Taiwan

Taipei Small Eats!

If you are planning a trip to Taipei, be prepared to walk. Like, a lot. And oh, be prepared to have a lot of small eats (小吃). Like, A LOT.

Walking down the streets of Taipei
Walking down the streets of Taipei, ready for the next meal!

So yup, the good news is, the walking will offset the 8 meals a day. But the bad news is, you will be exhausted by the end of it!

So what did we get into our tummies during our 4 days in Taipei? Let’s find out!

Beef Noodles

Beef noodles is like the national dish of Taiwan, just like Chilli Crabs is for Singapore. So for our first meal in Taipei, we set off to find a beef noodles stall near our accommodation. This stall apparently won 3rd place in some beef noodles competition. Seems promising?

Our 1st bowl of beef noodles!
Our 1st bowl of beef noodles!

Well, the soup was a little too oily for my liking and we found the beef a little tough. The broth was nice and the noodles well-made but it would be nicer if the beef was a little more tender!

My parents couldn’t resist ordering this side dish together with the beef noodles – Stewed Pig Ears! Apparently they used to eat this when they were young. But I don’t remember seeing this sold at Singapore hawker stalls??

Pig Ears anyone? ^^
Pig Ears anyone? ^^

I’ve never had this before so I ate it with much apprehension. But it turned out really tender and moreish! I found myself picking at it and because it was sliced so thinly, the fats seem deceivingly light. But yup, I had to control myself, knowing the cholesterol count on that plate!

So our 1st beef noodles encounter in Taipei was a little disappointing. But we managed to leave Taipei on a good note with the beef noodles, as we found this stall on our last day!

Some beef noodles stall near Ximending district
Taoyuan Street Beef Noodles

This restaurant had a star on the tourist map which meant that it was recommended. As we had just walked around Ximending and were too tired to travel somewhere else for lunch, we decided to give it a go.

Best beef noodles!
Best beef noodles!

Boy were we glad we settled on this place! The texture of the noodles were just right and the broth was really special – beefy with a slight herbal taste and with a kick of spiciness. The beef was also tender – yum! Between you and me, I thought that this was better than the 1 we had at Din Tai Fung (more on that later). Sshhh..

Oyster Vermicelli 

Our n-th bowl of oyster mee sua... slurp!
Our n-th bowl of oyster mee sua… slurp!

This one we had while coming across a small night market. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of this night market 😦 If I do remember, I’ll update it here!

But this was the best bowl of oyster mee sua that we’ve had. I liked this better than the 1 we had at Ziqiang Night Market. It had a generous amount of oysters and chilli was really unique with a nice garlicky kick to it. We told the stall owner that we really liked his mee sua and he said he has alot of Singaporean customers. I find it quite surprising for such a small night market stall to have a strong following!

Din Tai Fung 

Din Tai Fung at Taipei 101
Din Tai Fung at Taipei 101

I guess no trip to Taiwan would be complete without visiting this famous Taiwanese chain. I was actually feeling more obligated than excited about going to Din Tai Fung as I was quite sure it would not taste very much different from the other chain restaurants I’ve been to in Singapore and Sydney….

The queue for this restaurant was insane – we were given a queue number and were told that we had to wait 30min for a table. While waiting, my parents went into a frenzy of buying pineapple tarts, beef jerky and other snacks to bring back. But as time went on, my brother got reallyyyy grumpy and the waiting time that was screened at the front of the restaurant scarily increased to 45min and more.

But finally, our turn came! And yes, it was really 30minutes, as we were told.

Chefs busy in the kitchen... notice the pictures of Tom Cruise at the bottom?
Chefs busy in the kitchen… noticed the pictures of Tom Cruise at the bottom?

First up, we had the famous xiaolongbao (小笼包) of Din Tai Fung

'Little Dragon Balls'!
‘Little Dragon Balls’!

In the past 30minutes, I had been envisioning xiaolongbaos with a wonderful dumpling skin that were delicate yet strong enough to hold the dumpling soup. So I put it to the test…

How strong is the dumpling skin?
How strong is the dumpling skin?

Well, as you can see, while this 1 passed the test, you can see for the rest of the dumplings in the background, the soup was already seeping out 😦 So they were inconsistently made, which I guess was due to the volume of customers. But for such a highly acclaimed restaurant, this was a bit of a disappointment.

But surprisingly, the other dumpling dishes were much better!

Steamed Pork & Shrimp dumplings
Steamed Pork & Shrimp dumplings
Spicy Shrimp & Pork wontons
Spicy Shrimp & Pork wontons

Unlike the xiaolongbaos, these pork & shrimp dumplings were juicy and went really well with the dumpling skin that was not as dry. I also love the chilli oil in the wontons that came with a small amount of broth – yum!

We also had some mains…

Steamed Chicken Noodle Soup
Steamed Chicken Noodle Soup
Braised Beef Noodle Soup
Braised Beef Noodle Soup

While the Steamed Chicken Noodle Soup may look bland at first sight, the soup was actually pleasant to drink. The Braised Beef Noodles also had the right balance of spices and was not that oily (but this was trumped as soon as I had the 1 at Taoyuan!). And of course, the noodles. The texture of the noodles was definitely of high-quality and the noodles were the highlight for both dishes.

