A trip to Taiwan is something I’ve always had on my wish list but not one that I thought I would check off already. I didn’t know too much about Taiwan except for what my Dad told me about (he went to university there) and what I watched on Youtube about the different night market foods at Raohe and Ningxia. I went on the trip with my parents without planning too much, which is so rare for me because I usually a full, colour-coded excel sheet of restaurants organized by neighbourhood, hours of operation, and type of cuisine. Instead, I let my parents guide the trip since they’ve been multiple times and I had a few of spots I knew I wanted to visit sprinkled throughout. We spent five days mostly in Taipei but did take a day trip to visit Shifen and Jiufen. I haven’t travelled with my parents in over a decade.. or maybe it’s closer to two decades but I’m so grateful that a trip to Taiwan is one we did together. Here’s how I spent five days in Taiwan:
We flew into Taoyuan International Airport very early into the morning, before anything was open. After we landed from the 13-hour flight, we took the train from Taoyuan into the city, which was a very scenic ride — we went through so much lush greenery and mountainscapes, something that is characteristic of Taiwan that I didn’t know about before this trip. When we exited the train station, we were in the middle of a bustling city and I was immediately overwhelmed. Taipei was what I expected but also completely different at the same time? I was not surprised by how close the buildings are to each other and how there are restaurants and food stalls everywhere, but I was taken aback by how insanely dense the traffic was (the motorbikes!) and the buildings were much older than I pictured (we stayed near Taipei Main Station). Each building had such charm and everywhere I looked was like a moving postcard.
After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we started our mission: to get a traditional Taiwanese breakfast while acquainting myself with the area we’ll be calling home for the next five days.
Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang (永和豆漿大王) – this was my first meal in the city and it was a great introduction. We ordered the shao bing stuffed with an egg omelet and Chinese donut stick. It was so fresh, perfectly fried, and the egg was a nice break from all the crisp textures of the bread and donut. I wouldn’t have minded a tad more salt in the omelet but I’m not complaining at all. This breakfast essential was paired with a sweet soy milk that was light and silky. Remember to give the drink a stir first because the sugar tends to gather at the bottom. The highlight of the meal for me was watching them make all the donuts fresh. The man making the donut was standing on the street, almost as part of the queue to order, rolling and shaping each donut stick. A lady was frying the omelette at lighting speeds while an older man by the till was announcing each customer’s order. When you visit these breakfast stalls, bring cash but you won’t need too much. A breakfast will cost around $2 – 5 CAD.
Addiction Aquatic Development (上引水產) – a gourmet marketplace dedicated to all things seafood, AAD was highly recommended to me by friends and by some quick googling of the best places to visit in Taipei. The marketplace has live seafood tanks, a supermarket, seafood bar, and cafeteria-style stalls selling seafood you can find when you first enter the building. AAD is overwhelming at first but once you realize that everything is so well-priced, you won’t hold back in getting a third bento box of fish and rice. My parents and I shared a feast: grilled fish, two types of seafood rice, assorted sushi, deep fried mini crab, egg omelette with unagi, and grilled pork belly. Bring cash because the entire place is cash only!
Fika Fika Cafe – my first speciality coffee on this trip was at this Scandanavian-inspired cafe serving pour-overs and baked goods. Fika Fika was a nice spot to rest your feet after a long day of walking but do note that most coffee shops have a minimum spend on beverages per person if choosing to dine in and food doesn’t count towards the amount. The highlight for me was the osmanthus longan honey latte, a flavour pairing I never see on a coffee menu in Vancouver.
Raohe St. Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市) – Before landing in Taipei, I knew the night market scene is what I wanted to explore most in the city. Taiwan is famous for its night markets and Raohe is one of the most popular ones. The city really comes alive at night — flashing neon lights, the sounds of hungry diners yelling out their orders, and the smells of scallion pancakes and Taiwanese sausages permeate the street. These night markets are home to many Michelin-recognized stalls that specialize in one specific item and most often times it is the only item on their menus. Favourite bites? The grilled oyster mushrooms and glutinous rice balls served with osmanthus syrup over ice (there will be a long line for this Michelin-recommend dessert, but it is worth the wait).
