Taiwan, a culinary paradise, offers a delightful array of street foods that tantalize your taste buds. From savory sausages to delectable dumplings, and sweet treats that leave you craving for more, the street food scene in Taiwan is a food lover’s dream. In this article, we’ll explore some of Taiwan’s most iconic street foods, each with its unique flavors and history.
1. Ian-chhiâng: The Iconic Taiwanese Sausage
Ian-chhiâng is a traditional air-dried sausage and a street food favorite in Taiwan. Renowned for its exquisite flavor, this sausage is typically made with a mixture of fatty pork and garlic, flavored with rice wine, soy sauce, five-spice blend, sugar, salt, and black pepper. It can optionally be seasoned with chili powder and red pepper, while the rice wine can be replaced with Kaoliang, or sorghum wine. A staple at Taiwanese night markets, this savory snack can be grilled, pan-fried, or baked, and it is always eaten with raw slices of garlic.
2. Hê-jîn bah-ôan: The Shrimp and Meat Dumpling
Hê-jîn bah-ôan is a type of Taiwanese dumpling that consists of a mixture of shrimps and meat (usually pork) encased within a thin, soft, and slightly chewy rice flour shell. A Tainan specialty, this shrimp and meat dumpling is typically steamed or boiled and then served in a sauce based on sweet soy sauce. The dish is generally accompanied by a variety of condiments such as garlic sauce, wasabi sauce, and mildly hot pepper sauce. Hê-jîn bah-ôan is usually eaten as a snack, an appetizer, or a side, and it can alternatively be made with potato starch instead of rice.
3. Shuāngbāotāi: The Twin Donut
Shuāngbāotāi is a traditional Taiwanese fried dough, similar to a donut. It usually consists of two small balls of chewy dough that are stuck together and then deep-fried. A beloved Taiwanese xiaochi item, shuāngbāotāi translates to twins in English, which is why this fried dough is also known as a twin-donut. Due to the fact that its shape is also reminiscent of a horse hoof, it is often referred to as such in Taiwan. Sweet and puffy, with a crisp outer layer, and often adorned with sesame seeds sprinkled on top, this Taiwanese specialty is a common sweet snack available at numerous street stalls and night markets.
4. Rùn bǐng: The Steamed Spring Roll
Rùn bǐng is a Taiwanese steamed spring roll that consists of various fillings wrapped in popiah skin, a type of flour crepe. On the inside, rùn bǐng is filled with various ingredients, depending on the region and one’s personal preferences. Typically, the fillings include peanut powder, pork, daikon, bean sprouts, lima beans, cabbage, carrots, shredded chicken, sugar, egg strips, cucumber slices, green garlic, chopped cilantro, celery, dried tofu, shrimps, fish balls, or sweet chili sauce.
5. A-gei: The Tofu Pouch Delight
A-gei is a Taiwanese savory delight consisting of a large fried tofu pouch filled with braised mung bean glass noodles, and with its opening secured with a type of fish paste called surimi. The tofu pouch is quite juicy as it absorbs much of the pork stew in which it is cooked. Dubbed as an original creation from 1965, invented by the owner of Ah-Gei, a very old eatery in Tamsui, this Taiwanese specialty got its name from the Japanese word abuurage, referring to deep-fried tofu pockets. It is typically served immersed in a soy-based sauce or a sweet-sour sauce.
6. Thih-nn̄g: The Iconic Iron Eggs
An original creation from Tamsui District, thih-nn̄g or iron eggs are dark-hued eggs with a rubbery and firm texture, hence the name. This local specialty consists of chicken, pigeon, or quail eggs that are boiled and peeled, stewed with a blend of spices until very hard and chewy, and then finally air-dried. Iron eggs are typically braised in soy sauce or strong tea and can be plain or enhanced with a variety of herbs and different flavors such as chili or garlic. With a combination of spicy, sweet, and savory flavors, these stewed eggs are one of Taiwan’s favorite street snacks available at numerous night markets.
7. Hî-ôan: Tamsui Fish Balls
Tamsui fish balls are Taiwanese delicacies consisting of fish paste filled with marinated pork and garlic. Some versions also contain shark meat paste, which imparts an exquisite flavor to the product. With a typical oval-cylindrical shape and a chewy texture, these stuffed fish balls are usually added to a bowl of hot fish-paste broth that is seasoned with pepper, a bit of oil, and some freshly chopped celery. Other typical accompaniments to this local treat include rice vermicelli or dumplings. Packed with flavor, the fish balls are a common street food item that is usually eaten for breakfast, lunch, or as a savory snack.
8. Tian bu la: The Taiwanese Fish Cakes
Tian bu la are Taiwanese fish cakes made with a thick paste which incorporates mild white fish fillets, eggs, and potato or tapioca flour. The generously seasoned mixture is piped directly in the sizzling oil, then deep-fried until golden brown. The fish cakes are usually shaped in long and thin cylindrical forms, but they are sometimes flattened into thick, round discs. Even though they can be eaten immediately after frying, the Taiwanese traditionally boil them on low heat in a soy-sauce-based broth, which allows the crispy skin to soften, and the cake to infuse with all the pungent broth flavors.
9. Taiwanese Scallion Pancake: A Crispy Delight
Though similar varieties of scallion pancakes can be found in other Asian countries, in Taiwan they are a common and sought-after treat that is usually enjoyed as a snack or an accompaniment to other dishes. The pancakes are prepared with an unleavened dough that is flattened, sprinkled with sliced scallions, and then rolled and pressed to form a flat pancake that is pan-fried until crispy. Apart from the traditional version, these tasty snacks are occasionally prepared with the same type of dough that is rolled and deep-fried, before it is smeared with a flavorful combination of scallions. Regardless of the varieties, scallion pancakes are a staple street food in Taiwan, especially popular at traditional night markets.
10. Oyster Omelette: A Hokkien Delicacy
Oyster omelette originated in the city of Chaozhou (Teochew) and the region of Fujian in China. It is a signature dish of the Hokkien people – Chinese diaspora in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The dish consists of small oysters added to a mixture of potato starch and egg batter. Depending on the region, cooks will sometimes add a dash of spicy chili sauce mixed with lime juice to intensify the taste of the whole dish. The city of Tainan in Taiwan is even unofficially called the snack city, especially because it offers one of the best oyster omelettes in the region – unsurprisingly so, because its coastal location ensures that it is never in lack of fresh oysters.
Taiwan’s street foods offer a diverse and delectable range of flavors. From the savory sausages to sweet treats, these street foods are not just a culinary delight but also a window into Taiwanese culture and history. So, the next time you find yourself in Taiwan, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in these mouthwatering street foods that have captured the hearts of locals and travelers alike.