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An introduction to Taiwanese Street Foods

Taipei, like many other cities in Asia, is known for its animated night markets, which abound with fantastic if not unusual street eats. The city’s famous night markets like Raohe, Shi Lin, Shida, Tonghua amongst others heave with local street foods and offer the promise of a gastronomical adventure for visiting foodies. Moreover, these markets are easily accessible via Taipei’s efficient and extensive MRT system.

Listed below are some of the most popular street food eats on offer at Taipei’s night markets.

Oyster Omelet
Oyster Omelet as its name suggests is a pan-fried omelet, which features small oysters, eggs, a batter of potatoes and sweet potatoes, scallions and other greens. A covering of a sweet, mild sauce then completes the dish.

Beef Noodles
Flavorful beef noodles are a street food favorite in Taiwan. This soup-based dish has two variations; a clear or soy sauce flavored broth. Customers can also choose to have their soup with either fat or thin noodles; both varieties go well with the soup’s abundant beef pieces, usually boneless ribs and tendons. The meaty flavor of the soup base and the chewy texture of the beef pieces help to make this dish a perennial favorite no matter the season.

Chicken Cutlet
The Taiwanese version of Chicken Cutlet features a piece of pounded and marinated, chicken breast, which is then battered and deep-fried. A generous sprinkling of black pepper and Chinese five-spice powder then rounds up the offering, crisp on the outside and moist and succulent on the inside. In recent years, the humble Chicken Cutlet has undergone a few transformations, and it now features additions like cheese and even fruit. Some vendors even cater to weight-conscious patrons by eschewing the deep-frying process and offering a char-grilled version of Chicken Cutlet.

Braised Pork and Rice
This simple dish features minced pork or even strips of pork stewed in soy sauce. A serving of cooked white rice along with sides of pickled turnips, bamboo shoots and greens, then renders complete this one-dish, wholesome meal.

Stinky/ Smelly Tofu
Revered by many, feared and abhorred by others, Stinky or Smelly Tofu is a Taiwanese street food staple. Stinky tofu has several variations though its most common apparition features deep-fried, fermented bean curd, crispy on the outside and soft and mushy on the inside. A dish of Stinky Tofu usually features a sweet and spicy sauce and pickled cabbage as accompaniments.

Giant Dumplings
Taiwanese giant dumplings feature a thick, chewy covering made with glutinous rice flour. The stuffing of the dumpling features pork, mushroom, bamboo shoots and sometimes an egg. A sweet or savory sauce anoints the large meatball dumpling, which is known locally as Ba-Wan.

Mochi
Mochi is a popular desert in many Asian countries. These glutinous rice balls feature various stuffing like black sesame paste, green tea jam, red bean paste and so on. Before serving the balls, are rolled in peanut powder so that they offer an explosion of sweet and savory flavor when ingested.

Pig’s Blood Rice Cake
Glutinous rice once again features as the main ingredient of this dish, which is essentially a steamed cake, made with glutinous rice and boiled pig’s blood. The cake resembles a stick ice cream bar and features lashings of special sauce and garnishing such as peanut powder and Chinese parsley.

Pepper Cakes
These crispy, pastry envelopes feature black pepper seasoned, succulent pork and sliced scallions as stuffing. Rather than being deep-fried, pepper cakes are baked on the sides of a clay oven and topped with sesame seeds.

Thick Rice Noodles
Thick rice noodles make an appearance in hot soups as well as icy deserts in Taiwan. Sweet potato starch and rice milk are the main ingredients of these thick rice noodles. As part of a soup dish, the noodles are cooked with shredded pork, mushroom and dried shrimp and are immersed in a steaming, flavorful broth. When used in a desert, they are drowned in a soup made with sugar and topped with ice, mung beans, red beans, Taiwanese Aiyu jelly and more.

Taiwanese Burger
Gua-Bao is the Taiwanese version of the American hamburger. Rather than a bread bun, Gua-Bao features a steamed, oval shaped bun. The bun doesn’t have a meat patty but features a stuffing of braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, Chinese parsley (cilantro or coriander) and peanut powder. Gua-Bao nowadays features like a stuffing of fried pork or shredded chicken, all of which are just as delicious.

Small sausage in big sausage
This oddly named snack features a sausage fashioned out of glutinous rice, which is then slit open to enclose a smaller pork sausage and condiments like cucumber slices, crushed peanuts, Chinese parsley and pickled greens. Both the big and small sausages are grilled.

Stir-Fried Squid
Taiwan, an island nation abounds with plentiful, fresh seafood and stir-fried squid is a ubiquitous dish at its street markets. Vendors prepare stir-fried squid by frying a spice mixture in a wok over a high flame. Soon after, a clear broth is poured into the pan and allowed to boil. The squid is then introduced and flash-fried. A pinch of cornstarch is added to the sauce in the end to thicken it, and the dish is ready to serve.

Shaved Ice
Taiwanese shaved ice is a popular summertime treat. Similar to Asian ice deserts like Halo-Halo (from the Philippines) and Ais Kacang (found in Malaysia and Singapore); Taiwanese shaved ice features a mountain of flavored ice. This pile usually features toppings like mango slices, strawberry slices, Nata de coco (a jelly made with coconut water), sweetened red and green beans, corn, condensed milk and sweet syrups.

The above-listed eats are just a few of the scores of the delicious and innovative treats on offer at Taipei's street markets. If you are an enthusiastic foodie or even an adventurous traveler, you should try and sample as many dishes as you can. The flavors, textures and tastes are sure to delight if not surprise you.

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