January 31, 2011
Food, Glorious Food...
Food, Glorious Food...
I have mentioned before the great choice of eating out you have in Taiwan, and especially in Taipei. There is a great choice of Western restaurants, and more and more of them are under Western management. The number of good South Asian restaurants is ever increasing, plus many others from around Asia.
However seeing as you are in Taiwan, you really have to try some "Chinese" food. I use the term in quotes as there are so many different kinds of Chinese food (and there is Taiwanese cuisine), but I think you can say it's the style of food that you will recognize as "Chinese" from home (and this is a generalization I know, but beyond the scope of this article).
Having said that, you will certainly find differences in the Chinese food here, even if the dishes have the same name. I find that Chinese food in the West is modified to suit Western palettes, and often in particular the spiciness is notched down or removed completely.
The big hotels and higher end restaurants may have an English menu, but the smaller places probably won't, or if they do it might be sparse (see the menu below for example). So in this post I wanted to introduce a few dishes that are commonly found in Taiwan, and that I have found the majority of visitors enjoy.
In many restaurants you will see small dishes containing anything from peanuts to pickled vegetables to cold noodles, and my favorite, small fish with chilies, a kind of dried tofu and sometimes peanuts. It might look frightening, but the chilies aren't that spicy and it's great with the tea that you will almost certainly be given. You can usually pick these up yourself and they serve as appetizers.
So on to the main dishes. With apologies to the vegetarian readers (we do have an article on vegetarian food in Taiwan), you'll probably want a couple of meat dishes, a vegetable dish, perhaps soup, and rice or noodles.
Perhaps the most famous dish is gongbao (or kungpao depending on the spelling) chicken. This really is the dish that almost every foreigner loves, and it has almost become the stereotypical "foreigner" dish. As in, if you say you like it people will laugh and say, "Every foreigner likes it!"
Again the chilies might look scary, but they are dried and don't usually impart much fire, although of course every restaurant will be different. My favourite thing is the peanuts. Once all the chicken has gone it becomes an ultimate test of your chopstick skills!
Another favorite is a "sweet and sour" dish. I think pork works best, although sometimes it will be cooked with bones so be careful. And actually you should be careful in general with all meat dishes, as the thinking here is that meat tastes better when cooked with the bones, so a tentative first bite is usually warranted.
For a bit of variation, a bit of seafood is always good. Although it might sound like an odd combination, deep fried shrimp in batter with pineapple and mayonnaise is really good. You can ask for the mayo to be on the side (as we usually do).
A vegetable dish is always good, and it tends to be that you just order the vegetable and they will bring it in the style of the restaurant's choice. Cabbage is a good safe choice I think and usually goes down well.
With rice, this should be enough for three adults, and you can expect to pay around US$10 per person at a regular restaurant, although naturally this will be higher in hotels and higher end restaurants.
Bearing in mind that many places will not have English menus, I'll list the Mandarin for these dishes below. There is absolutely no problem with showing a piece of paper with what you'd like, and if you have a smartphone I'll also include a graphic which you can save and use.
As I said, this really just barely scrapes the surface of the fantastic food experience that is Taiwan, and I will cover more popular dishes in future posts. If you have requests of something you'd like me to write about and give you the Chinese for then please get in touch and I will do my best. There are so many dishes that even after several decades you still experience different dishes here on a regular basis, but the best advice, as always, is to just try.
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