On Taiwan and Food Porn

Yes, I’m afraid that these are my awesome friends. And they are photographing an ice cream burrito.

Yes, I’m afraid that these are my awesome friends. And they are photographing an ice cream burrito.

Food Porn (noun). Definition: Gratuitous images of delicious food that make foodies swoon.

I hate this term, but I hear it all the time because all my friends are foodies. My Facebook news feed is a complete disaster, where I hardly see actual pictures of my friends any more but instead high-depth photos of what they are eating (and increasingly, baby pics — urgh).

To make matters worse, I am guilty of being a food pornographer myself. I can’t resist sharing a good steak picture whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I didn’t have any specific expectations of Taiwan before spending a week here with my wife and several awesome friends. I was pleased to discover that the country is really beautiful, with incredible natural geography, hot springs, and villages. Taiwanese people are also really nice, which was a pleasant contrast to the somewhat cold treatment I felt in mainland China.

But the food in Taiwan—holy crap, it’s good. And cheap. And good. For less than $5 USD, you can eat like a king in this country.

I’m going to do something now that I never expected to do on this blog, which is dedicate an entire post just to food.

If you’re a food lover with wanderlust, I highly recommend taking a trip to Taiwan. We were here for a week, but we could have easily stayed longer.

Here are some highlights from our grand Taiwan food tour.

Xiaolongbao, AKA Shanghai Soup Dumplings

Xiaolongbao, perhaps the greatest thing you can ever do to your taste buds.

Xiaolongbao, perhaps the greatest thing you can ever do to your taste buds.

Xiaolongbao is one of my favorite foods ever; it’s a Chinese pork dumpling that is filled with soup. It’s very difficult to make, but when it’s done well it can knock you off your seat from its deliciousness.

Xiaolongbao is known as a Shanghai delicacy, but I’d argue that one of the best places to find soup dumplings can be found at a restaurant called Din Tai Fung, which is based in Taipei. Din Tai Fung has locations throughout the world and I’ve been to the one in Los Angeles several times. But coming to the mothership, the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei, was like taking the Hajj for a xiaolongbao enthusiast like myself.

How do you eat it? I don’t really know the right way, but here’s my method:

  1. Carefully lift the dumpling from the bamboo steamer.
  2. Gently dip the dumpling in to a vinegar, soy sauce, and ginger mixture.
  3. Place the dumpling on a big Asian soupspoon.
  4. Bite a small hole at the top of the dumpling and drink the burning hot soup.
  5. Take a quick moment after drinking the soup to appreciate the amazing tastiness that just entered your mouth.
  6. Then, after the dumpling has cooled a bit, put the entire freaking dumping in your mouth.
  7. Chew slowly and enjoy.
  8. Repeat.

This was the first meal that we had upon landing in Taiwan. I could have easily had this for every meal, but there was still so much more food to try.

Street food

This dude made my oyster omelet, right on the sidewalk.

This dude made my oyster omelet, right on the sidewalk.

Many travel guides recommend that you avoid the street food in a foreign country. Unfortunately, these people are idiots because some of the best food in the world is made by greasy-looking dudes smoking cigarettes in their cart stand.

Yes, you do risk horrendous stomach issues if you pick the wrong food stall, but fortunately in Taiwan there is a strong street food culture and high standards for quality.

In anticipation of eating at one of Taiwan’s many night markets, prepare to budget about $2 USD to sample enough Taiwanese street tapas to fill your belly.

I had three street food favorites from this trip:

First was the oyster omelet (see pic of dude making above). It’s pretty simple: eggs, veggies, fresh oysters, and a sweet sauce on top. It’s a fantastic snack and a great way to kick off your street food tour.

My wife and I crushed this fried potato drenched in cheese.

My wife and I crushed this fried potato drenched in cheese.

Next was the fried potato. Imagine a baked potato that is fried with a panko breading, split open and filled with bacon and veggies, then drowned in nacho cheese. This thing is pure evil.

I could eat these street pancakes for breakfast every day…

I could eat these street pancakes for breakfast every day…

Our final favorite was the street pancake, only found in the Daan district of Taipei. It kind of tasted like a flattened croissant filled with egg, basil, and ham. Super fuffy, very flavorful, and only 25 cents USD.

Night markets are everywhere in Taiwan. We tried several locations and they were always good.

Snowflake desserts

Passion fruit snowflake dessert. Cray cray good.

Passion fruit snowflake dessert. Cray cray good.

What happens when you freeze condensed milk, shave it in a bowl, then put some fruit on top? You’ll get some pure magic known as snowflake desserts.

The texture is wonderful. Whatever machine is being used to shave the frozen condensed milk is really precise. When looking at the snowflakes up close, it almost looks like a layered baklava pastry. When you put the dessert in your mouth, you feel the airiness between the layers initially and then the warmth of your tongue melts the dessert into a fantastic cream.

The classic treatment of snowflake desserts in Taiwan is putting mango on top. I tried mango along with a number of other fruits. Fruit in general in Taiwan is of exceptional quality, and the summer months are peak season for many tropical varieties grown in the area.

Portion sizes tend to be huge, so I recommend sharing these bad boys with a friend.

I could keep going

Sweet soy milk on the left, salty soy milk on the right. Breakfast of champions.

Sweet soy milk on the left, salty soy milk on the right. Breakfast of champions.

If I were to write about all the tasty food that I tried in Taiwan, this blog post would be about 20,000 words (if you’ve reached this point you’ve already read about 1,000 words).

Hopefully you’ve gotten a glimpse of the food heaven that awaits you in Taiwan. The cuisine alone is reason enough to visit the country, but again it’s worth emphasizing that the country itself is really beautiful and there is a lot of great stuff to see as a tourist—that is, in between the moments you are not staring dreamily into the bowl in front of you.

I’m leaving Taiwan heavier and happier than when I entered. A special thank you goes out to Tim Liu, one of my best friends who took the lead in planning this trip with our friends. And also thanks to our excellent travel mates: Beatrice Kim, Christine Chen Liu, Erica Sommermann, and Daniel Sommermann.

Next up: Vietnam, for two and half weeks.

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