Xiaoye (midnight snacks 宵夜), Taiwanese unofficial fourth meal of the day, is deserving of a book — if not a book series. In a country that lives to eat before anything else, there is no shortage of things to eat after regular restaurants call last order and the night markets close up shop: Tainanese-style beef noodles, fast-fried seafood dishes, crispy sweet taro balls to name a few.
More than just an after-dark snack, the history of xiaoye runs back centuries. The term supposedly first appeared during the middle ages as a poetic term for “killing” the night by drinking wine (let’s face it, who hasn’t done that?). It took on a new meaning after the 1950s, when Taiwan’s booming manufacturing economy gave rise to a late-night street food culture that thrived on appetites of factory workers who worked long hours and needed places to unwind and refuel after they finished work.
Today, whether you’ve had a late night at the office or are looking for something to chase that fourth bottle of Taiwan Gold Label, you’ll always find yourself in the vicinity of a xiaoye spot. In this article, we’ll take you around some of our favorite Taipei favorites, from Michellin Star-garnered street snacks to fantastic 4 a.m. seafood. (You might also like: Taiwan Knows Food: A Guide to Taipei’s Michelin-Worthy Night Markets)
1. Acai Milkfish 阿財虱目魚
Most late night snackers in Ximending satisfy their cravings at the night market stalls that line busy Wuchang Street. Honestly though? There’s much better grub to be had if you skip the strip and make a beeline for this fantastic seafood spot.
You might walk right past Acai Milkfish without noticing it if not for the line of hungry customers that seems to permanently snake out onto the street, this unassuming joint is a perfect example of why you should never judge a restaurant by its shopfront. The main attraction of course is the milkfish belly soup (魚肚湯), a generous cut of white meat served in a delicious savory broth and seasoned with shreds of soul-warming ginger. You’d be doing the place dirty though if you didn’t also try their take on lurou fan (魯肉飯), minced pork on white rice and a universal Taiwanese favorite that nonetheless stands out here for the fatty flavor of its meaty sauce. (Read also: In Appreciation of Taiwan’s ‘National Dish’—Braised Pork Rice)
|Address No. 53, Neijiang Street, Wanhua District|
Opening hours Mon-Sat 20:00-05:00
2. Liu Mama Cold Noodles 劉媽媽涼麵
Cold noodles (麻醬涼麵)topped with a slathering of savory yet sweetish sesame sauce are a real summer pleaser on any evening when the mercury refuses to drop below 30°C (which let’s face it, is often in Taipei).
Liu Mama’s recipe really hits the mark. A sharp lick of raw garlic balances out the sweetness of her sesame sauce, and generous shreds of cucumber add a satisfying crunch to every third or fourth bite. A large portion of the house noodles is more than enough to satisfy even the most persistent of late night cravings. But if you want to venture further down the menu, try the three-in-one miso soup (三合一湯), a pimped out version of the classic Japanese side dish, embellished with folds of egg and savory pork balls.
Liu Mama is a short walk from Nanjing Sanmin and Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall MRT stations and opens from 9.30 p.m. to 9 a.m., meaning you can hit it up for dinner, breakfast, or anything in between.
|Liu Mama Cold Noodles|
|Address No. 37, Section 5, Civic Boulevard, Songshan District|
Opening hours Daily 21:00-09:30, Tue closes 05:00
3. Dongyin Xiaochi 東引小吃店
Dongyin Xiaochi is the kind of place that you would never find unless you thought to look for it, hidden away as it is down a back alley near Nanjing Sanmin station. However, that’s not to say that you won’t still find it packed at 01:00 on a Wednesday night. Opened by Nationalist army veterans, this no-frills spot sets a gold standard for Taiwanese street eats (xiaochi 小吃).
The house special noodles are an example of everything that is great about xiaochi. The components are simple; basically sauce and noodles. But the execution tells a whole other story. The sesame sauce is creamy and rich from the lick of pork fat used to thicken it, each bite echoing with a smoky garlic finish. It’s a warm hug of a dish that more than justifies peeling yourself out of bed and giving yourself over to those 02:00 Tuesday night cravings. (Read more: Let’s Eat, the Taiwan ‘Way’)
|Address No. 3, Lane 20, Alley 291, Section 5, Nanjing East Road, Songshan District|
Opening hours Daily 11:00-04:00
4. Beef Noodles, Chicken Soup 牛肉麵 · 雞湯
As any self-respecting southerner will remind you, Taiwan’s best beef noodles are to be found in Taiwan. But if you’re in Taipei, the creatively named Beef Noodles and Chicken Soup does a pretty great job of the dish. The restaurant is located right on the edge of bar-busy Dongqu. So it’s no surprise then that it’s often packed past midnight as patrons pour in after last order to soak up an evening’s worth of liquid mistakes.