7-11 (various locations) – it might seem weird to put a 7-11 convenience store as a recommendation but much like 7-11 stores in other parts of Asia, the 7-11 stores of Taiwan are so unique to the city. First of all, many of the stores have different themes, ranging from Hello Kitty to Disney to Sumikko Gurashi, and my personal favourite, Peanuts. The entire store follows the theme and have their own specialty merch not available at other locations. What’s more impressive than this special themeing is the array of ready-to-eat food both at the hot bar and in the fridge. I had a 7-11 tea egg everyday and before we headed back to the hotel at night, we would look for a post-dinner snack like an onigiri filled with jammy soft boiled eggs or triple decker milk bread sandwiches.
Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿) – possibly the most famous spot serving Taiwanese breakfast in all of Taipei. I was warned that the queue wraps around the building and can be up to 2 hours for this counter-service food court stall. I was determined to try it because I needed to know why people are queueing two hours for soy milk when there are 2 – 3 soy milk stalls on every block of this city. When you google FHDJ, you will find many articles sharing tips and tricks on avoiding a long queue. I tried following most of the tips and found myself lining up 55 minutes on a weekday morning. The queue wrapped around the building on the first floor, then up the stairs to the second floor, before you reach the food court deep on the second level. The stall is huge — through their glass windows you see so many workers preparing grilled flat breads, frying donuts, and pouring soy milk before arriving at the till to place your order. I ordered all the essentials off the menu: shao bing with Chinese donut and egg, dan bing (egg crepe), green onion pastry, radish pastry, sweet soy milk, and savoury soy milk. The shao bing was superior to the one I had at Yong He and the egg crepe was so perfectly chewy and fragrant. The highlight has to be the savoury soy milk flecked with dried shrimp, Chinese donut, and cilantro. I’ve never had savoury soy milk before and the flavours and textures are so special.
Zhongshan District – this was the perfect area to do some shopping and cafe hopping in between all the meals. Zhongshan was my favourite neighbourhood on my Taiwan trip. It is a nice little break from the busyness of the other areas of Taipei and I loved how all the shops had very unique branding and exteriors. I stopped at every shop to take a photo of the building and to take a quick look inside. There are a lot of cute cafes located on the second floor of buildings, so don’t miss out on those. Grab an iced coffee at a cafe and sip on it as you explore the neighbourhood.
Dihua Street – this area will give you a deep sense of nostalgia for Taiwan even if it’s your first time there. Dihua Street is the oldest street in Taipei and its architecture has been under preservation and conservation efforts by the city. Parts of Dihua Street can be quite touristy but if you explore the smaller, inner streets, you’ll find yourself surrounded by unique architecture, greenery, and businesses unique to the area. Most of the shops sell dried goods, Chinese medicine, fabrics, and small accessories. Even if those items are not of particular interest to you, the area is worth exploring. We tried two restaurants in the area, both of which were really delicious. The first one was a restaurant we stumbled upon that served traditional Taiwanese fare like braised pork rice and simple stir fries (I had my first bowl of vegetarian braised ‘pork’ rice made with mushrooms and it was insanely delicious) and the second was Lao-A-Bei (老阿伯胖魷焿), that specializes in thick squid soup, a recommendation in the New York Times.
Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市) – our second night market of the trip was Ningxia, which has the same busyness as Raohe but has a different overall vibe. The vendors are much closer together at this market and there are less communal tables for dining. When going down the street and looking at vendors on both sides, don’t forget the vendors and restaurants that are part of the buildings. There are many gems serving oyster omelettes, fried buns, and fresh fruit juices. You cannot skip the fried scallion pancake with egg and basil from 月氏激蛋蔥油餅 and the taro balls with salted egg yolk from the most famous stall at the market, 劉芋仔蛋黃芋餅. This latter stall is consistently recommended by the Michelin Bib Gourmand, despite only selling two things!
We planned a full day trip to Shifen and Jiufen for our third day in Taiwan. Before we headed to Shifen by car, we stopped by a breakfast spot my dad recommended that specializes in whole fish soup.
Emmanuel Fresh Fish Soup (以馬內利鮮魚湯) – from 7am to 2pm, this shop specializes in fresh fish soup made with tilapia. The broth is clean but full of flavour and each bowl is served with an entire tilapia. Each bowl of soup is $4 CAD (!!). Pair the soup with a side order of fried vermicelli or thick noodles, and you have the perfect hearty breakfast.
