Taste of Taiwan: The food you need to try in Tainan

For today’s Food Photo Friday, I thought I’d introduce you all to Tainan, the food capital of Taiwan!

I just finished a two-week solo trip through Taiwan, which is famous throughout Asia for amazing food. Taipei may be the place to go for international cuisine, but Tainan is the home of many Taiwanese delicacies. While I didn’t opt for more stinky tofu, I did partake in literally every famous local dish I could find.

While in Tainan I stayed at 77 Hostel, and the owner Celine is a huge foodie. When I mentioned wanting to try all of the local delicacies, Celine brought out a map and marked all of the restaurants I needed to try. The last thing I needed was MORE dishes to put on my list! The main problem with visiting Tainan in the summer was that it was so hot I didn’t have an appetite. I literally had to force myself to try all of these delicious foods, even though all I really wanted was the fresh fruit teas.

Taste of Taiwan: fruit tea

Grapefruit tea with real chunks of grapefruit

Thankfully, the portion sizes in Tainan are on the smaller side, making three meals a day manageable. To get around my lack of hunger in the afternoon, I’d eat an early lunch around 10:30-11:00, and then I’d have two dinners! My first dinner would be around 4:30-5:00, and I’d eat a second dinner at around 10:00-11:00. While this worked for me, I’d probably recommend visiting Tainan in the fall or spring to be able to fully enjoy your food without melting from the sun.

Another thing to be aware of is the fact that a lot of restaurants are open for either lunch or dinner, not both. Meaning you can walk down a street in the afternoon, and not even recognize it by evening because completely different restaurants are open. The restaurants don’t share buildings or anything, they just close up their shutters leaving the sidewalk space open for a different venue. I guess different tastes are meant for different times of the day? So make sure you plan your meals or you may end up missing out! Or you could always eat two dinners like me.

Okay, enough of the logistics, let’s get to the food!

Beef Soup

Beef Soup

Beef Soup

Location: Minzu 3 street between Haian 2 road and Jinchui 4 road

Beef soup, not to be confused with Taipei’s famous beef noodles, is one of Tainan’s most famous dishes. Best eaten in the morning or afternoon, the beef in this soup is incredible. Beef soup’s claim to fame is that they only use beef from cows that have been slaughtered that morning, making the beef incredibly tender and fresh. There is nothing else in the soup besides beef, making the meat the sole focus. The soup isn’t very filling though, which makes it a perfect breakfast.

Beware of the white stringy stuff though: it’s ginger and not white radish… I put way too much in and then had to awkwardly chopstick it out into a napkin, hoping no one would notice. Whoopsies! (Do not follow my example from this picture)

Coffin Cake

taste of taiwan: coffin cake

Location: a small alley off of Haian road between Zhongzheng road and Youai road

Another one of Tainan’s specialties, coffin cake can only be found in Tainan. Coffin cake consists of a large slice of fresh homemade bread with the center cut out. The hole is filled with chicken and vegetable chowder and covered with the bread lid, thus creating a “coffin” for the chowder. A Taiwanese take on Western food, this delicious hybrid is a little hard to find. I made it my goal to find a coffin cake place in Tainan, but I couldn’t find one anywhere! I started to panic on my last day, so the owner of my hostel, Celine, helped me find a place online. This shop is hidden in an alley so it’s a little hard to spot, but it’s also very famous in Tainan, and has been open for years and years.

Fish Ball Soup

Taste of Taiwan: fish ball soup and oolong tea

fish ball soup and oolong tea

Location: right across the street from the Chihkan Tower

I wasn’t sure what to expect when ordering fish ball soup, the last of the famous Tainan dishes. However, this dish is famous for a reason: it’s so good! The fish balls are made from fresh fish, and the broth is thick and full of flavor. This restaurant was actually an independent find: I came across it while touring the Chihkan Tower and the temples in the area. After eating this meal I had to sit back and marvel at how amazing this soup is. I can’t even describe the flavors, all I can say is that you all need to go eat this right now.

