You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who's just returned from Taiwan complain about the lack of food variety there. With so many kinds of popular local delicacies available at various restaurants and night markets across the island, how would you know where to go for the real deal?
Luckily for us, Chef Chia-Mo Chen, the Special Assistant to the President and Professor of Professional Practice at the Department of Chinese Culinary Arts in the National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism, Chinese Cuisine Faculty, managed to make time for us despite his busy schedule to recommend his go-to spots for the best of Taiwanese cuisine.
Chef Chen, who has previously held the role of Executive Chef in various hotels in Taiwan, has also published several cookbooks over the years - a testament to his fierce commitment to preserving the culinary traditions of Taiwanese food.
Read on for his recommendations.
1. Smelly tofu: Jiang Hao Ji Stinky Tofu King in Kaohsiung
"Very rarely do you get smelly tofu that's crispy on the outside and smooth on the inside. Also, smelly tofu is traditionally served with pao cai (pickled cabbage) and spicy sauce. The combination of the three in one mouthful is heavenly, and this restaurant has got the balance down pat."
2. Oyster omelette: Wanggong Fishing Port in Changhua
"Wanggong Fishing Port is actually a recreational fishing port where visitors are allowed to explore, buy and eat fresh seafood produce. The oysters here are humongous and amazingly fresh - you wouldn't be able to find better oysters elsewhere in Taiwan! It's no surprise then that the fried oyster omelette sold along the alley is exceptional."
3. Oyster mee sua: Ah Zong Mee Sua in Taipei
"Everybody who goes to Ximending in Taipei will always make a beeline for this nondescript-looking stall. I believe the appeal lies in the broth - it is remarkably flavourful even after all these years, so props to the owner for that!"
4. Braised pork rice: Hu Xu Zhang in Taipei
"This restaurant has been in the business for 60 to 70 years, and the recipe has improved over the years as well. They have perfected the control of the flame to cook the minced pork, which rightfully contains very little lean meat. When poured over and mixed with the rice, the fatty parts practically melt into the grains, which gives every bite a wonderfully smooth texture and intense flavour."
5. Beef noodles: Lao Dong Beef Noodles in Taipei
"The beef is imported from either America or Australia, but this longstanding restaurant is equipped with the technology and techniques to ensure the beef stays fork-tender. The soup, which is freshly brewed for hours every day, is delicious too. I always order the qing tang (clear soup) because I can taste the flavour nuances in every spoonful."
6. Tong zai mi gao (glutinous rice with braised meat): Huang Ta in Taichung
"Whenever I go abroad, I would crave this childhood favourite of mine, which is a popular local delicacy where I grew up - Qingshui, in Taichung. Tong zai mi gao is essentially steamed glutinous rice with braised pork on top, but the one here is served with dried oysters as well, which greatly enhances its taste."
7. Bawan (meat dumpling) in Beidou, Changhua
"Any stall selling bawan in Beidou, Changhua, is worth trying because this town is where the delicacy originates from! Encased in the gelatinous dough is a savoury stuffing made of minced pork, bamboo shoots and mushroom. Bawan can be eaten steamed or deep-fried - I prefer the latter as it's more fragrant."
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