Between visits from Michelin chefs and several trips to places near and far around Taiwan, It’s been a busy couple of months here at Taiwan Scene. But we’ve found some time to answer a few questions on Quora, on subjects ranging from food, booze & beer to travel, language and history.
Our first Quora Question was on the subject of booze…
Q1. What are some of the best rooftop bars in Taipei?
Funny you should ask that question, as August was booze month here at MyTaiwanTour / Taiwan Scene. We published a bunch of articles about beer, bars & spirits and libations in general.
Pertinent to your question, check out A Tale of Cocktails: Five of Taipei’s Freshest Bars.
In a similar vein, have a look at Bar Surfing Taipei Cocktail Festival Unveils the Uniqueness of Taiwan’s Cocktail Scene.
As for our own favorite spot, well, it isn’t technically a rooftop bar, but 45酒吧 (just east of the Guting MRT station at 106台北市大安區和平東路一段45號 / Heping road section 1, #45) serves good, inexpensive drinks, and is located above a traditional Chinese medicine shop, which in some ways makes it kind of the apothecary’s roof (-top bar 😉 ).
We hope this helps!
Our second question was in a similar vein…
Q2.What type of beer is the most famous in Taiwan?
OK, well obviously Taiwan Beer is the most famous beer in Taiwan, because…you know, it’s Taiwan Beer. And for a long time, it was more or less the only beer you could get in Taiwan, thanks to the stringent regulations of the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau, which, as the name implies, had a monopoly on Taiwan’s beer scene.
But this all changed in 2002, with Taiwan’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). In July of that year, the Monopoly Bureau passed into history, replaced by the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation, a publicly owned company legally obligated to compete in the marketplace. Shortly thereafter, Taiwan’s Taiwan’s craft beer scene was born.
These days, Taiwan has become a haven for beer lovers, and a brief glance in the cooler of even a moderately stocked convenience store will reveal at least a dozen imported brands vying for shelf space with a few locally made craft beers. Of course, any store that sells beer still has a few shelves reserved for the still quite-popular Taiwan Beer, which now offers a few varieties.
If you want a reasonably good lowdown of Taiwan’s craft beer stand (as of summer, 2018), we put up two articles on the subject at Taiwan Scene in August. Taiwan’s Craft Beer Scene (Part One) covers the breweries in Taipei, and Taiwan’s Craft Beer Scene (Part Two) delves into the breweries outside of the capital.
Finally, this one…well, this was mostly for fun. (Should have come by…beer’s all gone now): Beer Tasting Night at Taiwan Scene.
Our third Quora question concerned language…
Q3.Can I get around in Taiwan only knowing English and Mandarin? Do I need to know any Hokkien? What language are the signs in over there?
OK, some good questions. Let’s deal with them one at a time.
Can you get around Taiwan with only English and Mandarin? I’d say anywhere between “absolutely” and “pretty much”, depending on where your travels happen to take you.
In Taipei (and pretty much any city), almost everyone can speak Mandarin. Whether they speak Mandarin or Hokkien (or Hakka, for that matter) in their daily communication is a matter of personal preference, but as a foreign person chatting in Mandarin, you’ll have no problem communicating. We’d say that less than 10% of Taiwanese people can only communicate in Hokkien (or Taiwanese, as it’s called here). You’re most likely to run into Taiwanese folks unable to communicate in Mandarin outside of major cities and in the 65+ age group.
Which brings us to the second question, Do I need to know any Hokkien (Taiwanese)?
You don’t need to, but if you can – even a few short phrases – you will find yourself treated really well in certain circles. Getting the right sound and tones is pretty crucial, so typing them here doesn’t quite do them justice, but if you can start a conversation with Chya Meng (excuse me, but only in the “I’m about to ask you a question” way, not the “Excuse me for bumping into you” sense…that’s Pi Se) or saying Pi Se (sorry) if you bump into someone will mark you as a friend of Taiwan, at least in some circles.
As for written language, well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. We recently published an article called Driving in Taiwan: What Every Visitor Needs to Know: Regarding road signs, we wrote:
Most (but not all) road signs and street signs have both English and Chinese. However, English spellings of towns, streets and even cities are amusingly inconsistent from place to place. (Hsinchu and Shinju, Taitung and Taidong, Zhongshan Road and Chung Shan Road…the list is endless.)
There are a number of reasons for this inconsistency, but pertinent to your question, in some spots they prefer using the spelling that better replicates the Taiwanese as opposed to the Mandarin pronunciation of the place name. But that’s a better subject for a Masters Thesis than a Quora Answer.
Hope this helps!
Our fourth question was interesting indeed! (We had to consult the history books for this one!)
Q4.Has A Chinese Emperor ever visited Taiwan?
An interesting question, deserving of an interesting answer!
