What Your Kids Should Eat in Taipei

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Stay up late for the night markets!

The food scene in Taiwan is energetic and ever-evolving, and to North American family travelers, both welcomingly familiar and shockingly odd. What a great place to explore!

The island’s diversity of physical environments and growing climates in such a compact size gives families and cooks a nearly-unlimited range of fresh ingredients to experiment with. And the many waves of human settlement on the island each brought a unique set of food sources and cooking techniques: aboriginal people with Pacific Island influences; early Chinese imperial colonists; the Portuguese; Japanese invaders and settlers; and the mass relocation of Nationalists. And Taiwan’s location on the ocean trade lanes brought influences from Southeast Asia, Korea, the Philippines, North America, and Europe.

In this small island, families combined and shared recipes, and altered them to use what was in season or what came off the latest ship. And while Taipei eventually grew into a large city, it wasn’t so large that different schools of cuisine could operate independently of each other – everyone influenced everyone. So Taiwan’s flavors have recognizable signatures of other countries’ foods, but combined and interpreted in new ways.

As you tour the city’s food courts and night markets, keep your senses open for some of these:

Image by  Ray Yu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Ray Yu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Beef Noodle Soup (Niu Rou Mian)

This was one of the first things I ate on my first trip to Asia, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. On Taiwan and in northern China, it’s the emotional equivalent of your family’s chicken-soup recipe, a comfort food that is simple but requires a lot of time and care to do well. The beef is simmered in the broth for hours, with five-spice and soy and vegetables so that the liquid is smooth and dark and rich, and the meat falls apart in your spoon. The thick wheat noodles are chewy and filling. (I use udon when I try to make it at home.) If there was one favorite dish on the island, this would be it.

Image by  manda_wong  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by manda_wong via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Green Onion Pancake / Scallion Pancake

Super-flaky, chewy, and savory, it can be folded and eaten on the go or as a side to soup. But it can also wrap around eggs and meat like a breakfast burrito. (I haven’t seen it served with syrup and bacon on the side, but suspect it would taste good that way too…)

Image by  Ron Dollete  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Ron Dollete via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Gua Bao

The dough is the same as the fully-enclosed, pillowy Bao you get on the mainland, but the approach on Taiwan is to make them open-faced so it’s easier to add a fresh-off-the-skillet tender pork belly with sweet sauce, garnished with cilantro, mustard greens, and ground peanuts. In the mornings you can get them with eggs and beef, too!

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Braised Pork Rice (Lurou Fan)

Another great comfort food, this is exactly what you want to have on a rainy or cool day. This is also a festival food, especially at New Year, and as a bonus, it brings good luck to new mothers! The long-cooked sausage and mushrooms mix so well with the sticky rice and soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil to make a chewy, sweet, satisfying bowl of nothing less than a grandmother’s love.

Image by  Nabeelah Is  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Nabeelah Is via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Boba Tea

This is Taiwan’s most famous food export, and franchised hometown chains like Chatime have spread across North America. You can get it any way you like it in Taipei and in dozens of ways you’ve never imagined, with all sorts of flavors and toppings. Plenty of fruit- and dairy-based drinks are on tap as well, since your kids won’t need the caffeine.

Image by  bryan...  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by bryan... via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Popcorn Chicken (also called Salt & Pepper Chicken)

“Now wait. We have plenty of fried chicken back in the States.” Ah, but have you had it made with Taiwanese sweet-potato flour and chilies, twice-fried with basil leaves? Fried chicken is beloved all over East and Southeast Asia, too, and this is a preparation you’ll want to try when you get back home.

Image by  LWYang  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by LWYang via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Sausage-in-Sausage

The name makes it sound as if this was some kind of “turducken” creation, but it’s just cute branding: it’s really a Taiwanese hot dog! A snappy grilled Chinese pork sausage gets a variety of toppings, and goes into a “bun” of grilled sticky rice.

Image by  jepgo  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by jepgo via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Ice Cream Spring Rolls

You may have seen those Thai rolled ice cream stands, but this is another step further and off to the side… They use the chewy, translucent, rice flour wrappers you know from your Vietnamese restaurant and roll different flavors of ice cream into them, burrito-style. You can hold ice cream in your hand without a cone!

Image by  sstrieu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by sstrieu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Pineapple Cake

Unlike the Pineapple Buns from Hong Kong, these snack-sized cakes actually have real pineapple fruit filling inside. Yummy as a travel treat or as part of a sit-down dessert. (You can also find them with melon or egg-yolk fillings.)

Image by  Connie  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Connie via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Mango Shaved Ice (Baobing)

Even in the winter months, fresh sunny mango is ever available for a citrus rush, and in the summer heat, the cool sweetness is so refreshing. You may have had amazing shaved ice in Hawaii, but they add condensed milk to it here for surprising creaminess.

