Getting a Taste of Taipei

Journey through Taipei and discover unusual flavors that will put Taiwan's capital city at the top of any foodie's bucket list.

By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

©Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Day 1

I arrive late in Taipei and want to crawl into bed as soon as possible. The only problem: I’m starving. I duck into a local pastry shop for a quick bite, but I’m overwhelmed by the selection and go a little bit overboard. The standout is a poppy seed- and almond-swirled pastry, pictured in the bottom left corner. The matcha-flavored bread stuffed with mochi and whole red beans in the upper left comes in a close second.

Day 2

It’s hot today, which means cold noodles dressed in creamy peanut sauce are in order. I’ve eaten versions of this dish in Chinese take-out joints my entire life, but none of them come close to this one in flavor. Chewy, fresh noodles, raw garlic sauce, and a dollop of fiery chili paste make all the difference. Strangely, the heat doesn’t seem to get to the Taiwanese, who slurp down piping hot fish ball soup alongside their chilled noodles. I follow suit, and don’t regret it.

Day 2

For dinner, I swing by the Raohe Street Night Market, a bustling outdoor market filled to the gills with ravenous tourists and locals alike. Steam-spewing stalls hawk snacks like freshly grilled skewers of meat and seafood, pan-fried dumplings, clear cellophane noodles, and more.

Day 3

There’s a wonderful local market street just below my Airbnb in Songshan District, and I make a habit of grabbing lunch every day from the various stalls there. Today’s selection: Silky pork-filled wontons in a rich broth, fluffy chive-stuffed bao, and a sesame-studded flatbread flecked with fried garlic.

Day 3

After a day strolling through the city, I end up at a small beef noodle soup restaurant. Beef noodle soup is one of Taiwan’s most famous dishes, and after my first spoonful, I know why. Despite its simple name, the broth is insanely complex and intensely wonderful. The meat, braised for hours, falls apart the moment it hits my tongue. I think I could eat this forever.

Day 4

Today’s find at the market street downstairs: An insanely cute doughy bao filled with red bean paste. It looks just like a peach!

Day 4

Camera in hand, I spend the day exploring Songshan, which has no shortage of breathtaking sights. I spy this lady doing her daily shopping amongst cramped stalls overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables that, try as I might, I can’t identify. It’s all part of the fun.

Day 5

Breakfast is a gut-busting beauty: A chive-flecked omelette stuffed inside flaky, onion-encrusted dough. Throw some bacon and cheese in this baby, and you could put every bodega in New York City out of business.

Day 5

I walk off breakfast by hiking up Xiangshan, or Elephant Mountain. Located within city limits, the modest mountain is shaped like an elephant, trunk included. I’m panting when I reach the top, but I’m rewarded with a stunning view of Taipei 101, which is the ninth-tallest building in the world.

Day 5

Later, I’m craving something sweet. Shaved matcha ice with a generous helping of red beans and vanilla ice cream seems like the right move.

Day 6

It’s back to the market downstairs for lunch. There are new snacks around every corner! I can’t get enough of the velvety shrimp dumplings and rice rolls, and I’ll probably dream of the sweet Taiwanese sausage tonight.

Day 6

Later in the day, I tour around the city’s various temples, which are insanely busy. At Longshan Temple, which was built in 1738 in honor of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, the air is flooded with the scent of charred incense and flowers left as offerings.

Day 7

My husband is a baseball fanatic, so we just had to take in a game before skipping town. Baseball is big here, despite several game-fixing scandals that have rocked the sport in recent years. It’s an amazingly good time — fans shout elaborate cheers, and Taiwan Beer (the local suds of choice) is flowing. What’s not to like? It’s a fun sendoff after a food-filled week. I’ll be back, Taipei!