Also, if you visit this restaurant make sure you also order the tofu wrapped shrimp spring rolls. These things were literally heaven. I decided to get them because I was still a little hungry after the soup and the picture looked great. The sauce served with the rolls was also incredible. There was a sweet and savory sauce as well as a spicy mustard sauce. I mixed the two together and it was GREAT.

I also had some fresh, cold oolong tea with this lunch. Taiwan is famous for its high mountain oolong, and you can find oolong tea at most tea shops and stands all over Taiwan. On a hot day, cold oolong tea is perfect and very refreshing.

Taste of Taiwan: tofu wrapped shrimp rolls

tofu wrapped shrimp spring rolls

More things I didn’t even know I needed to have…

While I made it a point to try beef soup, coffin cake and fish ball soup in Tainan, Celine wouldn’t let me stop there. This foodie had a few more dishes up her sleeve that I needed to try. How could I say no?

Eel Noodles

Taste of Taiwan: eel noodles

Eel noodles without the broth

Location: 89 Minzu 3 street between Haian 2 road and Jinchui 4 road

Only open in the evenings, the eel noodles on Minzu street are amazing. I’d never had eel outside of sushi before, but I actually really liked it! The eel is made fresh and cooked to perfection. The noodles are also flavored extremely well. I don’t know what seasoning they’re putting on these noodles but I could eat them for a week straight and still want more. Normally the noodles come in a broth, but Celine told me to order the dish dry to enhance the flavor. The dry noodles aren’t even on the menu, you just have to be “in the know”. Order them dry to feel like a super cool local.

Scallion Mutton

Taste of Taiwan: quick-fry scallion mutton

Congbao yangrou or Quick-fry scallion mutton

Location: 178 Minzu 3 street between Haian 2 road and Jinchui 4 road

*In case you were wondering, yes the beef soup, eel noodles and mutton are all on the same street

Another item not originally on my list, Congbao Mutton is amazing! The sauce is absolutely incredible and I had to force myself not to lick it out of the container. The scallion onions also work perfectly with the meat. I’m so glad I let Celine convince me to run out to this restaurant for a midnight snack second dinner.

Fresh Fruit Smoothie

Taste of Taiwan: fruit smoothie

Kiwi pineapple smoothie

Location: EVERYWHERE

After all of these amazing food pictures you’re probably thinking “But what can I wash it all down with??!”. Or you hate me for making you crave things you didn’t even know existed. Either way, here’s something else to crave: a kiwi pineapple smoothie. Ingredients: kiwi and pineapple. That’s it. No milk, no sugar, no ice. It’s literally just blended fruit. The stands keep the fruit refrigerated so that the drink is nice and refreshing. This smoothie was absolutely incredible and filling! The shops selling these drinks are easy to find because they advertise by placing cups with fruit in them at the front of their stall/store. This is great for those of you who don’t speak Chinese because you can just point to the cup of fruit you want blended!

For those of you not traveling to Taiwan in the immediate future, run to the store and grab some pineapple and kiwi and blend this up yourself! Unless you live in Seattle where the kiwi is always sour. Then I suggest you make some watermelon juice like they do in mainland China.

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

14 comments on “Taste of Taiwan: The food you need to try in Tainan

    • Hi Paul! I’m glad you made it to Tainan. I searched everywhere and I guess I must’ve thrown out the map (it’s been a few weeks). Fortunately, most hostels and hotels have maps, and googlemaps/applemaps should list the streets in English. Your hostel/hotel may be able to help you out by googling the names of the food and the street they’re on in Chinese and marking the exact place on the map for you. Some of the places listed here have exact addresses or are really easy to find (fish ball soup). The only places you might have a little trouble finding are the beef soup and coffin cake, but if you wander the block I told you for each of these, you should be able to find them. Hope this helps!

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