This Underrated East Asian Destination Is A Must-Visit For Foodies

When it comes to East Asian culinary destinations, Taiwan may not be the first name that springs to mind — but it should be. This island nation, nestled off the southeastern coast of China, is often called the "foodie paradise" of East Asia. Taiwanese cuisine, a blend of many Asian and indigenous influences, offers a diverse and exciting palette that can satisfy even the most adventurous foodies. From bustling night markets to gourmet restaurants, Taiwan's food scene is vibrant, varied, and utterly delicious.

Taiwan's culinary heritage is as complex as its history. The island's traditional Austronesian inhabitants, Chinese immigrants from the Fujian province, the Hakka people, Japanese colonial influence, and even modern Western influences have all left their mark on Taiwanese cuisine. This mix of cultures has resulted in a unique culinary landscape. Dishes like beef noodle soup and xiao long bao (soup dumplings) reflect the Chinese influence, while Japanese-style curry and sushi are also popular.

No visit to Taiwan is complete without a foray into its bustling night markets. These markets are extraordinary foodie destinations and also local cultural experiences — and there are over 70 of them across all of Taiwan. The most famous among them, the Shilin Night Market in Taipei, is a labyrinth of food stalls, each offering a full-body sensory overload. Jiufen Old Street, Zhongxiao Road Night Market, Ruifeng Night Market, and Fengjia Night Market (the largest one in Taiwan, with about 15,000 vendors!) are notable mentions, each one with its own unique atmosphere, location, and culinary specialties. 

From street food eats to Michelin-star dining in Taiwan

Taiwan has too many local delicacies to list, but these are the must-tries. The iconic drink that has taken the world by storm — bubble tea — is a Taiwanese invention. The sweet and savory gua bao, often called the Taiwanese hamburger, is a steamed bun filled with braised pork belly. There's also stinky tofu — you'll smell it long before you see it, let alone taste it. A notorious dish that challenges the palate, stinky tofu is known for its pungent odor but rewards the bravest foodies with its deep, complex flavor. Beef noodle soup is comfort food at its best — slow-cooked broth, tender beef, and chewy noodles. Oyster omelet, a mix of eggs, oysters, and greens, topped with a sweet and spicy sauce, showcases Taiwan's seafood prowess.

Taiwan's food scene is not limited to street food. In recent years, Taipei has emerged as a hotspot for fine dining in Asia. Innovative chefs are reimagining traditional dishes using modern techniques and presentation, bringing Taiwanese cuisine to the global culinary stage. The Michelin Guide's arrival in Taipei has further cemented the city's status as a gastronomic hotspot. There are 36 restaurants with Michelin stars and 139 eateries donning the Bib Gourmand. Le Palais (three Michelin stars) and RAW (two Michelin stars) have been drawing foodies from all over the world for years. There's also a growing emphasis on "green dining" in Taiwan's food scene, with many chefs and restaurants focusing on local produce and sustainable practices.

More Taiwanese foodie adventures

Beyond the capital of Taipei, each region in Taiwan offers unique flavors and specialties. As the oldest city in Taiwan, Tainan is famous for its traditional snacks and street food, like migao (sticky pork rice) and coffin bread. Kaohsiung, in the south, is known for seafood. The Cijin seafood street is a must-visit for anyone craving milkfish congee or fish ball soup. The East Coast, especially Hualien, offers a taste of indigenous cuisine, with dishes like Hualien mochi and bamboo rice.

Taiwan is also a haven for vegetarians and vegans. Due to a large Buddhist population, vegetarian food is widely available — in fact, Taiwan ranks as the world's third most vegetarian country (via WorldAtlas). From plant-based buffets to gourmet restaurants, there are over 6,000 vegetarian establishments in the country. If you're a tea lover, Taiwan is paradise in a cup — especially famous for its oolong tea, known as the "champagne of tea." Experiencing a traditional tea ceremony or visiting tea plantations in the highlands is an absolute must. 

If it isn't clear already, Taiwanese people love to enjoy, share, and celebrate food. Various food festivals throughout the year, like the Taipei Beef Noodle Festival and the Taipei International Food Show, offer a chance to indulge in the diversity of Taiwanese cuisine. The warmth and hospitality of the local people add even more to the food experience. Foodies worldwide, pack your appetite, and embark on a journey to this underrated, yet delectable, East Asian food paradise.