Guide to Must-Try Street Foods in Taiwan
Engaging in a region’s culture is one of the best ways to learn their language—and that’s true for Chinese languages as well. If you’re a food lover, you’re in luck: night markets can be an especially satisfying way to immerse yourself in Taiwanese Mandarin (While there are several languages spoken in Taiwan, Mandarin is almost universally spoken and understood).
Taiwan night markets are street markets that open from the evenings until midnight. They can be found across all areas in Taiwan—on old streets, around colleges, or in popular tourist areas. Although they are mostly food or drink stalls, you’ll find an eclectic mixture of items for sale, from games to clothing and accessories, to souvenirs. Night markets are great for families with kids, couples, friends, or any hungry person looking for a cheap and tasty meal!
The food and drinks available at any particular night market will vary based on the local culture. And actually, each night market usually has a few stalls that are famous for their particular foods. But there are also a number of common foods you can expect to see regardless of the market you wander through.
9 Most Popular Taiwanese Night Market Foods and Drinks
1. Stinky Tofu
Stinky tofu (臭豆腐, chou dou fu) is a classic and a favorite night market food. True to its name, it’s really stinky. The smell occurs because it’s fermented, just like blue cheese. The dish can come in steamed, stewed, or deep-fried, with the latter being the most popular at night markets.
Like the rest of Taiwan, you’ll love how it’s crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, and topped with cold pickled cabbage, soy sauce, or even chili sauce for those who like a little heat.
My favorite way to eat stinky tofu is to stuff some cabbage in the middle—that way, not only does the cold cabbage temper the heat (it is served fresh from the frying pan), but the mild sour and sweet flavor from cabbage can counterbalance the salty taste of the tofu.
Don’t let the smell scare you off; most people believe the stinkier it is, the better it tastes!
2. Oyster Omelet / Pancake
If you like gooey, sticky textures and enjoy seafood, the Oyster Omelet (蚵仔煎, usually pronounced in Taiwanese as e a jian) is a dream come true. It is made with oysters, eggs, flour, potato starch, and bok choy or baby spinach.
The omelet virtually always comes topped with some of a red tangy sauce, but each stall has its own recipe that differentiates it from others.
3. Taiwanese Sausage with Sticky Rice
Taiwanese sausage with sticky rice (大腸包小腸, da chang bao siao chang) literally translates to “small sausage wrapped in large sausage.” It is similar to a hot dog, but instead of a bread bun, it’s like a bun made from fried sticky rice. It can be topped with your choice of pickled vegetables, garlic, hot peppers, wasabi, thick soy sauce, or cilantro.
Although it does not come in large portions, it’ll quickly fill you up. So if you want to try a variety of different foods, you may want to share this with others or save it for the last.
4. Taiwanese Fried Chicken
You can’t say you’ve been to a night market if you haven’t tried Taiwanese fried chicken (鹹酥雞, sian su ji). It is served as bite-sized pieces in a paper bag with bamboo sticks, which allows you to eat while walking. The vendor will often ask you whether you want it spicy, with garlic, and/or paired with basil leaves. If you like garlic and basil, try them together—they complement each other well!
Most stalls that sell Taiwanese fried chicken will have a variety of other options too, like vegetables, sausage, tofu, and mushrooms. With these stalls, you order by taking a basket and tong, grab a piece of each food you want into your basket, and hand it over to the vendor when you’re done. It’s convenient if your Mandarin still isn’t super strong.
5. Taiwanese Fried Chicken Cutlet
Like the fried chicken, Taiwanese fried chicken fillets (雞排, ji pai) are an indispensable part of the night market experience. The cutlets are thick and can be huge, varying from the size of a hand to an entire face.
The best cutlets are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. They are seasoned with salt, but you might also be asked whether you’d like yours with pepper, spicy, or with other flavors. As with the sausage and sticky rice, you can get full really quickly with these guys, so plan accordingly!
6. Soy Sauce Braised Foods
Soy sauce braised foods (滷味, lu wei) are sold like the fried chicken stalls, where there are a variety of foods on the counter and you choose the ones you want in your basket. The difference is that in this case, the foods are braised in soy sauce.
These stalls also typically have a wider variety of food options, including but not limited to seaweed, bean curd, meatballs, noodles, mushrooms, black pudding, and rice cakes. They can be served hot or cold, with soup or without.
7. Fried Sweet Potato Balls
A bag of fried sweet potato balls (地瓜球, di gua chiou) will help you transition from savory foods into desserts. They come in sweet potato or taro flavors.
After they’re fried, these little guys are squeezed to let the air out, leaving them crunchy on the outside but hollow inside. Served with bamboo sticks, this is another good choice if you want to eat while you walk around.
8. Fresh Papaya Milk
A lot of the foods at the night market are crispy and greasy, so it’s essential you have a drink to quench your thirst. While many will think of bubble tea when they think of Taiwan, the locals will tell you that papaya milk (木瓜牛奶, mu gua niou nai) is actually Taiwan’s favorite drink!
Taiwan’s unique tropical climate allows a variety of agricultural produce to thrive, so fresh fruit is plentiful. Succulent papaya combined with fresh milk gives a rich, mellow, and creamy texture to this refreshing drink.
It may not sound super impressive—it’s just two ingredients—but these two thrive together. You’ll have dreams about this one.
9. Shaved Ice
There is nothing better than to wrap up a night market journey with shaved ice (剉冰, usually pronounced in Taiwan as tsua bing), especially in the summer. Although you can get shaved ice with pretty much any fruit and a variety of toppings (e.g. peanut, taro balls, ice jelly, red beans), mango shaved ice is often voted the best.
Ice shavings, mango cubes, and condensed milk create a fresh and smooth texture with a light, sweet taste.
Use Taiwanese Night Market Foods To Learn Mandarin!
The night market foods and street eats in Taiwan are legendary. But it can be a bit intimidating to get in and try new things if you’re a tourist and you don’t speak Mandarin fluently. So use this guide to get you started.
But these foods only represent a small sample of what is available. When in doubt, ask the locals what their night market is known for. And if you don’t know what to get, just join the lines that are the longest!
If you’re going to go exploring the markets, you really would do well to learn some Mandarin basics. Get a headstart with Pimsleur’s Mandarin program.