Taiwanese food isn't complex like French, it's hardly fresh like Japanese, or as spicy as Indian. It doesn't have the simple charm of Korean, the heaviness of Mexican, or the aromas of Italian food.
The strength of Taiwanese food lies in its variety. There is a dazzling amount of choice, and all of it a hop skip and a jump away. It's the combination of near-endless variety and the availability of it in Taiwan that makes up for its other shortcomings in my book.
Back here in Korea, Americans defend their beers by saying they've got thousands of microbreweries and more craft beers than any country in the world. The Brits argue- why do you need a thousand different obscure beers if you've got 5 good ones in every pub? But the truth is, the age-old argument of quality vs. quantity is hardly ever a dichotomy, but a spectrum. Taiwanese food sits closer to the "quantity" pole, but you're making a mistake if you overlook it just for that.
This is a long one, so sit tight and enjoy. First up:
Hall of Fucking Fame
On the outskirts of downtown Zhongxiao Dunhua lies Dan's go-to 24 hour joint. This place is a tight-run operation that serves up all the good stuff at an insanely low price. Even the famous xiaolongbao. Milk tea and such will run you 50 cents. They've got stacks of xiaolongbao ready to be steamed, and dozens of flaky, sweet pastries. Dan's favorite is the radish cake, what an odd fucker.
Most of the hearty items at this joint are burritos of cucumber, egg, braised pork, ham. The English menu is vague and not descriptive, but it's hard to go wrong when everything's cheaper than African AIDS.
I did, on one occasion make a false step, by getting a drink that I thought would have a nice peanut and rice flavor by the Chinese description, but actually turned out to be luke-warm fetus sludge. Dan warned me about it, but in my haste I ignored his wisdom. That shit was not at all refreshing, and it was way too humid a fucking day to have this bullshit pulled on me. Trying to drink this farce of a beverage out of a straw was like trying to suck cum out of a thrice-swollen gonorrhea dick. I toughed through the first half of it, framing it as an “experience”, but by the end I felt like I'd just been Iced.
I could easily eat at this place a dozen times a week. It's the variety that makes it so good. Drown everything in hot sauce, or don't, it'll taste good no matter what. A 24 hour shop shouldn't be too hard to find in Taipei, so get to one and eat your fucking heart out, eat until you feel better about how your boyfriend doesn't really love you anymore, and then order another drink. When you're done, you'll have only spent 3$.
Of Sweet Drinks: Bubble Tea, Purple Drink and Salty Cream In My Mouth
It's easier to get a delicious drink in Taiwan than it is to find a victim of sexual abuse in a Muslim country. They just love their little drinks and bubble teas. There are plenty of these shops and each one has at least 50 different offerings. I was surprised to see that asking if you want 70% ice/sugar or no ice/sugar has become standard, much like, "Would you like fries with that, or Would you like to Super Size it?" Everyone has different tastes but my personal favorite is a Passion Fruit Bubble Tea with Coconut Jelly, no sugar, no ice. In case you're an idiot, the bubbles, literally pearls in Chinese, refer to big tapioca balls. They are there to add chewy texture rather than flavor. To me, Bubbles is a friendly backseat passenger just along for the ride. Anyway, the passion fruit bubble tea doesn't even need sugar to taste good because of the coconut jelly. It's faintly sweet and doesn't taste like coconut, and the seeds are crunchy, which you might not like but it's interesting and if you're annoyed by it,well, basically that means you're a fag. If you like a citrus flavor that's a lot more exotic than lemons and oranges, try the passion fruit.
I'm gonna mention taro as a flavor everyone should try just because a lot of people don't know what the fuck it is and I think most people would like it a lot. Taro is a tuber, a relative of the potatoes and yams. It's purple, and has a sweet, starchy taste. There's nothing weird about it, in fact it's always offered in the US bubble tea places, but white people just don't know about it. If you want something sweet and milky, find yourself a taro bubble milk tea, and if you don't like it, well I'll let you fuck me.
My liquid gluttony didn't stop there. I had tons of other shit like almond juice* (love it), an almond slushie (hated it), cane sugar juice (as lame as it sounds), coconut juice (highly fucking disappointing and why I didn't learn my lesson in the Philippines I don't know), some plum drink from 7/11 that was god awful, and half a dozen different bubble teas.
But probably the most unique thing I tried aside from that fucking peanut smegma from the 24 hour joint was something called LÜ Gai, meaning Green Cream.
This one was from day 1 of the little adventure we had with the two girls I creeped on at the ATM (if I post this before I get to that story, suck my dick I'll explain later). They said this is a very popular drink, and I'd never heard of it before but it must be since they were in line for a while. I hated this shit at first, but then I realized I wasn't drinking it right.
What it is is a thick, semi-sweetened green tea with a hefty layer of salty cream on top. I found that the best way to drink Lu[umlaut] Gai is to submerge your upper lip in the cum-froth and commence sucking once you've reached the green tea under. That way you get a good mix in your mouth.
Don't be a prude, get that salty white cream in your mouth. I'd put this unique drink over many other Taiwanese foods. The girls tell us that the best place to get Lu Gai is the LATEA chain, identifiable by their black, red, and white color scheme, and the logo that says, "LATEA".
Crew Favorite Award
Unanimously decided, the winner was the Teppenayaki we had. Once again, due in no small part to variety. For some stupid low price, we ate grilled pork, beef, chicken, lamb, salmon, and a bucnh of vegetables.
