Well, the long-awaited Layover in Taipei with Anthony Bourdain has finally aired, and kudos to My Kafkaesque Life (MKL) for the viewing tip!
There’s so many things to taste and check out in Taipei and its vicinities that packing it all in 42 minutes makes it hard to do Taiwan’s capital justice, but Bourdain managed to visit some interesting places and the producers introduced good alternative spots or things to do in the city. All in all, it’s great that Taipei got some airtime.
The great things about cultures with a street food culture is that eating becomes an adventure of its own, so I think you shouldn’t strive to check all the places Bourdain has eaten at, unless it is very special, and instead, go venture on your own. For this reason, I’ll recap the show with some pointers to other online resources, so you can create your own Layover in Taipei, Bourdain style.
The MRT in Taipei is efficient, and can get crowded especially on week-ends. I recommend taking for long distance, like over two or three stations. Taipei is a walking friendly city, and going from one station to another by foot is totally doable, and can be quite enjoyable as you get absorb the city’s vibe. Some stations are even connected underground with shopping boutiques along the walking alley, a good alternative for rainy days (it rains often in Taipei!).
Buses are also a good way to get around. One of the best way to figure out which bus to take is certainly via Google Map, if you select to get directions by public transportation, it will accordingly indicate buses to take, the time schedule, and even the interval between each runs. Buses can also get crowded which can be unpleasant, but when that’s not the case and you can get a seat, it’s like being on a tour bus. It will get you to your destination with the bonus of making you discover parts of the city you’d not think about setting foot in.
Scooter is another way to get around in Taiwan, but not recommended in Taipei, you certainly don’t want to risk your life this way on a layover.
Taxi is obviously the most convenient if you’re not on a budget.
Keelung night market 基隆夜市, also known as Miaokou night market 廟口夜市, is actually outside of Taipei city, but for night markets die-hard, it surely is a place to check out. However, Taipei itself is home to many popular night markets, and I recommend checking out MKL ‘s blog to acquaint yourself with the most popular of them. If you venture on your own, you may even run into mini-neighborhood-night-market. Regarding some of the food featured:
- thick soup noodle 羹, doesn’t sound or look so appetizing but worth a try as it’s packed with flavors, and also got Eddie Huang’s approval as he also introduced it in his Fresh-Off-The-Boat series.
- oyster omelet 蚵仔煎, you can also replace the oyster with squid or shrimp, a mix of the three, or plain without any of the seafood. Ok, it has a slimy consistency, and the sauce looks mysterious, but it’s one of the quintessential Taiwanese treat to be had.
- gua-bao 刮包, yup, gua-bao is a fixture of Taiwanese snacks, and David Chang from momofuku has certainly nothing to do with its popularity in Taiwan (David Chang, I still thinkg you’re a cool chef!).
- seafood, Keelung night market offers a great choice of seafood for the good reason that a fishing port is nearby, so you can indulge in it
- fried food, such the bite-size crabs, you’ll find many stall frying different kinds of food, good thing that portions tends to be smaller in Taiwan, so you can test all that appeals to you. It is unhealthy, but heck, you’re on a layover, so enjoy it.
- fried sandwich 營養三明治, it’s actually just the bread that is fried, and it’s then garnished with some meat and an array of vegetables, which explains why the chinese name literally means “nourishing sandwich”. You’ll find renditions of it in Taiwanese bakeries, but Keelung Night Market is where it all started.
- meatball dumpling 肉圓, known as ba-wan which is actually the Taiwanese pronunciation of the dish, is yet another quintessential Taiwanese snack, with the most famous version hailing from the city of Changhua 彰化 located in the west center of the island. The 2011 Taiwanese hit-movie You Are The Apple of My Eye 那些年，我們一起追的女孩, set in Changhua even featured a ba-wan shop in it.
Beef Noodle Soup 牛肉麵
For some beef noodle soup is the national Taiwanese dish, but I’ll just go as far as saying that it yet belongs to the quintessential Taiwanese to-eat list. The clear broth beef noodle soup featured in the show is actually a novelty to me. That’s the thing about Taiwan, you think you know it all about one dish but there’s actually always room for exploration. For the food-miles conscious people, do know, that the majority of the beef in Taiwan is imported from Australia or the States, but heck, you’re on a layover, so close an eye. 😉
Also, the red hongshao 紅燒 broth mentioned in the show is somewhat mistakenly described as spicy, which I don’t think is generally true. The red broth does have more flavor than the clear broth I suspect, and is the kind of been noodle I’d recommend checking out first.
As much as one loves Taipei, it’s undeniable that the city is not always easy for the eyes, rather its beauty is to be found in small alleys, and historical parts of the city, so look out for the details, not the big picture.
Ya, it’s touristy, but it is still cool to check out, and is a also a foodie place for all kind of budgets.
Nature in Taipei
I’m glad the show mentioned all the nature you can enjoy at the steps of the city. Most of those places, some reachable via MRT, are also perfect for snapping pictures of the landscape and Taipei.
Mango is the most popular topping, but there’s usually lots of others other garnishes to be chosen from, and all it is usually drowsed with condensed milk. The mango shaved ice is that popular that Costco in Taiwan now serves it at their Exit food counter.
As I’ve said above, Taipei is a friendly walking city, but feet do get tired at the end of the day, so treating yourself with a foot massage at the end of the day is certainly a good way to unwind your day. It’s really not as painful as what some make it sound like, and your feet will thank you at the end.
