45 essential treats from Taiwan
January 29th, 2014
10:45 AM ET
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Small eats, and a lot of them, are the big thing in Taiwan.

The culinary philosophy here is eat often and eat well.

Sure, there's the internationally accepted three-meals-a-day dining format, but why be so limited when you can make like the Taiwanese and indulge in gourmet snacking at any time of the day?

The Taiwanese capital, Taipei, has around 20 streets dedicated to snacking.

Every time you think you've found the best streetside bao, the most incredible stinky tofu or mind-blowing beef noodle soup, there's always another Taiwanese food shop that surpasses it.

The island's food is a mash-up of the cuisine of the Min Nan, Teochew and Hokkien Chinese communities, along with Japanese cooking.

It's a culinary love-in with diversely delicious offspring.

Arguments about the best food on Taiwan risk ruining relationships and lifelong friendships.

Food: it's serious, it's respected, it's all excellent in Taiwan.

1. Braised pork rice (滷肉飯)

"Where there's a wisp of smoke from the kitchen chimney, there will be lurou fan [braised pork with rice]," goes the Taiwanese saying.

The popularity of this humble dish cannot be overstated.

"Lurou fan" is almost synonymous with Taiwanese food.

The Taipei city government launched a "braised pork rice is ours" campaign last year after Michelin’s "Green Guide Taiwan" claimed the dish was from Shandong Province in mainland China.

A good bowl of lurou fan comprises finely chopped, not quite minced, pork belly, slow-cooked in aromatic soy sauce with five spices.

There should be an ample amount of fattiness, in which lies the magic.

The meat is spooned over hot rice.

A little sweet, a little salty, braised pork rice is comfort food perfected.

Jin Feng Lu Rou Fan (金峰滷肉飯), 10 Roosevelt Road, Section 1, Jhongjheng District, Taipei City; +886 2 2396 0808

2. Beef noodle (牛肉麵)

You know a food is an obsession when it gets its own festival.

Beef noodle soup inspires competitiveness and innovation in chefs. Everyone wants to claim the title of beef noodle king.

From visiting Niu Ba Ba for one of the most expensive bowls of beef noodle soup in the world (TW$10,000, or US$334) to a serendipitous foray into the first makeshift noodle shack you spot, it's almost impossible to have a bad beef noodle experience in Taiwan.

Lin Dong Fang's beef shanks with al dente noodles in herbal soup are a perennial favorite. The streetside eatery’s secret weapon is the dollop of homemade chili-butter added last.

Lin Dong Fang (林東芳), 274 Bade Road, Section 2, Jhongshan District, Taipei City; +886 2 2752 2556; Niu Ba Ba (牛爸爸), No. 16, Alley 27, Lane 216, Section 4 Zhongxiao Donglu, Da'an District, Taipei City; +886 2 2778 3075/ +886 2 8771 5358

3. Oyster omelet (蚵仔煎)

Here's a snack that really showcases the fat of the land in Taiwan. You've got something from the sea and something from the soil.

The eggs are the perfect foil for the little oysters easily found around the island, while sweet potato starch is added to give the whole thing a gooey chewiness - a signature Taiwan food texture.

No wonder the soup was voted best snack to represent Taiwan in a poll of 1,000 Taiwanese by Global Views Monthly a few years back.

Lai's Egg Oyster Omelet (賴記雞蛋蚵仔煎), Ningxia Road Night Market; +886 2 2558 6177

4. Bubble tea (珍珠奶茶)

Bubble tea represents the "QQ" food texture that Taiwanese love.

The phrase refers to something that is especially chewy, like the tapioca balls forming the "bubbles" in bubble tea.

It's said this unusual drink was invented out of boredom.

Liu Han-Chieh threw some sweetened tapioca pudding into her iced Assam tea on one fateful day in 1988, and a great Taiwanese culinary export was born.

Variations on the theme include taro-flavored tea, jasmine tea and coffee, served cold or hot.

Chun Shui Tang teahouse (春水堂), 48 Yi-shu St., Longjing, Taichung County; +886 4 2652 8288

5. Milkfish (虱目魚)

How popular is milkfish in Taiwan?

So popular that it has its own themed museum in Anping and there's a milkfish cultural festival in Kaohsiung.

The bony fish might pose a challenge for amateurs, but it’s loved for its tender meat and economical price tag.

Milkfish is prepared in numerous ways - in a congee porridge, pan-fried, as fish ball soup or braised.

For home-style preparation, retro Izakaya-style restaurant James Kitchen serves pan-fried milkfish with lime.

A bowl of scallion lard rice is a great complement.

James Kitchen (小隱私廚), 65 Yongkang St., Da’an District, Taipei; +886 2 2342 2275

Get the rest of the list at CNN Travel: 45 Taiwanese foods we can't live without

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Filed under: Asian • Bite • Taiwanese

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