That being said, you don’t need to be two hours past tipsy to appreciate Beef Chicken’s excellent namesake dishes. The cuts in the beef tendon noodles (紅燒牛筋麵) are gratifyingly tender, served on a hearty ‘berg of thick or thin noodles (your choice). Pair it with a side of the house bean curd (花干) which is braised in the beef’s rich and fatty broth. The chicken soup, meanwhile, is a real winter winner, hacks of dark meat, clams, and goji berries bathing in a bowl of double-boiled beef broth.
|Beef Noodles, Chicken Soup (Dunhua Store)|
|Address No. 164, Section 1, Dunhua South Road|
Opening hours Mon-Sat 18:00-04:00, Sun 17:00-03:00
5. World Soy Bean Magnate 世界豆漿大王
Don’t be fooled by the fact they are often referred to as “breakfast shops,” you can have soy milk and pastries at literally any time of day in Taipei. And in all seriousness, when is there not a right time to scoff down flaky shaobing pastries and crunchy churro-like youtiao? It’s pretty hard to go wrong with these universally popular spots, but for truly great soymilk xiaoye, look no further than World Soy Bean Magnate, in Dingxi, Yonghe District. (Read also: Breakfast in Taipei: Start Your Day Like a Local!)
Operating since 1955, this World Soy Bean is arguably the oldest soymilk spot in Taiwan. Having been established by refugees from the Chinese civil war, the shop’s reputation for having some of the best soy milk in Taipei remains pretty much unchallenged.
Of course, it’s not all about the doujiang. World Soy Bean Magnate also serves a variety of Chinese style breakfast pastries, from sesame crested shaobing, split lengthways and filled with pickled vegetables or fried eggs, to sweet steamed coconut millefeuille (馬來糕). Seriously consider ordering a bowl of the salty soymilk, a thick almost soup-like soy-based dish seasoned with dried shrimp, chopped youtiao churros and, if you like, chilli oil.
|World Soy Bean Magnate|
|Address No. 284, Section 2, Yonghe Road, Yonghe District|
Opening hours 24 hours
6. Liu Taro Balls 劉芋仔
In sweet-toothed Taiwan, dessert fads come and go. Fried taro balls, however, are forever. What’s more, it’s difficult to do much better in the capital than at this stall in Ningxia Night Market whose take on the snack is so popular that the Michelin Guide awarded it a Bib Gourmand in 2019.
Line up with the masses and watch misty-eyed as the hawkers whip up this timeless Taiwanese treat amidst towering heaps of golden pork floss shavings. Liu Taro Balls does two versions of the snacks, classic mashed taro (NT$25) and a stuffed ball stuffed with pork floss and salted egg (NT$30). Expect a balanced bite that is crispy outside and fluffy within. Eat immediately. (Read more: Seven Taiwan Night Markets Everyone Needs to Visit)
|Liu Taro Balls 劉芋仔|
|Address Stall near No. 34, Ningxia Road, Datong District|
Opening hours Daily, 17:30-00:00
7. Shan Wei Douhua 杉味豆花
Douhua (豆花), a silken tofu pudding originally eaten around Chiayi City, is in many ways Taiwan’s nationwide go-to xiaoye dessert. You won’t have to look far to find a mom n’ pop shop hawking bowls of the stuff well past 10pm. But in Taipei, Shan wei stands out for it’s old-school Japanese exterior and wide selection of traditional Taiwanese toppings. In particular, the almond tofu and almond milk dessert (杏仁奶凍湯) deserve your attention, with their sweet, roasted flavor and gratifying portion sizes. On stifling summer evenings, the shop is also an ideal spot to cool off with mountains of classic style shaved ice, drizzled with syrup and topped with your choice of sweet mung beans, tapioca pearls, or other classics. (Read also: Taiwanese “Teatime” — Take a Break with the Island’s Sweets and Treats)
|Shan Wei Douhua|
|Address No. 172, Minsheng West Road, Datong District|
Opening hours Weekends 12:00-01:30, Weekdays 14:00-01:30