For a long time I've wanted to return to a Taiwanese topic, but I haven't really had the right gut feeling to do it and can't remember all of those topics that I was supposed to cover as soon I got time for it.
So today I'd like to delve a bit into food. I ate lots of food in both meanings, took many good pictures of it and wrote a large share of my articles on it.
Taiwanese food is good. The food-culture there is probably better than most other places you can find in the world: It's very varied. It's generally cheap. Some of the really expensive stuff in Taiwan is just about as costy as cheap food in western countries, yet even the cheapest food you can get in Taiwan is for the most part of very decent quality. It's always fresh. You'll really have to look far for that vegetarian tofu-store if you aren't to eat something that was alive until just a few hours before. Taiwan food is also just generally very tasty, especially when you get used to it.
A common approach to Taiwanese food for bloggers is to describe the night markets and other places to get your hands on some of the best. In this post I'm just going to focus on a few of my favorite dishes, though.
Oh yeah, and the picture in the top is a bowl of rice and all sorts of goodies from the sea. Can't tell you exactly where I got it as it's a pretty special place. You'll have to drag me to Taipei and let me search around for a while before I can be absolutely certain. I also don't recall it having a name. Really sorry, you'll just have to hope for running into something similar. It contains fish eggs of several kinds, seaweed, a chicken egg, rice and lots of raw fish. The yellowish stuff in the left part of the bowl is sea urchin (thanks Lili) and a bit expensive. It is also used in very fine sushi. They taste really good. Not like any other type of fish-eggs I've eaten before and they're worth the price. At least taste it once if you ever see it.
Here's one that you won't have the slightest trouble with finding in Taiwan: Beef Noodle is a popular and easily made dish. It's cheap too and every shop has it's own style of beef noodles. It's also easy to get used to so if you go to Taiwan or nearby, you'll most likely find yourself having grown an addiction and perhaps even decided on your favorite Beef Noodle place pretty quickly.
This is another dish you'll find around most places. It's called Niupai, which means beef steak. Lots of places that serve this, also serves Jiupai "pork steak" and sometimes even other kinds of "steak". The dish always goes with fried noodles, an egg, vegetables, sauce, usually a hot one with lots of pepper, corn soup, (it's inside that puffy bread-on-top-of-a-cup thingie,) and then some particular drink that I don't know what is. You can get it in just about any department store in Taipei at least. Just head for the food courts and you'll find it for no more than 4 US$.
You'll probably find that many of the dishes I present here are actually Japanese or Japanese inspired. This one is very Japanese. It's ramen served in a Japanese chain store called 佐野拉麵 or I-Ramen. I like Japanese food very much, and so, ramen is a big hit with me. If you're going to stay in Taiwan for a long time, you'll probably grow tired of the Chinese style pretty quickly if you don't vary a bit and Japanese food is very easy to find and widely popular amongst the Taiwanese people too. A bowl like this goes for about 100-200 NT$ (3-6 US$) depending on the store and factors such as how much meat and what kinds of vegetables you want in it.
This bento was bought at the same place as the ramen above. Food boxes are widely popular in Taiwan, especially amongst schoolkids as they are cheap and filling and can often be bought in the school cantine if you go to a school that does not allow students to exit during breaks. This is most likely adopted from Japanese food-culture, but I wouldn't say it's entirely Japanese anymore. This one is bought at a Japanese store and is a bit expensive, but you can often find them in more Taiwanese-ish variant for about 40-80 NT$ (1-2 US$), if you go look for it in non-chain stores.
I'm still in the cheap end here. For me, food in Taiwan is generally so good, the difference between cheap and expensive food is hardly notable until you've really been there for a long time. All around the island you'll find little private-run snack-shops where you can jump in and have yourself a half or a whole meals worth of rice or noodle in combination with some sort of meat, most often chicken. First of all, Taiwanese prepare rice and noodles way better than we typically do in Denmark. They don't just boil it for a while but usually mix a bunch of stuff in it, fry it, etc. before putting it on a plate, making it an entirely different experience. Go out there and eat all the kinds of rice, noodles, soups, tofu and whatever that you can get.
It's also very common for these snack shops to serve a wide variety of food. It's very common for Taiwanese to eat dinners with lots of little dishes on the table. That way, everyone at the table can have their own little bowl with rice and pick a few pieces of every kind of food there. If you're able to go out and eat with someone, you should try and share some slices of liver as shown above amongst a number of other things you pick.
Tofu is really common to. This crunchy plate could be a part of your meal too.
If you're brave, order a few slices ovaries too. If you don't mind them being an organ western people wont usually eat, you'll realise that they actually do taste quite okay.
Let's get back to the food courts again. This is just another simple food that's easy on foreigners. I think it might be Japanese too, but I'm not sure. Just curry rice and fried meat. As a matter of fact, this is not from a food court, it's homemade, but you'll find many dishes very similar to it around. Now, this post is very much about what visitors to Taiwan would most likely run into, so I'll just go on...
Now, I haven't got as many pictures as I would've liked to of the most typical things I've eaten in Taiwan, but this is one that I'm sure every foreigner who goes to Taiwan will get acquainted with. It's called Hot Pot. A very typical Chinese dish with many varieties. A very old one even, that people will often eat for dinner. Some variants are also known as Chinese Fondue and Steamboat. You'll see many restaurants around just selling this one kind of dish.
In most of the restaurants, customers can order one out of a list of broths: Could be Japanese style broth, spicy kimchi broth and a bunch of Chinese stuff I don't remember.
Then you get at some restaurants a plate with all sorts of stuff like those two above and can buy more if you want (though I've never met anyone who weren't full after eating all that.)
At some restaurants, they have a kind of buffet of frozen stuff so that you can pick anything you like. There's some of the stuff that you can put into the broth to spice it up and then eventually eat at the end such as the salad and sweet potato. Meat cooks in about 30 seconds, so don't overdo it.
In Taiwan it's almost always eaten with a small bowl of shacha sauce, chili, garlic and raw egg yolk dipping sauce. It's up to you to mix that, so if you're not going with someone who has tried eating hot pot before, make sure to do like the Taiwanese and mix up a dipping sauce with the stuff you like. After cooking stuff in the broth, you can dip it in that sauce to cool it down and add spice. Plus the egg yolk makes hot food burn less in the mouth/throat if you eat it too quickly.
Here's a variant of oyster omelette. Tell you the truth, shrimp omelette is probably more correct for this particular one.
Here's one with clams. A real oyster omelette. You can't go to Taiwan without tasting this. This is probably my most favorite Taiwanese food. It can be found around China, Singapore and other nearlying countries in many variants too, but there's very big differences usually. Even in Taiwan it's often very easy to distinguish oyster omelette from one night market to the other. Some of them are mediocre or even bad, but find the right place and you'll be hooked in no time to this wonderful invention.
Oh yeah: It's made up of a combination of starch, egg, clams and some sort of sauce.
That was some of the best stuff I was able to dig up for now. I probably forgot some important stuff, but hopefully I will get to that if I somehow suddenly get reminded of that. Until then, take care, and make sure you read the menu thoroughly before ordering.