When I first went to Taipei in 2011, I was a newbie traveler. I think that trip was my second international travel ever – that’s how noob I was back then. Since then, I’ve “grown” a little bit as a traveler and developed my style of traveling – which, as you know, involved trying lots of local food.
It has always killed me to realize how much food I missed out on the last trip, so when I finally had the chance to go back I made it my mission to make up for it – by going on a 3-day food marathon.
General Travel Tips on visiting Taipei
Taipei is a very safe and tourist-friendly city. I saw it as a very cool combination of Shanghai, Japan, and Singapore. I wouldn’t be concerned if even I were to go by myself, but here are some tips that would make your trip even easier:
- When you first arrive at the airport, buy an EasyCard – this is their transport card that you can use for trains/buses. You can buy the airport train and EasyCard bundle online here and pick it up once you land in Taoyuan Airport (I recommend picking up the bundle with prepaid local SIM card too). Or, you can buy the EasyCard when you get to Taipei for NT$500 (US$16) – NT$100 is for card deposit and NT$400 is to be used for transport. The airport express MRT to Taipei Main Station costs NT$160 but most journey inside Taipei city is only about NT$20-something per ride so this card gets you far. It was enough for me to go around the city for the entire 3-day including the round trip airport journeys.
- Public Transport is top-notch in Taipei. The train system is efficient – you can expect to not wait longer than 5 minutes for a train. The buses, on the other hand, are slower. On average it requires about 15-45 mins waiting time.
- Taxis and Car Sharing – If public transport is not an option for you, Uber is legal in Taipei, super convenient and relatively cheap. The yellow metered taxis are also everywhere.
- As with any other travels, it would also be handy to have an internet connection at all times, so I recommend getting a prepaid local SIM card. You can buy SIM Card Bundle online here (you should get the one with Airport Express and EasyCard), or at the airport and convenience stores throughout Taipei.
- If you don’t speak or read Mandarin, download Google Translate and pre-download the Traditional Chinese pack so you can translate on the go. Locals are VERY nice and helpful but English is not their first language. I found that younger locals can speak English, but it still would help to have translations handy.
- Google Maps works really well in Taiwan, in fact for most of the recommendations below you can just type the English name and you’ll find it on Google Maps. So definitely pre-download a map of Taipei to save data while you’re there!
- You can store your luggage at the Taipei Main Station. If you need to check out of your accommodation and your flight is not til night time, there are plenty of lockers at the station. Each locker can fit a lot too! We fit 2 of our carry-on luggage and 3 backpacks inside. Just make sure you remember which lockers you’ve put your stuff into because the main station is huge and you don’t want to lose your luggage later on.
- Alright, now that we’ve got the practical stuff out of the way – on to the fun stuff: TAIWANESE FOOD! Before you ask, NO I did not try stinky tofu. As much as I try to be adventurous I just can’t bear the smell… let alone try to eat it. So there is that.Here are the 10 Must Eat Food in Taipei:
1. Beef Noodle Soup (Niu Rou Mian 牛肉麵)
I was introduced to Taiwanese cuisine when I moved to Singapore. There is a stall I frequent at Food Republic (a food court in Singapore) called Formosa Delights, which specializes in… well, Taiwanese food. Throughout the years of coming here, I’ve become fond of their beef noodles, especially with “Dao Xiao” style – I’ll elaborate more on what this means later!
So while I was in Taipei, it’s a no-brainer that I had to go look for the authentic version of Taiwanese beef noodles. I went to Yong Kang Beef Noodle as it has been lauded as one of the city’s best beef noodles! This is kinda silly of me, but I decided to go on a Sunday afternoon, shortly before 1 PM, when they were probably at the busiest. Sure enough, when I arrived there was already a line of 30 people ahead of us. It was very intimidating. But thankfully they are very efficient and the line moved fast. We waited only about 10-12 minutes for a table for two.
I ordered the small dark-broth spicy noodles, which is the typical Taiwanese style, for myself while my boyfriend ordered the small clear broth noodles, both of which are actually not very “small”. I think most people would be happy with the small portion especially if you plan to walk around Taipei and eat more after this. You can also get some side of stir-fried vegetable dishes, which you have to order separately from the booth next to the entrance – this will get added to your bill later.
So remember how I said I would elaborate on what dao xiao means? “Dao Xiao” means knife-cut, and this refers to the way the noodles are cooked – by literally hand-shaving a huge block of dough straight into a boiling pot of the broth. It results in uneven cuts of noodles which is chewy and thicker in the middle and thin on the edges. The beef noodles at Formosa Delight in Singapore comes “Dao Xiao” style by default. Love it! PS: You could also order the noodles “Dao Xiao” style at Yong Kang but I totally forgot while I was there!
