In Taiwan, food is more than just sustenance. It is a way of life. In fact, Taiwanese people love their food so much that they often have four meals per day! And for good reason: Taiwanese food is amazing. Throughout history, different countries had control of Taiwan, each bringing with it a new type of cuisine. Over time, Taiwanese cuisine has become a mix of traditional aboriginal dishes influenced by Chinese, Japanese and Dutch cuisine.
Famous Taiwanese dishes include xiao long bao, spicy hot pot and beef noodle soup. Due to a cultural reverence for cows, beef is not traditionally used in dishes, but it is becoming more popular. Like China, the most common meat is pork. Taiwan is an island so of course the seafood is amazing. From oysters to squid, markets are full of fresh seafood and restaurants have endless seafood delicacies. And when you’re done eating, wash down your meal with some famous Taiwanese Oolong tea.
From upscale restaurants to busy night markets to tea plantations high in the mountains, Taiwan offers endless opportunities to learn about their cuisine. I’ve found some of the best food tours around Taiwan, whether you’re looking for an afternoon tour, a fun cooking class or an in-depth tea tour across the country!
- Street Food
In Taiwan, street food is king. Many foreigners may at first consider street food the equivalent of Western fast food, but in reality the two could not be more different. For the Taiwanese, street food is an art, their way of daily life and their culture. Each stand is family-owned and specializes in one specific thing that they make with their own family recipe.
Because eating out costs about the same, if not less than cooking their own meals, many Taiwanese stop at street markets on the way home to get dinner for their families. Then, remember that fourth I mentioned earlier? That’s where some of the best street food in Taiwan comes into play: at the night markets. Night markets have been a staple in Taiwanese history since all the way back to the Chinese Tang dynasty in A.D. 836. Yes, that’s nearly 3000 years ago!
At a Taiwanese night market you can find nearly anything you’re looking for, but the food is what people really come for! From the moment you arrive, your senses will be nearly overwhelmed with aromas of braised pork, oysters in chili sauce, sausages and more.
I’ve picked the best two tours of street food so that you make sure you don’t miss out on any of the local fare!
This is a private and personalized three-hour tour through two of the best night markets in Taipei: Yansan and Ningxia. Yansan is the “real” market where you’re unlikely to see any other tourists, but you will find the most authentic street food in Taipei. In stark contrast, Ningxia is a bright, bustling market where Taiwanese delicacies are the main event. With this tour, you’ll get to appreciate both kinds of night markets!
On this three-hour private tour, a local will take you through the streets of Taipei to discover the best street food in town. From old-school eateries to hole-in-the-wall places, you’ll get to try all sorts of amazing food and learn about the rich history of Taipei’s food during 10 mouthwatering tastings!
-Upscale Taiwanese Cuisine
While street food is most common when talking about Taiwanese food, eating at a nice restaurant is an equally mouth watering experience. Classic Taiwanese cuisine takes notes from Japanese, Chinese and Dutch food, with many rice-based dishes, variations on pancakes and thin soups, often with pork. Both of these tours I’ve picked give you a wonderful cultural and cuisine-related look into the city.
On this three-day tour of Taipei, you will get to try signature dishes of various neighborhoods around the area. This includes three meals per day plus snacks and beverages and, of course, food and tea tastings. Because it’s a private tour, you can choose where you would like to spend more time and if you would like to learn about anything more in-depth!
During this three-hour tour of Taipei, you will explore the 19th-century streets of Dadaocheng, where the influences of Dutch and Japanese cooking are most prevalent. You will dine in family-owned restaurants and visit two local temples, learning about both the history of the food and the area.
Taiwan is famous for its tea and for good reason: the Taiwanese have been cultivating tea since at least 1717. Since then, they have developed some of the most recognizable teas in the world, like traditional Oolong tea. In fact, Taiwan currently produces about 20 percent of the entire world’s Oolong tea despite being a relatively small island. This is partially due to Taiwan’s unique climate. Sitting along the Tropic of Cancer, Taiwan is subtropical, but its high mountains have cool, moist air causing the tea to grow slowly. This, along with a precise tea production process, produces some of the best tea leaves in the world. Tea is grown in every region of Taiwan, where differing elevations are used to create different types of tea.
But tea is more than just an export to the Taiwanese. It is an integral part of their culture and daily life. Homes and businesses alike have tea tables where tea is served as a welcome to guests and clients. Tea is also served at nearly any function including during business negotiations, wedding banquets, family worship and at funeral services. A common Taiwanese greeting even translates to, “Come in and drink tea.”
There are also many events and traditions centered around tea. For example, tea ceremonies are highly ritualized events created to slow down, enjoy the full experience of tea and to spend quality time with family and friends. A newer phenomenon is the creation of creative, themed cafes. For example, a cat cafe where you can sit and enjoy your tea while petting cats!
In the early 1980s, another new type of tea was created in Taiwan which has only recently reached the rest of the world: bubble tea! Bubble tea, also known as pearl milk tea or boba, is tea and milk with chewy tapioca balls. There are many variations and flavors of bubble tea, like ice blended, cookie dough, rose and ones with added fruit. Now, boba shops are on nearly every street across Taiwan!
Over the course of five days, this tour will immerse you in the traditions, tastes and cultivation techniques of Taiwanese tea. Beginning in Taipei, you will experience a tea ceremony, meet a famous tea seller and visit numerous tea plantations. At each stop, you will be able to learn about the history of tea in that particular area as well as see firsthand the process of cultivating tea. You will also, of course, get to sample excellent local teas and dine on fresh cuisine prepared to compliment the tea. This tour continues through the mountains, up to one thousand meters above sea level where some of the most famous high altitude teas are grown.
This short but sweet tea tour begins with a gondola ride up to the mountainous area overlooking Taipei. You will enjoy a traditional tea-infused dinner and sample numerous teas with a beautiful panoramic view of Taipei at night.
Winter harvest oolongs are some of the most premium teas in the entire world and this 10-day tour will take you into the heart of the cultivation and harvest process. Throughout your trip, you will be staying in beautiful accomodations in the high mountains and spending your days visiting famous tea plantations and gardens. Between the culture, the scenery, the history and, of course, the tea, this tour is nothing short of incredible.
One of the hardest parts of traveling is always having to go home and leave the place and practices that you fell in love with behind, like the amazing cuisine of Taiwan. So why not take some of what you love with you? Whether you’re a natural in the kitchen, you want to challenge yourself to learn how to cook a dish you loved or you just think a cooking class would be a great time, taking a cooking class and learning to cook some local food is a spectacular way to carry Taiwan with you once you leave. I’ve found three of the best cooking classes for you so you can still feel like you’re on vacation even once you’re back home again!
This is a fun, farm-to-table cooking class with seasonal, fresh cuisine. It begins with a trip through Kaohsiung Farmer’s Market to gather fresh ingredients while getting to experience the market itself. Then, you learn to cook with those ingredients to create a delicious Taiwanese meal!
During this cooking class, you will learn to prepare one of the most traditional Taiwanese dishes: xiao long bao and beef noodles! This class is great for any skill level.
Unlike most cooking classes that focus on traditional food, in this cooking class you get to make your own bubble tea from scratch! This class is meant to be a relaxing experience where you can slow down and appreciate the process of tea making and the environment around you. As the class is about eight hours long, it includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and tea as well as a local tea master guide.