 

Do you have other foods to suggest? Great family-friendly and accessible restaurants to recommend? Please comment below, or drop us a note on Twitter at @weninchina!

Header photo by Aiko99ann via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license.

 

Many people have much to say about food:

http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/40-taiwan-food/index.html

https://www.englishintaiwan.com/life-in-taiwan/food-drink-snacks-cuisine

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_cuisine

https://m.justgola.com/blog/top-27-must-try-food-in-taipei_1-86

https://thepointsguy.com/2016/01/foods-to-try-in-taiwan/

https://www.skyscanner.com.sg/news/inspiration/what-to-eat-in-taipei-10-must-try-taiwanese-foods/

http://thesmartlocal.com/read/scoot-to-taipei

http://flavorverse.com/taiwanese-foods/

https://jetsettimes.com/2014/12/03/50-foods-in-taipei-you-need-to-eat-or-at-least-try/

http://blog.tutorming.com/expats/taiwanese-night-market-snacks-food-must-eat

 

And check these weninchina articles and resources:

Wordsearch activity page - What Your Kids Should Eat - Taipei

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

Our “Taipei” folder on Pinterest

Our “Asian Food Inspiration” folder on Pinterest

What Your Kids Should Eat in Beijing

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It’s a capital idea to try local favorites

Beijing, on the edge of the cold northern deserts and grasslands, did not have easy access to the fresh tropical fruits, rice paddies, and deep varieties of seafood that typifies southern Chinese cuisine. Wheat could grow in the north, and cattle had room to graze, so Northern dishes cooked by common people often evolved to use hearty noodles, dumplings, and breads; beef and lamb; and root vegetables and pickles that could be preserved and stored over the winter.

As the capital grew in size and political power, and as transportation improved, the unique ingredients and cooking styles of China’s various regions all found expression at restaurants and catered gatherings, and it became fashionable for Beijingers to seek diverse dining experiences. And as the city expanded, there was enough patronage to keep chefs of each school of cuisine very busy. So instead of flavors blending together into a common style over the past several hundred years, Beijing may well have the most variety of “Chinese” cuisine of any city in the nation.

Some dishes and snacks to look for as you tour the city include:

Image by  FuReal  via Pixabay, CC 0 license (public domain)

Image by FuReal via Pixabay, CC 0 license (public domain)

Peking Duck

You can get good roast duck all over the world, but it’s a point of pride among chefs and diners that it’s done the best in the city that it’s named for. If you can’t get into the historic Quanjude (8 locations around the city) or Bianyifang restaurants, there are dozens of other choices, including street markets, to get a taste! Kids really appreciate the build-your-own-taco aspect of the dish.

Image by  Jmps2016  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Jmps2016 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Jianbing

It’s not just that it tastes so satisfyingly good; or that it playfully mixes the contrasting textures of smooth scrambled egg with crisp pancake and crunchy wantons; or that you get so much breakfast for so little money. It’s the theater of watching it be made for you right there on the street – they sell so quickly that there’s no way to make them ahead of time to sit under a heating lamp.

Image by  三島堂  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by 三島堂 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Stir-fried tomato & scrambled eggs

This is a favorite comfort food, and one of the first dishes kids learn how to cook for themselves in China, or have every night in college. Most any broad-menu restaurant in the city will be serving it.

Image by  Ruocaled  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Ruocaled via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Jiaozi

We’ve given this food its own page to describe its history and variety – northern China loves its dumplings and you can find them pan-fried and steamed at street markets, specialty shops, and nearly any sit-down restaurant.

Image by  C C  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by C C via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Shaobing

It’s like a baked layered bagel: sometimes with fillings like red bean paste, eggs, or roasted meat; sometimes with no filling – sometimes coated with sugar, othertimes sprinkled with salt – but always served warm. Look for them at your hotel’s breakfast buffet, at bakeries, or from street food carts.

Image by  Ynotswim  via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Image by Ynotswim via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Zhajiang mian

You can tell a Northern dish by its use of wheat-based noodles, and sauces that take time to ferment. Add minced pork and fresh vegetables in a stir-fry and you get a rich, savory, chewy and crunchy bowl of home-cooking goodness. This is everyone’s meal they remember their grandma making. And as such, it’s available everywhere.

Image by  Jen Leung  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Jen Leung via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Chuan’r kebobs

Here’s street food at its most basic: grilled meat (lamb is the favorite, but you can get pork, chicken, beef, or fish, too) and vegetables, served hot and fresh on skewers. It’s seasoned with onion, cumin, and sometimes chili powder – so Americans will find the flavor familiar like Tex-Mex (but this style came from China’s Far West of Xinjiang).

