Restaurants & Bars 7

Small eats in Northern Taiwan

chibi | Jul 9, 200208:23 PM

Although we were lucky enough to be treated to some spectacular banquets during our recent trip to Taiwan, my favorite culinary experience has and always will be the "xiao chi", or snack food.

In Taipei - we strolled the stretch of Fu Hsing Road near the Ta-an subway stop. There are about 6 or 7 porridge shops, open until late at night. You choose from a dazzling array of small dishes, sometimes as many as 200, to accompany your white porridge with sweet potato. There is a branch of the famous chain Yung Ho, and they also have a soybean milk & you-tiao (fried cruller) section next to the porridge restaurant. If you don't mind the more spartan conditions though, the open air stall at the end of the block has even better shaobing youtiao, and superb dou hua (soft sweetned tofu).
It's mobbed by tourists, but Din Tai Fung on Hsin Yi Road is a fantastic experience. Servers rush around at a breakneck pace, balancing stacks of bamboo steamers and periodically writing down the time on your order slip to make sure they are not running late on your order. The xiao long bao and the tang bao (soup buns) are, as more than one person has said, incomparable.

In Hsinchu - we strolled around Cheng Huang temple, and the permanent collection of food stalls surrounding it. I have always loved the bawan (large potato flour dumplings) and gong wan (meat balls) on top of mifen (rice vermicelli), and there are many stalls to choose from. We also sampled the run bing, sort of a Taiwanese burrito, with pork, cabbage, and bean sprouts sprinkled with peanut powder and sesame seeds wrapped up in a spring roll wrapper. I don't much care for ou-a-jian, a sort of oyster pancake, but everyone was eating them with apparent enjoyment. I did, however, enjoy the si-shen tang, or four gods soup, a light broth filled with grains and pork intestine.

I have only begun to describe the snacks we got to eat in just a few days. There were also noodles, potstickers, boiled dumplings, steamed dumplings, soups,shaved ice, stinky tofu, green onion pancakes, pastries. If you ever go to Taiwan, do try to take a stroll at least once, and just stop in at a food stall for whatever looks delicious.

It can seem expensive (10 USD per person just for tea), but I highly recommend visiting a tea house as a relaxing way to chill out for a few hours. We whiled away rainy afternoons at teahouses in Taipei (the Wistaria Tea House on Hsin Sheng Road is a beautiful, laid-back setting). In Beipu, we tried the lei cha (thunder tea), a traditional Hakka specialty. It's a bit less relaxing, as they bring you a large mortar and pestle along with several dishes of tea, nuts and seeds. You have to grind everything up yourself into a smooth paste, which took us rather a long time. Then they added hot water to make a sort of broth. The result tasted like -- ground up nuts in hot water, but it was a fun way to hang out for a few hours while it was raining outside.

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