We also decided to try the Pork Chop with Fried Rice

A mountain of pork chops! Where's the rice??
A mountain of pork chops! Where’s the rice??
Ah, there's the rice!
Ah, there’s the rice!

I thought this was just okay – not as outstanding as the noodles. I felt that the pork chop could be a little crispier!

So overall, despite the disappointment of the xiaolongbaos, I would say it should still be a must-go for anyone visiting Taipei, as the quality of food is good. It would also be a nice change to experience dining in a Taiwanese restaurant, after all the small eats that you would have consumed at the food stalls and night markets.

So yes, what’s visiting Taipei without going to its night markets? In particular, the most famous one…

Shilin Night Market 

Yea I guess you would need a massage after fighting the crowds at Shilin!
Yea I guess you would need a massage after fighting the crowds at Shilin!

When we first reach the market, one word just kept popping out of my mouth – ‘crazy’. Everything was crazy, crazily busy. It was bursting with people and shops (even stalls in the middle of the streets!). There was so much energy in it and the streets didn’t seem to end with so many stalls lining back to back. And the food smells that overwhelmed the market – wow!

As if the stalls on the streets weren't enough, there is an underground foodcourt with MORE stalls!
As if the stalls on the streets weren’t enough, there is an underground foodcourt with MORE stalls!

And yup, we kinda joined in the crowd and went crazy with this market… we went back not once, but twice during our time there. One reason was because this market was really near our accommodation and another reason was, there’s just too many food options here!!

Deep Fried Chicken Cutlet 

Can't go past the chicken cutlet!
Can’t go past the chicken cutlet!

So my brother has been talking about this chicken cutlet since touching down in Taiwan. I was not familiar with Taiwanese cuisine so he told me that it’s this chicken cutlet that has been flattened and then deep fried with a crispy batter, and sprinkled with a special seasoning. When we got to Shilin on our 1st night, he was searching for a famous stall for the chicken cutlet but in the crowds, we could not find it and could only settle on that stall as pictured above. It was my first time trying it and I thought it was pretty yummy – there’s something about salty deep fried boneless chicken… yum!

BUT my brother could not shake off finding this particular stall so off we went looking for it in Shilin on our 2nd night…

It's not just big (大) but VERY big big (豪大大)!
It’s not just big (大) but VERY big big (豪大大)!

Yes folks, the one & only Hot Star Chicken Cutlet (豪大大鸡排) stall… I literally had to stand above the crowds (on an elevated step) to take this picture because the queue was insane. If the queues for the other food stalls in Shilin were crazy, this 1 was on a whole new level. The queue was actually snaking and chicken cutlets were just flying out to feed the crowds. While waiting in line, my brother was working out the maths and he is quite convinced that the stall holders are millionaires. Hurhur.

A fraction of the chicken cutlets sold in 1 night!
A fraction of the chicken cutlets sold in 1 night!

So apparently there are franchise outlets overseas now – I even spotted one in Melbourne! But how good is the original one?

Yesss we finally got 1!
Yesss we finally got 1!

And this is what I really thought of it…

It's really very big big!
It’s really very big big!

Haha no, I was just shocked at the size of it – it was as big as my face! But yes on first bite, you could tell there is difference between Hot Star and the other stalls – the seasoning was yummier and it was crisped to perfection. Since returning to Melbourne, I’ve had some fried chicken cutlets at the Taiwanese cafes but it just wasn’t the same – will probably blog about it soon!

And the other small eats that we had…

Sweet Beancurd with glutinous rice balls.. yum!
Sweet Beancurd with sweet potato rice balls hidden underneath.. yum!
Coffin bread!! But it wasn't as good as the 1 at Ziqiang Night Market
Coffin bread!! But it wasn’t as good as the 1 at Ziqiang Night Market
Mango Snow Ice.. which actually wasn't very nice :( Think we went to the wrong dessert stall
Mango Snow Ice.. which actually wasn’t very nice 😦 Think we went to the wrong dessert stall

And last but not the least, Pepper Pork Buns!

Found this stall at the back of Shilin, in a slightly less crowded area!
Found this stall at the back of Shilin, in a less crowded area

I also had no idea this was a famous Taiwanese snack and we just stumbled upon this and we found this stall very unique. Why?…

Old-school baking!
Old-school baking!

…Because of the way they baked the buns! Wow I don’t even know what these are called – charcoal furnaces?

So we couldn’t resist ordering 1 to try, even though we were bursting at this stage.

A lovely warm bun!
A lovely warm bun!

The bun was still warm on the hand and it smelt good! And then we took our first bites…

Porky goodness inside!
Porky goodness inside!

As you can see from the above pic, the bun had some green onion in it as well and it went well with the peppery pork. The pastry of the bun was also so good – crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. Wow that is really some serious technique into 1 little bun!

So if you are ever in Shilin, you may want to check out this stall for their Pork Pepper Buns!

Try looking for this stall in Shilin, if you can recognise the characters!
Try looking for this stall in Shilin, if you can recognise the characters!

So yup, that was our Taipei eating adventure in a nutshell. Phew was that exhausting for you to get here? Well, we were certainly tired out by the time we were finished with our Taipei tour!

And I’m pretty sure we only scratched the surface of the foodie world of Taiwan while we were there. So if you ever drop by Taiwan, be sure to pack a large appetite for all of their small eats! And get ready to walk it all off after!

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