- I loved both noodles at Yong Kang. The beef chunks are so tender and just falls apart on the first bite. The soup broth is made from tomatoes and dark soy sauce so it tasted slightly sweet, but very savory thanks to the beef chunks. And although they said it’s spicy, honestly it’s not THAT spicy. I personally prefer the dark broth style as the broth is more flavorful. If you want to taste more of the beef chunks then you’d want to try the clear broth version.Thanks to my friend Jasmine Chen for recommending this one!
Where to eat Beef Noodle in Taipei:
- Yong Kang Beef Noodles (永康牛肉麺館)
- Lao Tzang Beef Noodles (川味老張牛肉麵店總店) near Yong Kang
- Lin Dong Fang (林東芳牛肉麵)
2. Scallion and Daikon (Radish) Pancake
One of my fondest memories from my first visit to Taipei in 2011 is getting a freshly fried scallion pancake from a street stall in Ximending. It was one of the modern stalls, so they had a bunch of toppings you could add onto your pancake – I added egg, cheese, and ham with the help of my friend Serena, who speaks Mandarin. The pancake was really delicious, especially during cold winter!
It wasn’t until later that I learned the authentic pancakes are not supposed to have that many toppings, maybe just the option to add eggs. Fast forward to last weekend I was on a bus to Shida night market with my friend Kyle – except I wasn’t sure if we were on the right bus. We had problems communicating with the bus driver and even though I showed him the location on the map, he didn’t confirm whether the bus was going in that direction.
While I was busy racking my brain on how to get out of this situation, with the bus speeding and us holding on to dear life so that we wouldn’t fall, a kind lady behind started talking to us (in perfect English) and asked where we were going. She told us that we are on the correct bus, but since she knew we were visiting, she asked if we would like to get off one stop earlier and come with her to get some scallion pancakes that is popular with the locals – it took me about 0.2 seconds to agree and follow her.
When we got to the place, which I found out from Google Maps is called Wenzhou Street Daikon Pancake, and there was already a long queue forming. The total wait time was about 15-20 minutes, but it was definitely worth every second. Most people in the queue were locals who would buy multiple pancakes to bring home to their family.
While we were waiting in the queue, Anne, the lady who helped us, told me about Daikon pancakes. I’ve never tried this so I decided to get two pancakes – one normal scallion pancake with eggs and one daikon pancake.
The scallion pancake was wonderful – perfectly chewy on the inside but crispy on the outside. The daikon pancake was also very interesting, it was much thicker than the scallion pancake and most of the filling is fresh daikon wrapped in a crispy deep-fried batter, which creates a contrasting texture as you bite into the pancake. I personally prefer the daikon pancake more than the scallion one.
And that’s the story of how I followed a stranger on a bus in Taipei. My friend and I still joke about how easy it would be to kidnap me – just promise me some food and I’ll gladly follow any strangers!
Where to find Scallion and Radish Pancake in Taipei:
- Wenzhou Street Daikon Pancake (温州街蘿蔔絲餅達人)
- Any of the Night Markets in Taipei
3. Authentic Taiwanese Breakfast
The traditional Taiwanese breakfast basically consists of loads of carbs, eggs, and soy milk. Dip your youtiao (dough fritters) into a warm bowl of soy milk, and get yourself a roll or two of the omelet cake.
I went to Yong He Soy Milk King at Da’an MRT which opens past breakfast except on Sundays. First of all, I must thank my friend Yi-Wei for sending me here, as well as telling me exactly what to order. There was no English menu and I would have been pretty lost.
So, I’m paying it forward by telling YOU what to get! Order a portion each of 甜豆浆 (Tian Dou Jian – Sweet Soy Milk)， 蛋饼 (Dan Bing – Omelette Cake)，油条 (You Tiao – Fritters)， 葱油饼 (Cong You Bing – Scallion Pancakes). This should be good to share between two people. If you want, you can also order 小籠包 (Xiao Long Bao – the beloved soup dumpling).
The cashier could speak basic English, but showing the items written in traditional Chinese characters and showing him these on my phone definitely made the ordering process MUCH easier.
Where to eat:
- Yong He Soy Milk King (永和豆漿大王)
- Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿)
- Shin Taipei Dou Jiang (新台北豆漿)
4. Taiwanese Spicy Hot Pot
Hot Pot is a universal meal in Asia – you can find variations of hot pot in China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Hot Pot is usually best enjoyed with a group, where a boiling pot of soup is shared in the middle of the table along with a variety of raw ingredient (meat, vegetable, tofu, dumplings, and seafood). Usually, you choose two types of soup as a group but each individual can choose what they want to put into the pot.
5. Pork Pepper Bun (Hu Jiao Bing 胡椒餅)
Take note, this might just be my favorite item among the entire list of food to eat in Taipei. MUST MUST try. I found the famous Fuzhou Pork Pepper Bun at Raohe Night Market, where the bun is baked en-masse by sticking the dough, filled with peppery minced pork, to the sides of a large cylindrical oven. This process oddly reminds me of the method used to cook Zarb underground barbecue in Jordan.