Endless snacking: one of Taiwan’s most beloved traditions. Traditional street stalls and tiny restaurants litter the streets, and some of the most famous attractions are night markets jam-packed with vendors hawking snack-sized portions of fried chicken and tempura With a veritable glut of delectable choices, focusing your appetite can seem an impossible task. Let a local get you started with 10 traditional snack food (小吃) suggestions essential to any Taiwan visit.
1. Oyster Omelet (蚵仔煎)
As an island country, Taiwan loves its seafood. Oyster omelets, which originated in Taiwan, are commonly considered one of the world’s most addictive dishes. Piles of fresh oysters dumped on top of crispy fried eggs and thickened with potato starch give the oysters a thick, chewy texture that both contrasts and complements the crunchiness of the egg. Right before they’re taken off the grill, the omelets are topped with cilantro and savory sauce to add layers of taste and texture. At Shilin Night Market in Taipei—one of Taiwan’s largest and most widely renowned night markets—numerous stalls peddle this tantalizing traditional treat.
2. Slack Season’s Dan Zai Noodles (擔仔麵)
A Tainan fisherman allegedly invented this pork-and-prawn dish a century ago when he decided to sell noodles during the slack season. Egg noodles are served in a shrimp-based soup with minced pork, bean sprouts and a sprinkling of coriander. His noodles were so popular that he gave up fishing to dish up dan zai noodles full time. His store, Slack Season (度小月擔仔麵), still resides in Tainan, a city known for its Taiwanese snack foods. Street stalls throughout Taiwan have adopted dan zai noodles as a national dish.
3. Iron Eggs (鐵蛋)
Iron eggs are quail eggs marinated in soy sauce until black and chewy. The eggs are repeatedly braised in soy sauce and spices over the course of several days. Iron eggs wer allegedly invented when a cook, Huang Zhangnian (黃張哖), decided to re-cook leftover marinated eggs after they had cooled. Her store, A-Po’s Iron Eggs (阿婆鐵蛋) is still running and is located in the bustling markets of Danshui, a seaside town north of Taipei. Eggs come fresh in boxes or vacuum-sealed plastic for you to take home as delicious souvenirs.
4. Tempura (甜不辣)
Don’t be fooled by the name—this is NOT the Japanese tempura famous in sushi shops across the US. Taiwanese tempura is spiced seafood paste molded into different shapes, deep-fried and boiled in broth. The fried tempura are eaten separately from the broth and smothered in sauce. The broth is then poured back into the bowl at the end to wash out the remnants of the sauce and tempura. Tempura come in various flavors depending on the seafood (fish, shrimp, octopus or scallop). The Keelung Temple Night Market in Keelung, famous for its fresh seafood, is the ideal place to try tempura.
5. Fried Chicken (鹽酥雞)
This isn’t your typical Colonel Sanders Kentucky fry. Taiwan removed the bones and chopped the chicken into bite-sized chunks for marination. The chicken pieces are deep-fried, seasoned with salt and white pepper and served as snack food. The chicken is usually fried up with basil for an extra layer of flavor. You can also mix your chicken with other fried foods. Some popular variations are mushrooms, fish balls, and seafood. Eat them on skewers as you wander the Feng Chia Night Market in Taichung, the originator of this addictive snack.
6. Scallion Pancakes (蔥抓餅)
Traditional scallion pancakes are comprised of flatbread dough folded with oil and scallions, fried up and served piping hot. Flaky with a crispy outer covering, scallion pancakes are sometimes served thin with an egg coating, slathered with sauce and folded for easy transport. Some stalls add meat and vegetables for a more filling meal. Other stalls fold fillings, usually scallions and pork, in the middle of the dough before frying. A popular snack across Taiwan, every stall has their own variations and specialities! Try scallion pancakes at any night market for a delicious start to your night.
7. Large Sausage Wrapped around a Small Sausage (大腸包小腸)
Think of it as a Taiwanese hotdog. Traditional Taiwanese sausages are generally pork-based and relatively sweet with emulsified fat and meat. The sausage is wrapped in sticky rice to form a huge sausage. Like American hotdogs, they are eaten with condiments—but not of the Heinz and French’s variety. Thick soy sauce and pickled vegetables make palatable add-ons. Find the biggest and tastiest sausages at Shi Lin Night Market in Taipei, thought to have invented the dish a couple decades ago.
8. Stinky Tofu (臭豆腐)
Stinky tofu is infamous. While its smell may be initially off-putting, this snack is worth pinching your nose. You may even come to like the fragrance after several bites. While variations of stinky tofu are found throughout China, Taiwan is unique in deep-frying the tofu on a skewer before piling on pickled vegetables and sauce. The vegetables cut the greasiness from the frying, while the sauce smothers some of the smell and adds a savoriness to the dish. Every stall has its own variations on the vegetables and sauce, so try it at any—or all—night markets. Just make sure it’s freshly out of the fryer when you dig in.
9. Pork Vermicelli (米線)
While Taiwanese vermicelli is usually served with oysters, one of the best vermicelli places in the heart of Taipei removes the oysters completely and stews it with intestines. Ah-Chung Flour Rice Noodles in Xi Men Ding only serves intestine noodles, and it’s not hard to see why. Served in a thick, savory soup base, the noodles are tender and slurpable, and the pork intestines are soft but chewy. Splash in a bit of chili and black vinegar, and you have the best belly-warming food for a stroll through the bustling streets of Taipei at night.
10. Pork Ball (貢丸湯)
A helping of pork balls in clear soup makes a mouth-watering conclusion to a night of lip-smacking indulgence. These aren’t quite Western-style meatballs. They have a similar texture to fish paste balls and are typically cooked in a clear, bone-based broth with coriander leaves and green onions. The clear soup will cleanse your palate at the end of a long night, and the chewy pork balls add just enough flavor and texture to hold your interest. Hsinchu is famous for its pork balls, so have a taste at the City God Temple Night Market downtown.
Of course, the best way to enjoy these dishes is all together. Grab a snack-size serving of each dish and keep walking—and eating. I guarantee you’ll be full and satisfied by the end of the night!