Though it may not have towering skyscrapers or a complex transport system, Tainan in southern Taiwan has made its way to the hearts of both locals and tourists with its own unique charm. It placed itself on the map by becoming the country’s culinary capital, capturing the taste buds of foodies everywhere.
Once you’re done touring the old streets and visiting tourist spots, it’s time to replenish your energy with yummy local food finds. Here are five of the must-try dishes in Tainan on your visit that will definitely make you come back:
Try searching for “what to eat in Tainan” and probably the first item on most lists is danzai noodles. Translated to English as “shoulder pole noodles,” Tainan’s soul food was created by Taiwanese fishermen as a source of income during low season, where they would sell these in buckets strung to poles that hang on their shoulders.
Today, this simple dish consisting of noodles, broth, and meat and seafood toppings is widely sold in Tainan, some of which use heavily guarded family recipes.
You will find tofu or bean curd almost everywhere in Asia, and the Tainan version is as unique as its neighbors. Locally known as douhua, in southern Taiwan it is topped with a sweet sauce mainly composed of brown sugar, together with red, black or green beans. In summer months, crushed ice is sometimes added as well.
You can also have it plain if this is what you prefer. This is also one way of telling if the tofu pudding is of good quality if it can stand on its own without any additional ingredients or flavors.
Milkfish is a well-known main ingredient in Tainan, thus making milkfish soup a breakfast staple among locals. Tainan residents feasting on slices of milkfish while slurping some hot broth early in the morning may be a weird sight for foreigners, but this is how they start their day.
Some versions of the soup, like the very popular one served in Ah Tang, has some rice mixed in it, almost like a porridge. It is best eaten with a few pieces of youtiao, a crispy and chewy fried pastry.
Don’t be intimidated by its name! Locally called guancai ban, this bizarrely named delicacy is almost similar to the Westerners’ pot pie or bread bowl. Popular since the 1940s, coffin bread is basically a thick slab of white bread whose center is hollowed out and filled with a seafood and chicken chowder. The bread is either toasted or fried, achieving that perfect combination of contrasting textures. The hollowed-out part is placed on top of the filling, giving an illusion of a coffin.
While this is usually meant for sharing, some shops sell miniature coffin bread that solo diners can eat in one big bite.
Rice dumplings, or zongzi, are available in both Tainan and Taipei, but there is a striking difference between the northern and southern Taiwan versions. While that of Taipei’s is rich in flavor and heavy on the spices, the Tainan zongzi is boiled to let the natural flavors shine on their own.
Zongzi is can either be savory or sweet, depending on the mixture of ingredients that you stuff inside the ball of glutinous rice. Each piece is then wrapped in bamboo leaves before being boiled. It is traditionally made at home and sold during the Dragon Boat Festival, but it is now readily available in most parts of Tainan and enjoyed by many all year round.
Don’t miss these amazing dishes and more when you visit Tainan!