Big smiles on our face after this. I know, it's a Japanese style, and a Japanese word,but nothing about it tasted Japanese to me. I think all the meat was frozen, reinforcing my bewilderment and respect that Taiwanese food can spurn freshness and ingredient quality and still taste delightful. You know, like when you see a hot as fuck fat girl and you're like, "Oh my god, how are you still so hot? You're so fucking hot, please let me eat a tamale out of your ass."
Fucking Overrated Award
Heard about Beef Noodle so many times, did not live up to the hype. Even without comparing it to Vietnamese Pho, the dish is just totally bland. I drowned it in two different spicy sauces, minced garlic, and more than a bit of white vinegar before it tasted acceptable to me. After that it was quite decent, but I expected it to taste better as served.
It's dumb, skip it for some street food.
Din Tai Fung : DTF.
The most famous restaurant in Taiwan with one Michelin star and over a dozen more locations around the world. Like the star implies, this is a classy restaurant with an amazing shitting facility to match. I didn't get to try, but Brett and Jamie were talking about their defecatory experience for like twenty minutes. Brett got in first, so Jamie actually got ushered into the back to some employee throne room.
If you do come here, it's to eat the xiao long bao (literally “little dragon bag”). It's good, but many Taiwanese feel there's better elsewhere, even in other cities. I'm hesitant to call this place a tourist trap because it isn't by any means bad, but they charge a premium for the experience. DTF is just like Apple- their products aren't shitty, but they leverage their brand name and reputation to charge a steep price for their products.
The biggest issue I have with going to DTF to eat xlb is that xiao long bao is not something that any stooges even attempt to make, so it's hard to find truly bad xiao long bao. Eating at DTF is just as touristy as going up the Taipei 101- you do it mostly just to say you did. Don't try to deny this fact- dozens of Asian tourist buses drop their load off right in front of DTF. You should to show up before brunch, otherwise expect a long wait.
Jamie and Brett say: “DO take a girthy shit at DTF, and use the toilet's bidet functions afterwards.”
Another Taiwanese claim to fame. Dan gets cravings for oyster omelettes, I didn't find it to be anything special. It's eggs fried on high heat with oysters and of all things, lettuce, folded in there. It's gelatinous for some reason. The three of us couldn't figure out why or how. Get it to go and you'll find it swimming in a pink-orange sauce with a very light flavor. It was okay, I'd probably eat it a lot if I lived there because it's all protein, but you don't wanna hear about my faggoty low-carb lifestyle, lets move on.
Take your pick, the selection is beyond vast. Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines put together couldn't bring you the choices that you have the Taiwan.
There are many night markets, and they don't sell the same stuff, but you can get hundreds of delicious nuggets anywhere. Deep fried milk was good, and I really liked the chicken ass. Dan got chicken hearts and a spiced calamari. I saw a Thai making milk and honey crepes, Brett and I went cunnilingus on that guy. The night markets are where it's at, but you can get street food during the day, too. Elsewhere, like outside the clubs, there'll be sausage vendors, but I'm saving that for a whole 'nother story.
Many restaurants in Taiwan are open air, with no seating or just some bullshit stools, blurring the line between street food and sit-down, so this category isn't as meaningful as it is would be in Korea or Thailand.
The pair of
cunts ladies that I alluded to earlier also brought us these fried, hollow balls. They couldn't explain what it was but the literal translation is Earth Melon Balls, and Earth Melon Powder/Flour is used to make some other things as well. It's a popular, chewy little snack that tastes alright, but nothing special. It might be sweet potato.
I'm Forced to Mention 7/11
Dan really loves the food at 7/11. That's all the space I will devote to this.
I Should Have Known Better
I read about Tian Bu La on that 40 Taiwanese foods we couldn't live without post. When the girls took us to go eat it I was pretty excited. Tian bu la translates, at least phonetically, to "Sweet Not Spicy". I still had no idea what the fuck it was, not even when it was right in front of me, and I wasn't sure while I was eating it either. Top- Tianbula. The thing to the right is made from that Earth Melon powder.
After further investigation,I've figured it out. Tian bu la doesn't actually mean sweet not spicy. What the word really is is a bastardization of the Japanese word Tempura. But that's just the word. You'd think that the food would be much the same, but no it's not really tempura. It's just god damn fish cake! Wrinkly logs of fish cake with chunks of radish and topped with a brown sauce. To be fair, it is sweet and not spicy, but we remedied that right away by pouring a shitload of pepper sauce on it.
I wasn't impressed by the other two things. The one with that was very “QQ” had a chewy, translucent thick membrane made from radish or sweet potato. QQ is the adjective Taiwanese, and maybe dirty mainlanders too, use to describe chewy things. Inside the chewy sphere was bits of ground pork. I believe it was a Ba wan (肉圓).
The other was much the same, but instead of being QQ it was mushy and had what I think was bits of mushroom. Meh, I mean look at the things, they're swimming in gravy, how good could it possibly taste?
One More Famous Joint
Ah Zong Mian Xian in Ximending. On the “Top 40” article it's called Oyster vermicelli (蚵仔米線). Served scalding hot and topped with cilantro, this bowl of rice-flour threads would be perfect in the winter. It's good with the hot sauce. This place uses large intestine instead of oysters. You'll have to eat it standing next to twenty other mopes, since there are no seats and it's always busy.
That's my take on Taiwanese food. I'll write a separate post comparing it with eating in Korea, and another one detailing where to find the famous must-try restaurants in Taipei.
*RE: Almond juice- If you go to Mainland China, get yourself a dozen cans of LuLu. It's my favorite canned beverage.