When you’re in Taipei, why start the day with a generic hotel breakfast? Thanks to the winds and vagaries of history, Taiwan’s capital is home to more than its share of must-try Taiwanese breakfasts.
More than a hundred years ago, breakfast for the inhabitants of the Taipei Basin would have looked very similar to their other meals: Rice, and lots of it — up to 200kg per adult per year, by some estimates. (In 2018, Taiwan’s per capita rice consumption was 45.6kg.)
Because fish and pork weren’t always available or affordable, accompanying vegetables were cooked and seasoned to make bowl after bowl of steamed white rice palatable. Soups, soy sauce, and garlic helped the grains go down. Without those carbs, a population dominated by farmers and fishermen wouldn’t have had the energy to plough fields or cast nets.
Twentieth-century Taiwan was a bit more comfortable, in large part due to the stability and rapid economic development that characterized the 1895-1945 era of Japanese rule. As seat of the colonial government, Taipei acquired a taste for miso soup and other Japanese delicacies.
Following the collapse of the Nationalist regime on the Chinese mainland in 1949, well over a million people fled to Taiwan, and hundreds of thousands of them ended up in Taipei. These refugees hailed from every corner of the mainland, and to survive in unfamiliar surroundings, more than a few of them made and sold hometown treats. This is when foods common across the Chinese mainland — such as hot soya milk and deep-fried dough sticks (youtiao), eggy scallion pancakes, and steamed buns made with rice flour — first appeared on the local culinary landscape.
Must-Try Taiwanese Breakfasts: Beef Soup
It was also the period when Taiwanese people began to discard certain ancient taboos, one of which forbade the eating of beef. The former capital of Tainan, which in so many ways is a bastion of tradition, is known for its simple yet delicious breakfast beef soup.
If you know where to go and the best times to avoid queuing, you can savor millimetre-thin slices of ultra-fresh meat that are cooked by dropping them raw into scalding-hot clear soup mere seconds before the bowl reaches the customer’s table. Swirl the meat with your chopsticks, then tuck in. Some say this delicacy is like Vietnamese pho, but without noodles, bean sprouts, or
other distractions. In other words, it’s a beef dish for true meat lovers.
Must-Try Taiwanese Breakfasts: Salty Soya Milk
Timing is also a crucial factor in the preparation of the filling liquid dish known as xian doujiang, literally ‘salty soya milk.’
Made by artisans who soak soya beans in the evening, steam and blend them before sunrise, then press the result through a cheesecloth, fresh soya milk is quite different to the bottled stuff that comes out of food-processing factories. If you’ve only ever had supermarket versions, trying your first bowl of fresh hot soya milk is likely to be a revelation, an eye-opener on a par with
sipping coffee prepared by a skilled barista after decades of drinking instant. Raw soymilk isn’t to everyone’s taste, so many Taiwanese stir in a generous amount of sugar. Xian doujiang, by contrast, comes slathered with salty toppings and oily condiments.
At early-morning eateries where it’s taken seriously, you’ll be able to choose all or any of the following: chopped scallions, browned shallots, tiny dried shrimps, bite-sized chunks of youtiao, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and red chili oil. For the last three, a dash of each but no more is recommended.
Once you’ve sat down with your personalized mix, wait about a minute, and not just so it cools to a drinkable temperature. The vinegar makes the soya milk curdle into something akin to cottage cheese. Its lumpy appearance mightn’t be especially appetizing, but you’ll likely agree that it satisfies like a good bowl of porridge.
But how to find must-try Taiwanese breakfasts in towns and cities where almost every sign is in Chinese and not many people speak English?
Our guides — foodies to a person! — can lead you to the markets and back streets where many of our clients have enjoyed memorable meals and delightful moments.
To plan your next journey, get in touch with us today. Our experienced travel designers would love to share their know-how and help you plan a customized Taiwan guided tour that suits your every need.