Image by  Joni Cong  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Joni Cong via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Bingtanghulu

Another food-on-a-stick from the street food stalls, but this is a syrupy sticky dessert made with Chinese Haw fruit, which grows only in the north and in Korea. The fruit itself is often dried and flattened, and tastes just like an artificial “Fruit Roll-Up” – but for a snack, they take a handful of them and coat them in sugar. Like it needs the extra sweetness (eyeroll). This is a fall-and-winter snack just after harvest time.

Image by  Nate Gray (cphotoj)  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Nate Gray (cphotoj) via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Roasted chestnuts

Another winter favorite at the street markets is something North Americans haven’t seen for generations: hot roasted chestnuts. The tree and nut have been sacred in China for millennia and considered to bring good fortune; they’re added to many fancy recipes and even used in some traditional medicines. On the street, they’re quickly baked in hot woks with small pebbles or sand to transfer heat evenly and keep the nut from popping open!

 

Do you have other foods to suggest? Great family-friendly and accessible restaurants to recommend? Please comment below, or drop us a note on Twitter at @weninchina!

Many people have much to say about food:

https://www.chinahighlights.com/beijing/food-restaurant.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beijing_cuisine

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/beijing/travel-tips-and-articles/what-to-eat-in-beijing/40625c8c-8a11-5710-a052-1479d2767bf1

http://www.intochinatravel.com/the-10-foods-you-must-try-when-visiting-beijing/

https://www.forbes.com/2008/07/08/food-beijing-delicacies-olympics08-forbeslife-cx_co_0708food.html#34436a947e1c

http://www.spoonhunt.com/blog/top-10-must-eat-foods-while-visiting-beijing

https://www.gpsmycity.com/articles/7-top-10-foods-to-try-in-beijing.html

https://eatyourworld.com/destinations/asia/china/beijing

https://www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2015/02/22/25-great-things-eat-beijing-you-die-or-choke-death

https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/54651/10-beijing-dishes/

 

And check these weninchina articles and resources:

Impressions of… Forbidden City

Impressions of… Hutong School

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

Wordfind - What Your Kids Should Eat in Beijing

Our “Beijing” folder on Pinterest

Our “Asian Food Inspiration” folder on Pinterest

What Your Kids Should Eat in Tokyo

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Everyday foods in this city are anything but ordinary

From feudal times onward, all roads in Japan led to imperial Edo – modern-day Tokyo – and these roads delivered food, travelers, and recipes from throughout the archipelago.

While Osaka and its Kansai region is considered the “foodie capital” of Japan, and each province proudly touts its unique cuisine, Tokyo is where all of the nation’s dining influences and traditions come together to compete for attention on the biggest possible stage. The spirit of “Iron Chef” lives in every neighborhood, and that creates exciting and flavorful choices for your family to try!

With so many great options, any list is going to be incomplete, but here are ten inexpensive dishes, available everywhere, to start with:

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Ramen

You’re probably familiar with those five-for-a-dollar packets of dried squiggly ramen; for Generation X it was a staple during college. It’s inexpensive food in Japan, too, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good food. The ramen revolution that started in Tokyo has spread around the world, so this is the best place to get a taste. There are simple ramen stands and cafes in every major train station and shopping district – or look for the chain restaurants Ippuden, Ichiran, Korakuen, Tenka Ippin, and RaiRaiTei.

Image by  istolethetv  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by istolethetv via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Udon

While ramen noodles are thin, udon noodles are thick and chewy; the complex broth is as important as the noodle for ramen, while udon is cooked in a simple broth and often isn’t even served with it. The toppings for udon are not as complicated, either. (Of course, this simplicity means chefs can make bold experiments, and different regions of the country have their own unique combinations!) It’s a beloved staple that can also be found everywhere – chain restaurants to look for include Mugimaru, Tsurumaru, Marugame Seimen, and Rakugama Seimenjo, as well as independent cafes in every neighborhood.

Image by  Arnold Gatilao  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Arnold Gatilao via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Curry Pan

Curries in Japan are sweeter and mellower than in Indian, Thai, and other southeast Asian dishes, with little to no chili heat. This hand-held treat takes a nice curry stew, usually with vegetables and beef, puts it inside a hollow bread tube, and fries it so the outside is crisp and chewy, but not greasy. It’s a favorite for outdoor markets, especially in cooler weather, but you can find it year-round at bakeries, specialist shops, and depachika markets all over the city.

Image by  verygreen  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by verygreen via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Gyoza

This is the Japanese take on the original Chinese jiaozi dumpling (you may also know them as “potstickers”.) In the Japanese version, the fillings are chopped more finely, the wrapper is thinner, and the frying-steaming cooking method makes the skins more crispy. As in China, the variety of fillings is endless, as are the choices of dipping sauces. Every major neighborhood has dozens of small restaurants specializing in gyoza. In the Ikebukuro district of northwest Tokyo, the Namjatown amusement park even has a “gyoza stadium”-themed food court!

