Taiwan is home to a great variety of rolling landscapes, beautiful vistas, and eye-catching skylines, but few things are quite as enticing as the alluring aroma that rolls through the streets once the night markets open. From Taipei to Kenting, you’d be hard pressed to find a city across the island that doesn’t adore late night food excursions.
There’s no telling what you’ll find when going for a night-time stroll through these illuminated markets, whether it be dishes of legendary status that are adored by the locals, or unique family recipes that you won’t find anywhere else. The variety of food on display is a testament to the rich history that permeates Taiwan’s culture with a diverse array of culinary diversity being present in their meals, from Aboriginals to Southeast Asians, you’d be hard pressed to find more colourful menus than what this republic has to offer.
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Xiao Long Bao is a great example of the marriage between traditional and unique that can be found all throughout Taiwanese cuisine. Like with most dumplings you may be familiar with, the whole affair is neatly contained within a pillowy soft white bun that’s gentle to the touch and incredibly easy to bite through, but where Soup Dumplings stand out are their fillings
The steamed buns house a delightful mixture of a hearty soup and some sort of meat filling, often pork. This combo makes these dumplings a potent flavour bomb and one that has to be eaten with some care as to avoid spilling. You can either bite into them and attempt to drink out the filling or take the whole thing in one go, of course if you’re attempting the latter, you have to be wary of the temperature so as to not get burned.
You can find these in a number of restaurants and most night markets in the major cities of Taipei such as Shilin night market, they’re not rare by any means but are absolutely worth a try if you find yourself in the area.
Peanut ice cream roll
From savoury to sweet, this flavourful treat is the perfect follow-up to your Soup Dumplings. These ice cream rolls, also known as ice cream burritos, feature a combination of Taiwanese ice cream of a variety of flavours depending on where in Taiwan you wish to try the dish. This cream is then topped with shavings from a large chunk of peanut brittle, these often being the biggest giveaway to the location of a vendor that deals in the sweet treat, and finally are topped with a sprinkle of Cilantro.
Rest assured, despite how strange the makeup of this dish may sound, particularly with the final ingredient, it has staked its claim as a mainstay of the Taiwan night market circuit and is definitely not one to skip out of fear of strange flavour combinations. The dish itself has roots in the country of Yilan, but its massive success caused it to trickle all the way down the island. There have been many variations on the recipe, but this original has been the basis for all that came after it. If you’re looking for something different, definitely give this spring roll lookalike a shot.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, fried chicken is quite good. The people of Taiwan seem to very much agree with this sentiment! There are all kinds of variations on the traditional fried chicken recipe that can be found across night markets, but sometimes simplicity is the best option. Enter the chicken cutlet, a butterflied breast that has been simply seasoned with powdered pepper and salt before being deep fried. This gives it a uniquely crispy texture that’s best eaten hot, making it perfect for the on-the-go nature of the markets. The recipe is frequently spun out into bite-sized popcorn chicken chunks that occasionally also have garlic and basil added to the season mix. However you have it, it’s a traditional treat that always goes down well.
The Tie Dan, or Iron Eggs, most likely get their name from their appearance, but I like to believe it’s from the meticulous process required to give them their particular flavour. They are eggs that have been repeatedly, around 11 times per batch, stewed in spices before being air dried in order to adopt a rubbery texture and eye-catching dark colour.
While the process of creating them sounds tedious, they yield an extremely unique treat that are somewhat similar to Century Eggs, but a lot more palatable to people that haven’t tried either before. They are said to have been a creation of a restaurant owner from a seaside town that had to repeatedly stew her eggs to keep them warm on a slow day before they transformed!
Nothing betrays the senses quite like a portion of Stinky Tofu. As the title may give away, this dish is notorious for its intense stench, but also for its amazing taste despite this! Consisting mainly of deep fried tofu cubes served with a pickled cabbage or simply hunks of tofu stewed in a spicy broth, both methods wield both an off-putting aroma and delectable flavour.
The fried variant is definitely the more popular choice however, with it appearing in markets in many forms. From being layered in a small dish to being served up in sticks in a manner reminiscent of halloumi fries, whatever you pick you will be pleasantly surprised.
What really makes this dish is the variety of sauces that vendors will offer alongside it. From spicy sriracha to mellow honey mustard, there’s a lot of ways to have your Stinky Tofu. The dish itself has garnered so much recognition that even Michelin have recognised some of the restaurants and vendors that specialise in the dish.