Is Taipei, Taiwan the Best Food City in the World?
After booking a flight for a week-long trip to Taiwan, we started researching things to do. Our list ended up looking like a restaurant menu. For us, food is almost always the highlight of a good trip, but in Taiwan the possibilities overwhelmed us. I was more excited about a Taipei night market, than I was Ankor Wat or Machu Picchu. We decided to stay in Taipei for the whole week, and basically live like a local -- a local that’s on the highway to obesity.
Taipei, Taiwan -- The Greatest Food City in the World?
I haven’t been to all the world’s great food cities, but right now Taipei sits at the top of the rankings. It has something going for it that great food countries like China and Japan don’t: China AND Japan. What I mean to say is, Taiwan has been heavily influenced by the two countries. Taiwan is technically still considered China. There’s a whole argument there that I’m not interested in, but 95% of Taiwan is made up of Han Chinese. Japan occupied Taiwan for 50 years. Unlike much of China, the Taiwanese love Japanese culture. If China and Japan had a baby, it would be Taiwan. This works out really well for the divorce lawyers, but it’s especially great for the food.
Traditional Taiwanese dishes are out there, but many of them are variations of other dishes. For example, Taiwan’s national dish is beef noodle soup (牛肉面 -- niúròu miàn). It was created by China’s Muslim ethnic group, the Hui people. Then, during the Chinese civil war, a large group of people fled mainland China to Taiwan bringing the recipe with them. It was altered -- most notably by adding soy sauce -- and the rest is culinary history.
Not only does Taiwan have exciting variations of traditional food, they also do traditional Chinese recipes really well. In mainland China, the cuisine tends to differ from province to province. Sometimes it differs so much that you won’t, for example, be able to get good dim sum in the province of Henan. Taiwan makes all these types of cuisines really well. The same cannot be said for every province in China, or even in Hong Kong.
Xiaochi is my new favorite word. It translates to small eats. All the little snacks you get in the night market can be considered xiaochi. Anytime you stop at a food stand and eat something that isn’t big enough to be a meal, that’s xiaochi. It’s almost considered a fourth meal in China, usually eaten late at night. In my opinion, xiaochi is what makes Taiwanese food so good. The variations of dishes from all over the world -- for example, their version of Turkey’s shawarma (沙威馬 -- shāwēimǎ) -- offers a diversity that you don’t typically get in Asia. We spent hours-on-end wandering markets, trying different dishes, and being blown away by it all.
If you can make it to Taiwan be sure to go with an empty stomach, an open-mind, and a bunch of patience (the best food is at the beginning of a long line). You’ll be treated to what might be the greatest collection of food in the world. I can’t say for sure though. The taste of food changes depending who puts it in their mouth, what kind of mood their in, how hungry they are. All I can say for sure is: Taipei, Taiwan is an incredible food city that any foodie would be happy to get hungry in.