OOOOH!!! What to discuss in terms of food? Well I can tell you one thing, of all the things I could miss out on since coming to Taiwan. The one thing that I have definitely will not have missed out on since coming here is experiencing the local eats. Since coming to Taiwan, I like many other exchange students have learned a simple fact and that is that the culture around food is simple, you never cook, you eat out at the markets for every meal every day. Doing so will cost you less than if you decided to cook for yourself, plus it will most likely taste better, unless of course you consider yourself the next Gordan Ramsey. So, my meal plan here is very straight forward I set myself a daily budget of food which is around $250NTD which is roughly £6.50, this on many occasions has actually been too much, seeing as I can buy a full plate of food made up of meat, rice, egg, vegetables and noodles all for just $55NTD roughly £1.50.
If I could describe the food in one world I would say ‘delicious’. However, there are some caveats, the first is, that if you don’t like peculiar food your diet will be more limited, for instance a favourite of mine since arriving here is BBQ chicken hearts. On top of that, your diet will largely consist around rice and soup with bread being replaced by something the locals call gluten or miàn jīn. I have to say compared to the UK over which country wins in terms of food I have to choose Taiwan for two very simple reasons. The first is I never need to cook, it’s cheaper not to, it tastes better than my cooking, it’s far less time consuming and best part is that I get to try new things all the time. Things that in all honesty I wouldn’t otherwise try.
Now I will run through the delicacies giving my humble opinion on each. So first one up is bubble tea. For the locals it’s a fan favourite if there’s always a place with long lines it’s the bubble tea shops. However, amongst us exchange students its, well its novel I guess? Its not so much bad, but the problem is none of us really love it; that’s not to say it’s bad mind you it’s just ‘meh’, bubble tea if you didn’t know is milk tea with tapioca balls mixed in. This combination doesn’t sound bad in fact many locals have described it to me as a match made in heaven. It could be a match made in heaven until you realise that the tapioca balls mean that you need to drink the thing out of a straw the size of a snorkel and for the effort of sucking them up there is very little pay off. Like seriously what is bubble tea is it a drink or a snack because they put a lot of those tapioca balls in it so you spend like half your time chewing them. Also, they shoot up the straw so if you’re like me when I first tried the thing you end up gagging when a little squishy ball hits you in the back of the throat because you sucked too hard.
Next, stinky tofu, what can I say about stinky tofu, well this one is pretty complicated and hard to understand, so buckle up. Stinky Tofu right, tastes like regular tofu, it has the same texture as regular tofu, I think everything about stinky tofu is indistinguishable from regular tofu, I’m even pretty sure they have the same calorie count as each other. However, the key and most important difference is that stinky tofu stinks, like really bad; and it will make your breath stink too. So, here’s what I recommend try it once just to say that you have tried it and then never eat it again and just stick to regular tofu, they cost exactly the same as well.
Next, pineapple bread, I actually went to class with some friends and we learned how to make this one. What can I say its basically soft shortbread with pineapple candy in the middle, it is actually really very nice.
Pepper bread, now apparently this is ‘originally from Taiwan’, like apparently they made it up. However, upon further inspection of pepper bread you’llnotice some interesting similarities between it and something us Brits will be familiar with. Pepper bread is basically like a smaller more meat focused version of a Cornish pasty, I’m not kidding they taste almost exactly the same and kind of look the same. In fact, if I didn’t know any better I’d say we’d pulled what our country is famous for and stole the idea.
Next up is dumplings, Xiaolongbao, Ba wan, Pan-fried buns, all of which for those of you reading are all basically the same thing. They are all equally delicious, they are by far the thing I shall be missing most when it comes to food when I am forced to leave Taiwan. These little circles of utter delight are by far my favourite thing, if I could give any place a higher recommendation it would be to go to a famous restaurant called ‘Din Tai Fung Dumpling House’, a place which I have spent probably far too much money and time at.
Next up is ‘Hot Pot’, so, what do you need to know about this family favourite, well here in Taiwan the locals love their hot pot, it’s the single most common dish you’ll see being served in night markets, each local has their own best version of it, including such examples of replacing the boiling water with milk or pigs blood. Hot Pot is quite simple, it’s a bunch of vegetables, meat, noodles and spices all thrown in these very deep thin colliders which are then put into a giant pot of boiling water, where all the ingredients are boiled and then its served in a little bowl with some of the liquid it was boiled in. Or if you are being fancy you can go to a sit-down restaurant where you get your own boiling pot from which you eat and you cook the ingredients you fancy. The problem with judging this one and giving a review is that the taste of hot pot varies wildly shifting from wonderful to awful, as there are so many vendors and so many different combinations. I honestly just recommend trying a bunch of weird combinations of spices, meat and vegetables at the different vendors until you find one you like. Or if you are lazy like me, just ask your local friends for the best vendors and find out which combinations work the best.
Finally, the drinks, in Taiwan there is a much bigger culture based around soft drinks, such as fruit juices, coffees and teas (like the aforementioned bubble tea). However, a word to the wise please do not confuse this drinking culture by thinking there is a big custom around alcohol, there is in fact almost no drinking culture whatsoever. In fact, many of our local friends (some of which are aged 24 and up) have had their first alcoholic beverage when they came out with us westerners. Anyway, back to the main topic, it is not uncommon to see locals carrying around a wide spectrum of peculiar looking drinks. This is because a wide variety of fruits in this part of the world are far cheaper than they are in the west they are also much fresher and sweeter. When it comes to discussing fruit drinks I feel even less prepared to answer that question than the Hot Pot, ultimately if you like fruit or you like fruit juice you are in the right part of the world.
I think that’s where I’ll leave it for now. Although there are far more dishes that I want to discuss like beef noodle soup (pretty self explanatory but still delicious) or many of the vegetarian specific meals. I think one of the best parts of moving abroad for me was trying all these new dishes for myself, experimenting and trying new things. Ultimately part of the fun when moving abroad is experiencing all these things for yourself. Also I’ve waffled on for long enough now.