My trip to Taiwan was a spur of the moment opportunity and very fast paced. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a flight attendant who let me fly with her and meet her family! I had four full days in Taiwan, it was a whirlwind, and I am so glad I did it. Usually, when I plan a trip, I do a deep dive into the culture, history, and have a notebook with a running list of things to see and do.
However, on this trip I had a small list of things to do in Taipei and the rest was me flying by the seat of my pants. It was an exciting opportunity to let someone else plan the trip, while also being very advantageous because we accomplished what would typically have been enough for seven days. Having a local take you to all the best spots, the hidden gems, and navigate the hecticness of the city was incredible and something I strive for with this blog. So, here is the whirlwind breakdown of my four days in Taiwan.
Cities I Visited
Over my four days I visited three distinct and beautiful cities: Taichung, Jiufen, and Taipei. Each one with their own rich history and modern enticements. I am providing links to the city-specific blogs that dive deeper into the culture of the city and the things to see and do.
Street Food Culture
The street food culture in Taiwan is off the charts; there is an incredible assortment of foods available with long histories and faithful followings. You can find food stalls on every street, some highly visible and others are hidden away on tiny side streets. Some vendors have a hybrid of a brick and mortar with a seating area extended onto the sidewalk, and others are solely stalls. If locals are going there, it is advisable to try it out. If you don’t see any foreigners, you’ve likely found a popular local spot.
Photo credit: Sidestreet
One of the biggest draws for me when travelling is to delve into the rich and diverse cultural practices in the places I visit, which reveals how the environment and necessities of life shape culture in a given location. As traditions and practices are established and then refined new versions emerge, which is exciting to see.
Food has an incredible power to bring people together and to create a level playing field. Everyone has to eat, however, enjoying food, breaking bread with new friends, it creates a sense of community and togetherness that crosses cultural boundaries. I felt this unspoken bond with the hundreds of people feverishly moving through the night market in search of their next meal(s).
Snapshot of Iconic Delicacies
This list is really long, I tried to break it down into the things I ate, saw, and/or wanted to eat.
- Cong Zhua Bing – Scallion Panckaes
- Gua Bao – Steamed Bun Sandwiches
- Luobo Si Bing – Radish Pancakes
- Coffin Bread – they cut out the center and stuff it with deliciousness and then cover it back up again.
- Grilled Squid – straight forward sounding but utterly delicious
- Bubble Tea – the hype is real and being ground zero to experience it is so much better than whatever you have experienced prior to this moment.
- Honey Sweet Potatoes – sweet potatoes slow cooked in a barrel. Just wow.
- Wheel Pie – I think these were my favourite sweet treats and they’re so beautiful, stacked on each other waiting to be eaten.
- Stinky Tofu – it really is awful smelling but it’s not bad tasting; definitely an acquired taste.
- Sugar Coated Hawberries on a stick
- Chicken Fillet
- Oyster Omelet
- Barbeque Corn – exactly like it sounds
- Mango Shaved Ice – this is a big deal, I had no idea until I tried it. Who knew ice could be so tasty and beautiful.
- Pig’s Blood Cake
Local Profile: Traditional Taiwanese Tofu
I met Bi Fang Zou in the early sun, next to the bustling morning market in Taichung. She is famous for her homemade tofu, which is a recipe that has been passed down from her father. He started the business after he came to Taiwan in 1955 from mainland China. With no future prospects on the horizon, her father decided to start making tofu as a way to build a future in his new home. She has been managing the business with her husband for eight years and has recently moved to a new location. Her tofu is like silk in your mouth, firm yet soft with a rich toasted and nutty flavour. Her tofu is served in a cup, almost like a porridge. You choose your toppings, tapioca balls, brown sugar, and seasonal items. This is a light but hearty dish that will keep you fuelled up and won’t bog you down in the heat.
Local Profile: Coffee Culture
I was so lucky to meet and conduct short interviews with a few locals while travelling. My friend acted as a translator for me in two instances, but body language and laughing is universal. This is the core of the blog, to meet locals and hear their stories and find out what they love about their city. I didn’t get a chance to deep dive with these lovely people, but my intent with future interviews is to be able to sit down and have a long chat and share those stories with you.
In the lobby of the Meander 1948 Hostel, is a charming little cafe called Tahoja. They offer pour overs, espresso-based drinks, and small baked goods. The barista I met, Harry Chang, was so friendly and chatty it was no surprise we got to chatting about my trip and how he got into coffee. Not only does he come from the same city as my friend’s family, but he also didn’t get his start in coffee. He started making soap and then shifted to coffee. His first foray into coffee began with a coffee motorbike! He had a little trailer hitch attached to the back of his bike, and he would drive around the city offering pour over and espresso drinks to customers. He moved to Taipei to dive deeper into the business and to save up to start his own shop and roaster back in Taichung.
Local Profile: Tattoo Culture
I was fortunate enough to get tattooed by a young up-and-coming artist in Taichung. His name is Hao Hao, you can find him on Instagram as @n.w_tattoo, his aesthethic is inspired by Sailor Jerry, but he also uses Japanese style with a contemporary design. Both my travel companion and her cousin have both been tattooed by Hao Hao and they were able to translate my idea/design to him. It felt like an a golden opportunity to get a hyper-local experience that may not otherwise have materialized.
As a cultuaral sidebar, tattoo culture is definitely popular with younger people, but the older generations are not so comfortable with it. It is often linked to more unsavoury people and actions. However, the mood is shifting, and the artistic endeavour is being embraced.
Getting Around: Scoot Life
Scooters are a mainstay throughout the country, carving out their own presence on the streets and throughout the cities. Parking a scooter is an art form and watching locals navigate the city looking for an ideal spot is entertaining to say the least. You’ll see people hop the curbs and create a space out of thin air. However, they are a very useful tool for navigating the city and getting around quickly and agilely. If you get a chance to take a scooter, I recommending doing it because it’s a great way to see the city and get into the nooks and crannies of a city.