Rachel Ray may do her phunky pho thing but let's look at some bonafide, real Asian food. I’m in Asia for several weeks doing research for a new book.
Last week I was in Taipei and was blown away by all the snacks available day and night. Whether you are strolling on the arcaded streets in Taipei or at a night market, there’s bound to be something delicious to lure you to spend 30 or 40 NTD ($1 to $1.30).
Taiwan is a unique blend of Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisines. In general, it's light tasting, friendly food. A few highlights include:
Lots of food on sticks. Below is Sara, a Grand Hyatt chef de cuisine, enjoying a sticky rice mixed with pork blood and rolled in ground peanuts. Sounds weird but it wasn’t mineral tasting at all. Like a popsicle but warm.
There were dumplings everywhere, from bao to freshly steamed xiao long bao and regular steamed dumplings (jiaozi).
One unusual thing were these juicy meat filled buns baked in a tandoor-like oven. The best ones had a flaky, chewy crust and fragrant beef filling. It’s hearty, rustic fare. Head to Rao He market, like my friend Curis W. did to lead me to Taipei’s tastiest buns.
Tips for trying stinky tofu (chou dofu): Get the deep friend stinky tofu as it’s the most accessible. Freshly fried stinky tofu has the best texture. Pick the least stinky stall, not one where you can smell it from across the street, which I did in from the vendor in the second photo below.
I went to Ningxia, Rao He, Shilin, Shida, an international night market and a few others that I can’t remember. You won’t lose if you wander around and point to eat. It doesn’t cost much to try.
Just remember that trash cans are hard to find in Taipei. Eat up or carry a small trash bag with you. Taipei is a clean city and they want to discourage litering (like in Japan) so there are few public trash cans.
Taiwainese people are super friendly and I made some great new friends. Many thanks to Katy B. for hooking me up with Holly H., Christine T., Anita C., Sara L., Curis W. and Peko.