From chicken feet to beef tendoon, Taiwanese street food can get pretty wild.
There’s nothing like opening your heart (and your mouth) to a Taiwanese street food, completely clueless as to what it is.
1. Pig blood cake (豬血糕)
At the street market in Xinpu, I was encouraged to try this Taiwanese favorite without any knowledge of what the ingredients are. I unwrapped a thick piece of black rice cake, covered in what looked like peanuts, and took a hearty bite. The sweet, savory flavor was hard to pinpoint, and after a few considerate chews I found out the answer. The black substance holding the rice cake together is in fact pig’s blood, a common ingredient in Taiwanese cooking. Did I recoil in horror? Absolutely. Did it taste delicious? You betcha.
2. Tripe or cow stomach (牛柏葉)
Typically prepared with onions, ginger, and chile, tripe is a delicious introduction to organ meat for those who haven’t gone-there before. The texture is springy and a bit chewy, somewhat like squid but less rubbery. It’s easy to enjoy, as the flavor is very mild, which allows it to soak up the flavor of the herbs and broth it is cooked with. This dish tastes great with a fresh side of bamboo shoots and Asian cucumber.
3. Anchovies (風尾魚)
I was a few bites into this Taiwanese comfort food when I realized that the small white “noodles” were in fact anchovies. As the now visible black eyes looked up at me from my plastic bowl, my inner dialogue said, “too late now,” and I proceeded to finish the bowl. The anchovies, typically eaten dried or rehydrated in soups and other dishes, have a subtle fish flavor that isn’t overpowering. Unlike the anchovies we know in the states, this variety is much smaller and milder in flavor. They’re extremely nutrient rich and high in protein, a great snack to try in Taiwan.
4. Octopus (章魚)
Before childhood visions of Ursula the sea witch cloud your judgment, make a point to try octopus from a local street vendor. The closer you are to the coast the fresher the seafood will be, so save this dish for your seaside venture. The vendor typically slices the tentacle open, and then cuts slits in it so it will lay flat on the grill. A flavorful soy-based marinate is painted on with a brush, and it takes several minutes to cook (you can sometimes walk around a bit and come back). It is then sliced into small pieces you can eat with a toothpick. It tastes divine, but eat it quick as it doesn’t keep well.
5. Stinky Tofu (臭豆腐)
Honey, you’ll smell it before you taste it. Wandering the streets of Taipei, a pungent ass-smelling odor will hit you in the face like a brick. Stinky tofu gets its smell from the shortened fermentation process, in which it’s submerged in a brine of fermented milk, vegetables, and meat for a day or two. The tofu can be prepared in many ways, but it is most popularly served fried at the street market. The flavor is confusing to most, as your nose and mouth struggle to make sense of the foul odor and satisfying flavor. It’s a challenge you must accept, as stinky tofu is a childhood favorite in Taiwan.
6. 1000 year old egg (皮蛋)
This dish is a tough one to accept, I’ll admit that, but I promise you it’s worth trying. This Taiwanese breakfast staple is not actually one hundred or one thousand years old. The egg is preserved for weeks or months in a mixture of clay, ash, quicklime, salt, and rice hulls. Over time, the yolk becomes dark green but maintains its creamy texture. The white becomes a transparent dark brown, and hardens into a gummy texture of salty flavor. Once you get over the “old egg” concept, you’ll find this dish to be a must-have with your morning rice porridge and tofu.
7. Taiwanese meatballs (肉圓)
Taiwanese street food often involves an unusual combination that most Americans aren’t used to: gelatin and meat. Taiwanese meatballs are just that, a gelatinous rice-based ball filled with a savory pork mixture. The dish is often garnished with cilantro and a sweet, tangy sauce. Search for restaurants and vendors frequented by locals for the best representation of this celebrated delicacy.
8. Fish balls (魚漿)
I like to think of the fish ball as the matzah ball of the east. They’re made by pounding fish (usually cod) until the proteins in the fish break down, and then by shaping them into balls. You’ll find fish balls everywhere, but the more you taste them, the more you’ll appreciate a perfected ball. What you’re looking for is a doughy ball, rich in flavor and uniform in consistency. They’re served in hot broth typically flavored with pork, spring onion, and soy sauce.
9. Beef Tendon (炆牛筋腩)
Beef tendon has a unique texture that you may have never experienced. It is extremely cartilaginous, meaning it is slightly chewy, but softer the longer it is cooked. The beef flavor is hearty and delicious, which is why you’ll find tendon served both alone and in rich stews.
10. Chicken Feet (鳯爪)
Chicken feet can be found at most night markets in Taiwan, often deep fried and served with chili sauce. They don’t have much meat on them, so they’re great as a late night snack to nibble on, or to enjoy with a beer as bar food.
Which street food are you game for, and which are you prepared to veto? Let us know in the comments.