WORDS BY Matthew Swanston
PHOTOS BY Taiwan Scene, CookInn Taiwan, Gao Zanxian, Jiang Youren
Taipei is a city of food, and it’s become one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia for that very reason. Its neighborhoods are filled with more restaurants than you could ever hope to visit in a lifetime, let alone a vacation, churning out tasty dishes at all hours of the day and night. The recent explosion in Taipei’s coffee and craft beer markets underscore a diversifying and increasingly international food scene. But if you want to get to the real heart of Taipei’s best eats, you need to look to tradition. Beyond your standard sitdown restaurant, here are three different ways for you to experience some of the city’s top culinary delights.
Vist Traditional Markets
Night markets are one of Taipei’s most famous attractions. The city changes after dark as vendors line the crowded streets to prepare a huge assortment of sweet and savory dishes. Grills, fryers, and blow torches light up when the sun goes down and stay burning until late. Both locals and visitors congregate in pursuit of their next tasty bite; the smells wafting from these bustling street markets should be enough to entice anyone to pay a visit.
But it’s not only after dark that the food scene thrives – morning and afternoon markets are just as significant as their nighttime counterparts. Produce vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables next to butchers and seafood stalls, while drink, snack, and dessert carts provide fuel for the market’s customers. Taken together, these vendors offer more than just the delicious food they sell; a market visit is an experience that gives you an authentic glimpse of daily life in Taipei.
Make sure to go hungry and pace yourself, as there are countless foods to try. They range from recognized foreigner favorites like pork dumplings, fried chicken, scallion pancakes, and black tea to quintessential Taiwanese dishes like stinky tofu, chicken feet, pig’s blood pudding, and bitter tea. It’s best to go with an open mind and challenge yourself to taste some of the more “adventurous” foods on offer. You might surprise yourself! After all, the best cultural experiences take place outside your comfort zone.
Markets to visit in Taipei:
- Xinfu Market（新富市場）
Address: 70, Sanshui St., Wanhua Dist. Tuesday to Sunday,
Opening Hours: 6:00am – 5:00pm (approx.)
- Dongmen Market（東門市場）
Address: 81, Sec. 2, Xinyi Rd., Zhongzheng Dist. Tuesday to Sunday,
Opening Hours: 7:00am – 2:00pm (approx.)
Take cooking classes
Perhaps the best way to become acquainted with a foreign cuisine is to learn how its most iconic dishes are created. That’s never been easier in Taipei than it is right now. A variety of cooking classes are becoming increasingly accessible to tourists as they expand instruction to multiple languages, offering foreigners the chance to see exactly how local foods are prepared. Don’t miss the opportunity to try your hand at creating your favorite Taiwanese dishes from scratch!
Options for cooking classes in Taipei are just as diverse as the cuisine itself. Class sizes range from large social gatherings to small private sessions. You can find courses that accommodate dietary restrictions (especially for vegetarians and vegans), and have fun add-ons like tours of historical buildings, culinary museums, and traditional markets. Many classes also include tea tastings that teach about Taiwanese tea culture (and may even perform a tea ceremony). Feature foods include breakfast dishes such as egg crepe and congee, beef noodles, xiaolongbao (soup dumplings, 小籠包), handmade buns, aboriginal dishes, and pineapple cakes. Classes provide all of the materials and instruction you need to create the dishes, and some let you take your final product home — if you manage to resist eating it all before then!
Attending a cooking class is highly recommended for travelers, not just because it’s a fun activity that results in a tasty creation. It’s an experience that allows you to see the craftsmanship of local people, whose traditions have been passed down for generations. Learning the background of each dish gives you a whole new appreciation for Taipei’s food culture.
Cooking class in Taipei
3. Go shrimping
There’s no need to venture out to sea to catch and cook your own shrimp dinner in Taipei. Thanks to an offbeat cultural sensation that turns eating into sport, you can conveniently fish for shrimp at numerous indoor facilities within the city limits. These shrimping establishments maintain shallow indoor pools full of the live crustaceans, which you can catch and cook for a small fee. It’s a DIY urban food experience unlike any other!
Here’s how it works. Head to your nearest catch-your-own-shrimp facility (many of them are open 24 hours), and visitors simply pay a fee (usually around NT$300) to rent a fishing rod, bucket of bait, and plastic chair. While the money provides you with all necessary equipment, it does not guarantee any shrimp — you need to work for your meal! Thankfully the staff and other seasoned shrimpers are happily willing to guide newbies on proper technique. After (hopefully) catching enough shrimp for dinner, you can declaw them, wash them, salt them, skewer them on a stick, and grill them right next to the pool. Food always tastes better when you’ve earned it yourself.
Shrimping is a lesser known pastime in tourist circles, making it the perfect activity for an authentic off-script experience. Although the ultimate goal is to catch dinner, locals clearly enjoy the sport of it. There are beer fridges so you can kick back with a cold one while watching your line, and the facilities serve hot stir fry dishes if you’re hungry for more than just shrimp. Overall, it’s a fun alternative way to experience Taipei’s food scene.
Shrimp fishing pools in Taipei
- Quan Jia Le Indoor Shrimping Pool（全佳樂釣蝦場）
Address: 190, Jinzhou St., Zhongshan Dist. Monday to Sunday,
Opening Hours: 5:00pm – 3:00am
- Hao Yun Indoor Shrimping Pool（豪運釣蝦場）
Address: 20, Sec. 4, Muzha Rd., Wenshan Dist. Monday to Sunday,
Opening Hours: 11:00am – 2:00am
This article is reproduced under the permission of TAIPEI. Original content can be found at the website of Taipei Travel Net (www.travel.taipei/en).