Great food in Taiwan

A quick overview of Taiwanese food

Posted by Shiu-Tang Li on Dec 29, 2013

This website is to let more people know about the rich Taiwanese food culture. I select several topics that I'm familiar with, and these special food types really make Taiwanese food unique. It is strongly suggested you give them a try when you visit Taiwan.

Here I included some pieces of information about Taiwanese from a foreigner's view, and from our goverment's website. Or you may directly move on to any special food topic you like about Taiwan without reading these introductions.

For your information, $1 USD = $30 NTD (New Taiwan dollars).


The following two paragraphs are extracted from: For a detailed introduction please visit the website.

Taiwan Food: Chinese cuisine and beyond ...

Taiwan has a long and complex history. This is also reflected in the diversity of Taiwan food.

First there were the Aboriginals, with the crops originally available in the island as taro and millet.

Starting from the 17th century chinese people from Fujian and Guangdong came to Taiwan in search of a new life - they brought their Southern China cuisines: Fujianese and Hakka. They brought rice too.

Much later, in 1895, the Japanese conquered Taiwan. They ruled the island for a sizeable amount of time, 50 years. They left their cuisine and the most advanced farming techniques.

When the Japanese left, after 1945, people from all the provinces of China fled to Taiwan, including many of the best cooks of that time.

The huge diversity and quality of Taiwan food comes from all these events.

Is Taiwan food the best in Asia?

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This is an ongoing debate, especially among foreigners ...

I have to say that, because of my job, I am often in contact with people of different asian nationalities.

For them, I really live in one of the food world capital - and I am talking about Singaporeans and Chinese ...

In my opinion, these are the strong point of Taiwan food:

  • The variety of influences: as i said, there is no other place in the world where the chinese cuisine and the japanese cuisine have together such a strong influence.
  • Freshness and quality of ingredients: Taiwan farmers' skills and techniques are among the best in the world. Besides, ingredients have to cover very short distances before being sold in the markets. Taiwan food is very fresh. The same cannot be always said about Singapore or China.
  • A lot of educated customers: competition is fierce among restaurants in Taiwan and the people really know about good food. I am always amazed at such things as, for example, the quality of the coffee that is drunk in Taiwan. Coffee is not a Taiwan tradition, for sure, still their coffee is much better than in many westerner countries - Italy excluded, of course :))

Night market or hole-in-the-wall food can be funny but seldom provide a lot of hygiene or visual decor - it is up to you if you like to eat there :))

In my experience is quite difficult to have a bad meal in Taiwan, provided you stay in nice looking restaurant - we normally spend from 200 to 500 NTD (7 to 17 USD) per person for a meal.

Our goverment's website also contains a lot of information. Those who are interested may take a closer look :

They also provides a bunch of videos about Taiwanese foods. Please take a look at:  Videos.

Taiwanese Cuisine

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Taiwan is home to an ethnic and cultural diversity that affects its dietary culture as well. Taiwanese cuisine has been strongly influenced by foods rooted in mainland China’s Fujian province, and also by the cuisines of Fuzhou, Chaozhou and Guangdong.

During Taiwan’s half-century of Japanese colonial rule, Japanese-style cooking techniques also began to color Taiwanese food. Such classic Japanese foods as fried prawns and raw fish have been transformed into Taiwanese specialties. “Hostess club cuisine (酒家菜),” which developed in the Beitou area at social clubs and entertainment venues, and “bando (辦桌)” culture, a form of boisterous eating around a round table in an open space, were significant in the development of Taiwanese cuisine. When the Republic of China government relocated to Taiwan, Taiwanese cuisine began to incorporate the hometown dishes of people who arrived from the various mainland Chinese provinces, resulting in a still greater diversity. With a rich array of dishes, Taiwanese cuisine offers a style unique in the Chinese-speaking world.

Taiwanese foods place an emphasis on ingredients’ original flavor. A light taste and fresh ingredients are their main features. As Taiwan is an island, seafood is in ready abundance and has become a major focus of Taiwanese dishes. As to cooking styles, saut?ing and stir-frying are used widely as they have been found to best preserve ingredients’ freshness and nutritional goodness.

