Taiwan’s street food plays an outsize role in its cultural identity, showcasing just how creativity, community, and enterprise come together in each dish.
Taiwan has a phenomenal amount of street food for an island roughly the size of Maryland. Do you drink boba, or bubble tea? This world-famous drink came from Taichung city in Taiwan. Tried oyster omelette or pork buns? Yep, they’re common Taiwan street snacks too. If you’re traveling to Taiwan, trying its food is a must – and this guide will share everything you need to know. We’ve even got a Taiwan street food checklist you can download!
Why does Taiwan have so much street food?
On my first visit to Taiwan, I received a set of poker cards with photos of local Taiwanese food on the back of each one. Assuming you consume 5 varieties of street food each day, it would take at least ten days to try everything (followed by a lot of remorseful dieting).
Is Taiwan street food safe to eat?
Taiwan’s street food is definitely safe to eat. I’ve eaten at local shops, street stalls, and night market stalls dozens of times, and never gotten sick. If you’re worried about cleanliness, especially at older-looking shops, look out for vendors who wear gloves and face masks when handling food.
Do Taiwanese street snacks really taste that good?
Since I had only 4 days to literally stuff my face, here are some tips to help you plan your street food quest.
Go From Light to Heavy
The best way to get as many different kinds of food into your stomach is to, of course, start from smaller and less filling dishes. An example “menu”:
Fried chicken cutlet
Mango shaved ice
…you get the drift. Remember, starchy foods and liquids make you feel full more quickly than meat and small sugary treats.
If you’re traveling in a group with friends and family, a potluck-style street food jaunt at a night market will be much more rewarding than going it alone, especially if you’re a small eater like me. Takoyaki, sushi, waffles, sweet potato fries, oyster omelette, etc. are easy to portion out and share.
So much good food, so little time. To get more time for eating, plan ahead by researching on what you want to eat. If you find stinky tofu absolutely vile or believe that peanut brittle ice cream is a must-try compared to chicken cutlet (because it’s commonly found in Singapore as well), then forget about the convention that desserts only come after a main course. Above all, don’t go into a night market asking each other “What shall we start with?”
Don’t Read Reviews
This seems contradictory to the above, but it really isn’t. Thanks to food bloggers, Instagram, and social networks (even TripAdvisor), everyone’s trying to find the “best” beef noodle soup or bear paw buns. I discourage this for 2 reasons: firstly, you may end up spending a lot of time traveling out of the way and queuing at these famous establishments, and secondly, most local food will be tasty enough for your inexperienced palate anyway.
Of course, you can still check out where to eat if you plan to be visiting a specific area. Check out A Hungry Girl’s Guide to Taipei – it’s a little messy but full of reviews on cafes, restaurants, and street food stalls in the capital city.
Finally, the best way to enjoy Taiwanese delicacies if you don’t have enough time or tummy space: buy it for later enjoyment in the comfort of your hotel/hostel room. In fact, my first street food experience came from a friendly airport limo driver who made a detour to buy me some red bean cakes – gratis – before dropping me off at the hotel! Your snacks will be less fresh, but you’ll be able to sit down and much with a good book or movie.
Taiwan really has some of the most amazing street food around (not to mention restaurant cuisine and tea) and it’s worth gaining a little weight to enjoy all the delectable snacks on virtually every street. At least you’ll probably be doing a bit of walking while eating.
Where to find Taiwan street food
Night markets are a unique element of Taiwanese city life. As the sun sets and the workday comes to an end, the streets transform into lively walk-through kitchens where you can treat yourself to a good meal.
These are, in my opinion, the best night markets in Taiwan that you should visit:
Raohe Night Market, Taipei
Forget Shihlin Night Market’s touristy size and prices. Raohe Night Market is much smaller and easier to navigate, and it’s also located right next to a traditional temple – I was very lucky to witness a temple procession during my visit! If you’d like to go shopping before or after dinner, Wufenpu garment wholesale market is a 10-minute walk away.
Fengjia Night Market, Taichung
Fengjia Night Market, located next to Fengjia University, claims to be the largest night market in Taiwan. Indeed, it doesn’t just occupy one or two streets: instead, it snakes through an entire neighborhood where, instead of having stalls, the shops on either side of the street extend their awnings to form the night market.
Fengjia Night Market is so spacious that it’s very comfortable to walk in. You’ll have no trouble finding both traditional and trendy dishes – I had a serving of bangers n’ mash, salt-and-pepper fried chicken, and even a surprisingly tasty stinky tofu that was tangy and refreshing compared to the stinky tofu in Taipei, which is more savory.
Because we’re talking about Taichung, the land of bubble tea (a.k.a. boba), be prepared to encounter plenty of beverage shops. You’ll find lots of creative smoothies and mocktails here, and most stalls allow you to customize your drink’s toppings, ice level, and sugar level. These should be reserved for dessert as they’re really indulgent.
Ruifeng Night Market, Kaohsiung
Ruifeng Night Market is the largest night market in Kaoshiung, but roughly half of the night market is dedicated to retail and game stalls where you can buy cheap iPhone cases, t-shirts, and the like. There are also more “trendy” street food stalls here selling dishes like extra-long french fries, rather than more traditional snacks.
Historical old streets in Taiwan
Some Taiwan street food can only be found in designated old streets, or lăojiē (老街) .
Don’t come here if you’re allergic to prawns! Anping Old Street (安平老街) is filled with dozens of stalls selling prawn/shrimp crackers, and nearly every stall will provide samples to help you choose between them.
Anping’s shrimp crackers come in two varieties, fried and air-popped, and often you can see the air-popped crackers being made and packed before your eyes. Because of this, you’re unlikely to find them at souvenir shops or airports outside of Anping Old Street – trust me, I’ve tried!