Located in the southwest region of Taiwan, Tainan is the place to go for the famous Taiwanese snack foods, or 小吃, one of the most popular and best known trademarks of Taiwanese culture. Combining a mix of flavours influenced by Chinese, Japanese and local cuisine, Taiwan’s snack foods are key to its night market culture. Cindy Black Cheng highlights some of the best places to experience this cultural phenomenon.
Local snack food can be found in the night markets, daytime stalls and restaurants of Taiwan. Each region has its own style and flavour and the most popular sites for snack foods are at the street-side stalls and narrow alleys of Taiwan’s cities, or in its vibrant night markets.
Once colonised by the Dutch, Tainan is known for its historic sites and peculiar food culture and has become a popular destination for visitors. Tainan’s streets boast authentic Taiwanese snack foods found in some of the most established snack food spots and night markets in all of Taiwan. Rather than dine at pricey sit-down restaurants, a perfect night out includes strolling down an alley to a bustling night market and queuing up at a food stall for an evening snack.
Oden is a Taiwanese soup-based snack derived from Japan. The traditional Tainanese version includes Taiwanese meatballs, fishballs and black pudding served with special sauces. In Taiwan, oden is called ‘heilun’ and ‘oolian’ and can be found in convenient stores like 7-11 all over the country, served as ‘guandongzhu’ (关东煮).
Taiwanese Oden NTD2
One of the best places to try oden is at Taiwanese Oden NTD2. This tiny stall is located at the corner of Kaishan Road and Fuzhong Street and sells oden for 2 NTD. At Taiwanese Oden NTD2, the oden is only one to two bites big, providing an easy and fun snack. The stall is nicely decorated offering outdoor seats, from which you can admire the historical area home to traditional snack food stands, handicrafts shops and unique coffee shops.
Soft tofu pudding, or ‘douhua’ (豆花) is a traditional Chinese dessert made of soybean and served with crushed ice, syrup and sweet toppings. The soft tofu literally melts in the mouth, and the syrup and toppings add a burst of flavour and texture to contrast with the silkiness of the soft tofu.
Common combinations for this delectable, sweet dessert include douhua with condensed milk, black tapioca pearls and beans. More recently, douhua establishments offer special flavours such as almond douhua, matcha douhua and sesame douhua. Served both cold and hot, soft tofu pudding is the ideal year-round treat.
Ice Douhua Restaurant
Located in Wufei street, next to the Wufei Temple (also known as Temple of the Five Noble Ladies), sits the ice douhua shop. It has been attracting customers for more than a decade with its variety of homemade douhua options, syrup and toppings, both cold and hot. The restaurant is decorated with red brick walls and tiles and retro wooden school chairs and tables to recreate the atmosphere of a trendy schoolroom.
Danzai noodles and meat sauce is a common Taiwanese dish. The sauce is easy to make and quick to serve with numerous variations. Combining a mixture of minced pork in soy sauce with herbs and spices, the sauce makes for a wonderfully adaptable dish full of flavour.
The meat sauce is the perfect complement for Danzai (担仔面) noodles, a popular Tainan noodle dish that is sometimes served in broth.
Du Xiao Yue
The ever-popular Du Xiao Yue (度小月) restaurant, which has spread throughout Taiwan, first originated in Tainan in 1895 at a humble corner beside the cultural heritage Chihkan Tower. The trademark Du Xiao Yue meat sauce is patiently simmered with sauces and shallots until it develops the deep, dark colour and rich flavours for which it is renowned. The meat sauce is then served over a bowlful of Danzai noodles, vegetables and garnish.
These Taiwanese snack foods tend to be strong and rich in flavour. As an important part of the culture and city, a stroll down Tainan’s streets to discover local snack foods is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.