From past to present, Taiwanese cuisine has continued to incorporate the essence of dishes introduced from abroad and to absorb the influences and flavors of Western dishes. The Taiwanese cuisine of today is the fruit of a long, continuous process of evolution and innovation.

Taiwanese Seafood

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Taiwan is surrounded by the sea, and ocean currents flow past and converge just off the island’s coast, creating good fishing grounds and enriching Taiwan’s marine resources. In addition, research on and advances in breeding technology have improved the variety and quality of seafood available in Taiwan, giving people more choices when selecting seafood as an ingredient. Seafood has thus become an indispensable element of daily fare in Taiwan.

Considering Taiwan’s seafood recipes and its map of marine products, a great variety meets the eye. Creatures such as lobster, red frog crab, swimming crab, grouper, and bigeye tuna, which is rich in DHA, as well as fish suitable for eating raw, can all be found in Taiwan. The richness of littoral landforms and the convergence of ocean currents have literally turned Taiwan into a seafood kingdom.

The style of cooking seafood in Taiwan is influenced by those of Fujian, Guangdong and even Japan. It puts an emphasis on natural flavors rather than complex seasonings. Dishes often highlight refreshing and mellow flavors. When cooking, whether stewed, stir-fried, steamed or boiled, dishes tend to be light and often limit the need for flavoring to a variety of delicious sauces.

Taiwan’s fishing harbors, whether north or south, are the best places to savor seafood dishes. Shops offering fresh seafood ring the harbors. Here, diners can select the fish or crustacean they wish to eat, which is then cooked on-site. These fresh products, together with the house specialties of different restaurants, will satisfy even the choosiest of gourmets.

Fusion Cuisine

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Chinese cuisine is a crystallization of culinary wisdom and experience accumulated over several millennia. Through evolution and refinement over time, common everyday ingredients have come to be used to produce exquisite delicacies whose appearance, aroma, flavor and texture all appeal to the senses. Chinese cuisine has indeed established a unique reputation worldwide.

Taiwan is a melting pot of diverse ethnic cultures. The eight major Chinese culinary traditions—Sichuan, Guangdong, Jiangsu/Huaiyang, Shandong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Hunan and Anhui—are all served by restaurants in Taiwan. They have been enriched through amalgamation in Taiwan, creating a new distinctive style. As Stanley C. Yen, president of the Landis Taipei Hotel, wrote in his book “Zongcai Shangcai” (總裁上菜 “The President’s Table”), beginning in 1949, specialties once prepared for people of higher socioeconomic status and simple dishes once eaten by the average citizen have, through mutual influence and blending, given rise to a new and more creative Taiwanese-style Chinese cuisine globally recognized as a food revolution.

Each of the Chinese culinary traditions has its own distinctive style and flavor. Shandong cuisine is simple and unadorned; Huaiyang is refreshing; that from Guangdong centers on the classic; Sichuan is rich in content; and Hunan is boldly colored and strongly flavored. Every one of these traditions has played an important part in contributing to the rich and diverse Chinese food culture in Taiwan.

Hakka Cuisine

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When the Hakka people first arrived in Taiwan, they toiled to open up new land and build new homes. The many hardships they faced led them to lead lives of frugality. To cope with adversities arising from migration and life in the mountains, they relied on farming and natural resources, processing and preserving foodstuffs through dehydration or pickling for future consumption. As a result, they developed a variety of special ingredients, sauces and dishes that are distinctive of the Hakka culinary tradition.

Hakka dishes are salty, savory and oily. Large amounts of salt are added to preserve food for storage as well as to replenish the salt lost through perspiration during work in the fields. Additional oil is needed to restore physical energy required to perform strenuous labor. Dishes are made savory and appetizing to increase the appetite and ensure fullness for a long time after eating. Most Hakka ingredients (such as dried squid) have a hard texture, which is also why it is important to make the food tasty and aromatic.