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Tonkatsu

It’s so much better than a fried pork chop: the breading is panko crumbs instead of flour, the cut is boneless and consistently free of sinew or fatty lumps, and the texture is light and juicy instead of greasy and dry. It’s usually an option for a bowl of ramen, udon, or curry, but you’ll also find it as a sandwich filling at your nearby konbini!

Image by  MuddyRavine  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by MuddyRavine via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Taiyaki

This is a fun, warm snack made with waffle batter and cooked in a special mold to make it look like a fish. It’s usually filled with a sweet azuki bean paste (that tastes very much like chocolate) and is served fresh. You’ll see these at stands in outdoor markets and festivals as well as on the main shopping streets, especially during colder weather.

Image by  Yutaka Seki  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Yutaka Seki via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Omu-rice

In Japan, this is definitely on the kids’ menu: a scrambled-egg omlette folded over a filling of fluffy fried rice, and drizzled with ketchup. It’s one of the first dishes kids learn how to cook (whether that’s when they are children, or when they finally move out into their own place depends on the person…), and is a cultural symbol of “comfort food.” Of course, there are fancy and upscale versions, but the basic is the favorite. You can find this on the menu at many sit-down restaurants and cafes.

Image by  Nullumayulife  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Nullumayulife via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Onigiri

This staple of picnics and lunches is most often found in the refrigerator case at convenience stores and supermarkets, but it’s been a popular on-the-go snack since the 11th Century. It’s a simple ball of chewy white rice with a filling in the middle (usually a salty vegetable or meat), wrapped in edible nori (seaweed).

Image by  Daderot  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 1.0 license (public domain)

Image by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons, CC 1.0 license (public domain)

Crepes

Dessert crepe stands can be found in all the major shopping streets; just follow your nose. They’re made fresh for you, and all the fillings are fresh. They use less sugar and butter than French crepes, but they are bigger! Most stands have dozens of filling choices, even including ice cream!

Image by  Honou  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Honou via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Mochi Ice Cream

While many Japanese dessert favorites are either quite old, or adapted from European recipes, this tasty treat was only invented in the 1990s! Its edible mochi skin (cooked rice pounded into a sticky dough) is wrapped around a two-bite scoop of ice cream or gelato. Flavors range from plain vanilla or strawberry, to traditional red bean and yam, to deluxe coffee or plum wine. Look for these at dessert cafes or in convenience stores and depachika.

 

Do you have other foods to suggest? Great family-friendly and accessible restaurants to recommend? Please comment below, or drop us a note on Twitter at @weninchina!

 

Many people have much to say about food:

https://www.gpsmycity.com/articles/100-12-must-try-traditional-japanese-foods-in-tokyo.html

http://www.gotokyo.org/en/tourists/restaurant/localfood.html

https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/10-uniquely-japanese-dishes-to-try-in-tokyo/

https://migrationology.com/tokyo-travel-guide-for-food-lovers/

https://travel.rakuten.com/campaign/ranking/cuisine/tokyo/

http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/06/10-sensational-stops-for-japanese-food-ramen-udon-sushi-in-shinjuku-tokyo.html

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3075.html

https://gurunavi.com/en/japanfoodie/2014/07/food-culture-in-tokyo.html?__ngt__=TT0ddb01c55004ac1e4aec9bah48bPHPQN-87fkkrWORrR

http://aroimakmak.com/15-must-eat-food-in-tokyo-japan/

https://www.ninjafoodtours.com/tokyo-food-guide/

http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/japan-foods-must-have/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_cuisine

 

http://www.theworldisabook.com/2794/eating-in-tokyo-with-kids/

https://gurunavi.com/en/japanfoodie/2015/02/8-Restaurants-in-Tokyo-for-Kids.html?__ngt__=TT0d6cd650d005ac1e4aec45Ct4qUY2H5s9tgTA45FPnSB

https://mylittlenomads.com/eating-restaurants-in-tokyo-japan

https://www.anepiceducation.com/must-eat-food-in-japan-for-kids/

 

And check these weninchina articles and resources:

Impressions of… Tokyo – Harajuku

Impressions of… Tokyo – Meiji Jingu

Airport Guide – Tokyo Narita

Airport Guide - Tokyo Haneda

Fun, Cheap & Free Family Travel Activities in Tokyo

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

Fun Activities Wordsearch - What Your Kids Should Eat in Tokyo

 

Book Review – Tokyo on Foot

Our “Tokyo” folder on Pinterest

Our “Asian Food Inspiration” folder on Pinterest