Technically speaking, no…But you can visit the temple in southern Taiwan originally built to house (temporarily) a member of the Ming dynasty royal bloodline brought to Taiwan by Koxinga until such a time as (at least as far as Koxinga saw it) the Qing interlopers could be driven out and the Glorious Ming dynasty restored.
Tainan’s Guan Gong Temple was originally constructed as a temporary abode for Zhu Shugui (朱術桂), a member of the Ming Royal household who escaped China following the fall of the Ming Dynasty. To Koxinga, a fanatical Ming loyalist, keeping a member of the royal bloodline alive and safe was paramount to his plan of Restoring the Ming Dynasty in China. Alas, this did not happen, and Zhu Shugui committed suicide when forces of the Manchu-led Qing Empire conquered the pro-Ming “Kingdom of Tungning” in Taiwan, ending forever any dreams of Ming restoration.
His residence in Tainan would eventually be expanded and turned into the Guan Gong Temple, which stands to this day. If you have the chance to visit Tainan you can see it in all it’s ancient glory (and perhaps catch a glimpse of the prince’s ghost wandering the halls).
If you can’t spare the time, well, check out the first of Two Taiwan Temple Audio Tours Taiwan Scene editor-in-chief recorded for the Tainan City Government. You can hear them here.
Thanks for the thought-provoking question!
Our fifth question was also pretty interesting. We had to ask around a bit to get an answer for this one…
Q5.What do Taiwanese think of Singaporeans?
Obviously, we can’t speak for all Taiwanese people, but from what we know Taiwanese people tend to like Singaporeans for a few reasons. Many Singaporeans have spent time in Taiwan, not just as tourists but also doing training exercises as part of their military service. (Singapore is a small place. so if you want to train your troops for maneuvers in more jungle setting, Taiwan is a good place for that.)
We’ve heard a number of tales from Singaporeans who’ve spoken fondly of various experiences from their military training days in Taiwan. A common thread in these stories usually involves being on maneuver in some out of the way place and coming across Taiwanese farmers who invite them in for a meal before sending them off with gifts and travel advice.
The majority of Singaporeans speak Mandarin and Hokkien, meaning communication isn’t a problem in Taiwan. Depending on who you speak to in Taiwan, being addressed in Hokkien creates an extra level of camaraderie than even Mandarin. Singaporeans also tend to be polite, which is always appreciated.
Finally, we think it’s safe to say that most Taiwanese respect Singaporeans for having the same level of respect for their culinary culture as Taiwan has for its own. Any serious foodie coming to Asia needs to visit both Taipei and Singapore, where they’ll find absolutely no shortage of folks from the one city praising the culinary prowess of the other.
Just don’t ask us to say which place has the best food in Asia – in addition to being complicated and subjective, that’s the sort of question that might start an argument between even the best of friends from Singapore and Taiwan!
Our sixth question (concerning food in Taipei) was way easier to answer…
Q6. What are some non-touristy areas to visit near Taipei for a foodie day trip?
Obviously, Taiwan is known for night markets, and our fancier culinary scene has been getting more press lately thanks to the new Michelin guide pointing out both our Michelin starred restaurants and various night market stalls awarded with the coveted “Bib Gourmand” distinction” for smaller, more budget-friendly spots still serving amazing food.
Night markets tend to attract tourists, but there are definitely some that are far less visited by tourists than others. One, in particular, is the Jingmei Night Market, conveniently located next to the Jingmei MRT station. We wrote about it in this article, giving it the distinction Best Night Market to catch a local vibe. Read more: Seven Taiwan Night Markets Everyone Needs to Visit
As far as restaurants go, nearly every restaurant you’ll find on this list we put out a couple of months back – Eight Great Taipei Hole-in-the-wall eateries – are pretty much unknown to casual tourists, except for maybe He Xiang Delicious (since it was written up in Lonely Planet and featured on one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows).
Finally, for general advice, I’d suggest just wandering around with your eyes and nostrils open. Get a Metro card and either rent a Youbike or just take the MRT to a few random stops that seem busy. Avoid the more well-known tourist/food spots like Yongkang street (great for food, but definitely not non-touristy), Raohe / Ningxia / Shilin (ditto!) and just wander around alleys. If you see a bunch of local lining up in front of a restaurant, join ‘em.
Let us know how it goes!
And question number seven…well, that was the easiest one to answer of all!
Q7.How can I find a tour guide in Taiwan?
Check out MyTaiwanTour’s Custom and private tour in Taiwan MyTaiwanTour does everything from half and full day tours around Taipei to multi-day tours in every part of Taiwan (including the outer islands). If you’re looking to customize your own tour, we do customized tours to pretty much everywhere in Taiwan accessible by road, boat or air.
Thanks for all the questions, Quorans. And feel free to keep ’em coming through our Quora Page.