I wasn’t sure what to expect food-wise when I arrived in Taiwan. I knew whatever we found would be delicious — but what would we find? I’ve already regaled you with our day of eating in Tainan, but I left out the most intriguing part — breakfast!
Naturally, it came in two stages, starting with 红麴牛肉 (hongqu niurou). Even our foodie host couldn’t explain quite what it was — the red sauce is fermented with yeast, and used to cook tender hunks of beef. The stew is topped off with a generous handful of fresh ginger. Not what I’d want to eat every day, necessarily, but highly interesting! It was followed up by a tasty, sweetish zongzi that combined sweet sticky rice with savory soy-flavored peanuts. Zongzi are usually eaten on the mainland around the Dragon Boat Festival, but in Tainan they sell like hotcakes year-round.
Although Tainan was the site of our most adventurous breakfast, throughout the trip I was surprised by many other new foods we encountered in the mornings. My quick rundown of the best Taiwan’s breakfast has to offer leaves off items like warm soymilk that are equally prevalent on the mainland:
- Fan tuan (饭团): Before the trip, these were described to me as similar to Japanese onigiri. But really they are a whole different beats. Sticky rice is used to enclose a mix of fillings and — the key — a big stick of crunchy fried dough. My favorite was the elusive sweet fan tuan, filled with sugar, powdered peanuts, and more sugar.
- Dan bing (蛋饼): This is Taiwan’s competitor with the jian bing (煎饼), a mainland staple. It’s smaller, eggier and can come filled with chicken — but my heart still lies with the jian bing. Sorry, Taiwan!
- Hou pian (后片): Usually on the menu with 土司, a cute transliteration of toast, hou pian means “thick slice” and is just that. An extra-thick slice of bread comes slathered in your choice of jam, chocolate spread, peanut butter or condensed milk. A Western import that has been fully assimilated into the Tawanese diet!
- Fresh tropical fruit: Seemingly not part of a Taiwanese complete breakfast, since we often had to look pretty hard to search it out. But it was worth the effort — the fruit there was delicious, and cheap. I stuffed my face with papaya on a daily basis.