Shifen (十分) – Known for its scenic waterfall, lanterns, and collection of ships on Old Street, Shifen is a 45 minute drive from the city and the perfect day trip to get away from the city. We arrived at the waterfall first and explored the surrounding area. We enjoyed a cooling aiyu jelly drink as we wandered and made our way to Old Street. Shifen Old Streets is a collection of lanes and alleys in and around the Shifen railway station. People can freely cross the track running straight through the town centre, and you will find many tourists releasing lanterns on the railway tracks. It’s become a famous tradition in Shifen to write your well wishes on big paper lanterns, and send them flying above town. While in Shifen, we also enjoyed a very popular snack, a crepe filled with ice cream, candied peanuts, and cilantro.
Jiufen (九份) – Jiufen is a mountain town that many have claimed was the inspiration for Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The town is stunning, with its cobblestone streets, red lanterns, and richly decorated tea houses. Our first bite in Jiufen was what they’re known for: taro balls. Made of taro root and glutinous flour, these purple balls are chewy and toothsome and my platonic ideal of the perfect dessert. You don’t need a specific plan for Jiufen, wandering the streets and exploring the shops is enough entertainment for an entire afternoon and if you get tired, step inside one of many tea houses of the town. The most famous teahouse is A-MEI Tea House (九份阿妹茶樓), which if you’re lucky gives you the best view of the town. We went there mid-afternoon and stayed until after sunset. Watching the sun set along the hills and the sea was really special and something I recommend doing. We requested for a table by the edge of the patio and only had to wait an extra 15 – 20 minutes for a table to clear up for us. The tea menu is massive, but don’t be afraid to ask the server to guide you through it. We ordered a pot of tea to share between the three of us (which you can do if you order from their premium tea list) and a few tea snacks. The fried chewy tea cakes filled with tea leaves were spectacular.
Day 4 & 5:
The last two days of the trip were back in city and we explored most of it by foot and visiting the food spots I had on my list. Here are the highlights:
Liang Su Shang Hao (良粟商號) – I love that Taipei is such a breakfast city. Despite not having rigorously planned a itinerary for this trip, I had Liang Su Shang Hao on my list with an asterisk beside it. This spot specializes in charcoal-grilled sandwiches with an egg that oozes when you open up the sandwich. The charcoal-grilled chicken thigh and egg sandwich is highly recommended which is what my dad tried, but I ordered the grilled mushroom sandwich which was as perfect as perfect can be. My mom loved the spot so much she wanted to come back the next day.
Summer Savage Coffee – right across Liang Su Shang Hao is Summer Savage, a little cofffe kiosk serving espresso-based drinks and speciality pourovers. We really enjoyed the coffees while sitting on the wodden benches outside the cafe.
Odd One Out Tea – Taiwan is known for bubble tea but I’m guilty of drinking more fresh papaya milk (their other specialty drink) than bubble tea on this trip. I did have a few cups of boba but the one that really stood out was at Odd One Out Tea. I ordered the the Champion Milk Tea (red oolong, fresh milk, cream foam) which was the Winner of the 2022 Milk Tea Festival in Taiwan. The tea was fragrant and smooth and the recommended topping of silk boba was chewy and toothsome. The barista recommended five ice cubes for my ice level so I trusted him. Great choice.
Ning Bo Sheng Jian Bao – I ate so many pan fried buns in Taiwan so I feel like when I say this is my favourite pan fried bun I had on this trip, you have to trust me. We stumbled upon this shop after visiting Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. I recognized the storefront from Nom Life’s Instagram Stories from a while back and immediately ordered the buns. The vegetable bun was the best (according to my parents who tried both the meat and the veggie buns) and it was my favourite vegetable bun of our Taipei trip. The fluffy bun was crisp at the bottom and filled with salty and peppery veggies as well as vermicelli. I’m pretty sure the veggie bun has dried shrimp in it (hence the insaneeeeeee umami) so you might want to double check if you’re vegetarian! These buns are so delicious and affordable (about 70 cents CAD each) and I would be happy even if they were the only thing I could eat on this trip.
Mountain Kids Coffee Roaster – solid coffee spot I visited on my last day in Taiwan. A beautiful cafe space that offers dine in and take out, but dine in prices are higher.
Meihao Mei Breakfast Restaurant – the last breakfast stop of this trip and we ended on a high note. Mei hao mei serves an affordable and traditional Taiwanese breakfast menu, so expect things like egg crepes, turnip cakes, and simple sandwiches. These egg crepes were chewy and saucy, and our favourite one was the egg crepe with basil. We finished our last meal with a taro mantou (steamed bun) with egg from the breakfast stall next door!
Thank you for a beautiful (and delicious) experience, Taipei!