another must have, which is my all time favorite is the minced pork over rice. Marinates diced pork meat with some vegetables mixed in is topped in a bowl of rice that is too amazing to pass.
Now you can also get full the way I did everyday without having to sit down at a restaurant by eating all types of street food. You'll be surprised at what you'll find in town! A few of my recommended street foods are the Ro Yuan (a mochi dumpling that is filled with meat and topped with an amazing sauce), Coffin Bread (bread that is stuffed in the center), Gua Bao (a plain steamed bun topped with Taiwanese kimchi, pork meat and a sweet powder mix, flattened fried chicken (literally a whole chicken that is flattened, battered, and fried), Chinese sausage on a stick (a lot sweeter than American and Korean sausages).
For those who are more ballsy and are willing to try the weird foods of Taiwan, stinky tofu, pig intestine, duck blood (I prefer this over pigs blood because its a lot more smoother), ostrich skewers, and all the other random stuff you'll find. I'm sure this is not my complete list of weird foods in Taiwan, but you'll be surprised at what you'll actually enjoy without knowing what it is. Knowing what I was consuming, it tastes a lot better than I imagined. My motto is you only live once, when is the next time you can try a delicatessen, who can actually say they were able to eat all these weird foods? Don't limit yourself!
My all time favorite now, sweet dishes! Everyone knows I'm all about snacks and sweets. I am the one crazy girl to go shopping with my local Taiwanese friends and fill up two carts of junk food to bring home! The number one sweet dish in Taiwan is the shaved ice which can be topped with almost anything you desire. Another favorite is the sweet soup (usually hot) which is made with a variety of beans but usually red bean and filled with all kinds of sweet goodies. My one favorite is this tapioca-Mochi like dish. Be sure to also have the variety of Mochi, Dduk filled cakes that Taiwan offers. You'll find both sweet and salty flavors. There are also a handful of Chinese cakes which is just a soft dry bead filled with all types of things; the most popular is pineapple, but there are also red bean, lotus seed, meats and others.
Other than being the ultimate food heaven, Taiwan is also the place to get dolled up. Korea is one place for beauty, but I think you'll be surprised at what you can find in Taiwan. False lashes, lash extensions, high heels, short skirts, big circle lenses, crystal acrylic nails, make up everywhere you go. I definitely fall under that category because I finally got my permanent eyeliner tattoo and lash extension as well as a handful of other pamper me pretty services!
You can find the most dolly services in Ximen which is like the Myeondong of Korea. It is definitely worth it to check out this area and shop around. Stores open around 11 and into 11 pm, but be sure to haggle when making purchases. There is also a very famous rice noodle spot that has been around for years, you can't miss it with all the tourist and locals standing around front to grab a bite. Within close proximity to Ximen, you can also find the Red House for art which is a bit hidden in a side street after the police station.
A train ride away is also the Longshan Temple, Taipei Main Station underground shopping, and a handful of other malls. The other must visits in Taipei include Taipei 101, which used to hold the worlds fastest elevator, the Taipei Zoo which you can visit via gondola, the memorials, and of course the best clubs in town are in the area much like the Gangnam of Korea. Luxy, Myst, 18, these are the places you wanna go on a weekend. Be sure to also booze off the flavored beers which is more like a flavored soda with alcohol. You can find those at the 7-11 for a cheap price. Enjoy!
Check out Cindy’s blog to get a glimpse of what Korea has to offer!