Hakka cuisine is usually simple and down-to-earth. The original flavor of food is retained, and spices and dip sauces are widely used. Another distinctive feature is the popularity of pickled vegetables, such as turnips and mustard greens. Hakka communities readily make use of natural resources to create seasonings and sauces. For example, a fruity sauce made from sour kumquats is delicious and strongly aromatic. It balances the oily richness of Hakka dishes and reduces the need for other seasonings. The many side dishes, snacks and rice foods created for festive occasions in the different seasons of the year reflect diligence, strength and perseverance—all parts of the Hakka philosophy of life.

Indigenous Peoples’ Dishes

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The food culture of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples is encapsulated in the phrase “living off the mountains and seas.” Traditionally a fishing and hunting society, the indigenous peoples lived a carefree life eating naturally flavored foods and drinking millet wine. Their primary sources of food included wild edible plants, mountain boar, wild deer, and freshwater fish and shrimp.

The main principle in indigenous cooking is to retain as much of the original food flavors as possible. Most ingredients are obtained from the natural environment, such as the peppercorns of the aromatic litsea tree on Mount Qilan, the leaves of the decaisne angelica tree, and the pigeon pea, which is said to promote health.

Traditionally, indigenous cooking methods comprised chiefly steaming, boiling and roasting. But along with changes in modern lifestyles, indigenous foods are no longer limited to the exotic tastes of mountain produce. Nowadays, these traditional dishes can be seen only at major festivals such as the flying fish festival and annual harvest celebrations.

In the 21st century, as society becomes more conscious of healthy and organic eating, the indigenous way of life and their respect for nature have evolved beyond the phrase “living off the mountains and seas.” Since the 1990s, indigenous cuisine has spread outside indigenous communities and taken its place on the national stage. It is a must-try for food connoisseurs traveling in Taiwan.

Night Market Foods

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Taiwan’s xiaochi (小吃)—often found in night markets—fully showcase local customs and dietary culture, presenting a range of special features and flavors from north to south. Truly local tastes are found among those dishes served up in markets, streets and alleys. The fusion of ethnic groups has brought innovation to traditional snacks, creating new favorites while bringing fresh life to old standbys.

Night market foods mostly originated with peddlers canvassing the streets selling old-time snacks, local specialties, hometown-style dishes, seafood and mountain products. As an island with a congenial climate, Taiwan is rich in food resources, and the use of locally available ingredients has thus become a main feature of Taiwanese snacks.

In fact, snack stalls on the street, in night markets, bazaars and near schools have gradually become popular destinations for Taiwanese people during their leisure hours and for foreign tourists who would like to savor Taiwan’s local culture.

To really learn about night market foods, take a snack-hunting trip to different night markets and bazaars, where you can taste a wide variety of fine foods and experience the warm hospitality of the local people.

Drinks, Desserts and Gift Ideas

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Taiwan is a veritable paradise for food lovers. From spacious shopping malls to narrow alleyways, fabulous food and tasty treats abound everywhere. In addition to the haute cuisine of restaurants, the discerning connoisseur can also sample mouthwatering night market foods, delicious confections, food gifts, and of course, Taiwanese beverages.

Taiwanese tea, for one, has an established global reputation. The “Dongding” (凍頂) oolong tea and the Oriental Beauty are among the favorite varieties. Also well-known is pearl milk tea, which brings together chewy tapioca spheres with all the fragrant aromas of Taiwanese tea to deliver superb taste and texture. As for desserts, shaved ice is a must-have when in Taiwan, where subtropical temperatures and extended summers have given rise to an innovative array of tempting ice desserts. Lastly, one must not leave Taiwan without acquiring a few local specialties as a perfect ending to the trip.

In Chinese culture, a gift is a sincere expression of fondness and affection for a fellow being. When returning to their hometowns or visiting friends and family, the Taiwanese always bear small gifts for the host. The gift may be simple, but it carries great sentimental value that will touch people’s hearts. Taiwan values such etiquette, so it is no wonder the place offers a plethora of gift choices, the most popular of which include pineapple cake, jerky, mullet roe, tea leaves and liquor. These local specialties are a must-buy for visitors before departing Taiwan.

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