James’s Kitchen 大隱酒食, Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐, Shin Yeh 欣葉台菜
I’ve never been to Jame’s Kitchen, but the dishes served appear to be a good reflection of Taiwanese home-cooking, certainly one of the place to go out of your way to check out. Din Tai Fung is Taiwan’s food chain success story, with outlets worldwide. Yes, they are good, service is always right on, but lines can be long, and many soup dumpling aka xiao long bao 小籠包 restaurants equally as good exists, so do your homework and have a backup plan on hand. Not mentioned on the show, but Shin Yeh is another worthy venue to experience Taiwanese fare, it’s a bit more upscale and serves refined traditional dishes.
Fengsheng, Hakka cuisine 客家料理
Bourdain introduced Hakka cuisine as originating from south-west China which is right, but Taïwan is also home to a pretty big Hakka community spread on the island, in Miaoli 苗栗 and Meinong 美濃, hence, the importance of Hakka cuisine in Taiwan.
Stinky Tofu 臭豆腐
You find it at the night markets, fried and served with garnishes, or in a soup, but is also used in cooked dishes. It’s seriously doesn’t taste as bad as people make it sound. The smell and taste is actually pretty up to par with smelly cheeses you can find in Europe.
Tea stands, Bubble tea 珍珠奶茶
I don’t think you can go to Taiwan and not get a drink at one of those many tea stands. If the tapioca balls in the bubble tea weird you out, they have a wide selection of other flavors and also offer tea mixed with fresh fruits. If you somehow missed it while in the city, do know that the popular Chun Shui Tang has outlets at the International Taoyuan airport and Songshan airport, so don’t be afraid to simply order a drink to go if you don’t want to sit down for a meal.
Fast Fry 熱炒
There exists many translations for this type of establishment which can be dubbed as the Taiwanese pub. Most of the dishes on the menu cost 100 NT, so some call it Stir-Fry 100, and are accompanied with beer, but it’s OK if you don’t order any. I recommend experiencing this type of dining as it’s very Taiwanese and so are the dishes.
Open 24 hours: Shrimp Fishing, Eslite Bookstore, Convenience Stores
Eddie Huang also featured the shrimp fishing activity, and I think Bourdain could have used his company to make that experience a little less depressing. For other 24 hours to check-out, you have Eslite Bookstore, if you like books and crafts, it’s definitely a place to check out. Else, you have the ubiquitous convenience stores in the name of 7-11, Family Mart or Hi-Life, where you can buy something to munch on when all else is closed, and hang out there, so I guess you can say that convenience stores in Taiwan, are well, very convenient, if you’re a local, you can even go there to pay monthly bills, or pick up online orders.
Parks, Pushing Hands, morning activities
Parks are fun to hang out in the morning, amazingly, you see older people practising tai-chi or other martial arts, and also older ladies doing aerobic to the sound of a catchy music.
National Palace Museum 故宮博物館, Longshan Temple 龍山廟, Dihua Street 迪化街
For arts buff, the National Palace Museum is the place to go, but beware as it is constantly hoarded by tourists, it is a bit out of the way, but food wise, the artsy and trendy Silks Palace 故宮晶華 open next door offers a food court in the basement level serving dishes representatives of Taiwan cuisine, and in the upstairs, you have the restaurant serving revisited classics, including an edible rendition of the famed piece of pork that got Bourdain’s undivided attention.
Longshan Temple and Dihua Street are both places to visit if you want to go back in times. Longshan Temple has a bunch of eateries and night markets in its vicinities, and Dihua Street is a must if you happen to visit during the weeks ahead of the Chinese New Year.
Well, this is my quick recap of the show, but you can check this chowhound thread for other opinions/tips. No matter where you interests lies, Taipei will have something to offer you, and keep you entertained for a layover, so do a little homework by perusing Taipei based blogs, and enjoy a good time in this fabulous city!
OK, I’ll help you a little with your homework ;), here are some great blogs to get you started:
My Kafkaesque LifeTaiwan Explorer, hands down one of the best blogs about Taipei. Lots of information about what to visit in this big city and outside of it, and background history on those various places. I’d use this over any travel guides!
- Hungry in Taipei, certainly the Number 1 Taipei Food blog, but could feature more typical Taiwanese places. Still, I love it, thanks Joan!
- Sugared & Spiced, I bumped into this blog while writing this post and thought it worth sharing it here because it featured oden, a typical Taiwanese snack originating from Japan, which I love!
- Shu Flies, a nice blog that’ll introduce you to Taiwan’s creative arts and design, and good addresses for that around Taipei.
- Hiking Taiwan, a good place to peruse for walks and hikes outside of Taipei, and give you an idea of the kind of splendid pictures you can snap without going too far out of the city.
- 36 Hours in Taipei from The Thousandth Girl or City 543 or The New York Times Travel
- 5 days in Taipei or 94 ideas of things to do, by Holly
- Eva Everest, a blog written mainly in French where you can feel the essence of Taipei’s small alleys through the author’s writing.
- Vie Nomade’s guides in Taïwan, in French, list of a few addresses for bars and coffee shops with wifi, and her favorites addresses to go out, kindly shared in Google Maps (in English).
- Synapticism, indulge in tales of urban exploration and other cultural peculiarities in Taiwan.
(last updated: 2016/10/31 一)