There are three elements at the heart of Tainan cuisine that makes it so famous and well loved among Taiwanese people the country over. What are those three elements? Tainan food is mostly family-owned, home-cooked and extremely good value.
For a culinary capital, you may be surprised to learn that Tainan does not have many large-scale restaurants, fancy and elaborate menus or award-winning chefs. In fact, what Tainan is mostly known for is its small, unpretentious food, which specializes in seafood snacks.
So where do you find the best food in Tainan, the ‘City of Snacks’? Surprisingly, or perhaps not if you’ve experienced the food culture in Taiwan before, some of the best food can be found on the street, among the cities most iconic and famous vendors.
Street Vendors in Tainan
Street vendors and stalls are the holy grail of eating in Tainan. Instead of heading to the nearest restaurant, hoping to sample the best food of the area, we recommend going straight to the night markets and street vendors. You may be pleasantly surprised by the high-quality, cheap prices and freshness of the dishes.
With the culture of serving small portions and snack-like foods, it’s easy to try a range of local specialties in one sitting, or stroll in this case.
Walk along the different stalls, try a little bit of everything and enjoy the luxury of moving from ‘restaurant’ to ‘restaurant’ in one go, without having to settle on just one place for your meal.
The largest night markets in Tainan are Hua Yuan and Da Dong, open three nights a week each, apart from Wednesdays. Other popular night markets in Tainan include the Qingren, Wusheng and Yonghua markets. Most night markets in Tainan open from 6-11:30 pm. Check in advance for the schedule so you don’t turn up and find that your chosen night market is closed.
The Best Snacks in Tainan
So what kinds of dishes should you try in Tainan?
You can’t leave the city without sampling the famous Tainan specialty, Coffin Bread. Otherwise known as Guancai Ban, Coffin Bread is a delicious snack consisting of fried toast in the shape of a box and lid, stuffed with savory seafood and vegetable chowder.
Another specialty found in southern Taiwan is Milkfish Soup, or Shimu Yu. The fish is often sweet and served with some ginger and brewed in a paste.
Oysters are a very common ingredient in a lot of Tainan dishes, with soups and omelets being the most common manifestation of the seafood. Oyster Omelet is a particularly well-loved dish in Taiwan, and originated in Tainan when the people had to become creative due to food shortages. Consisting of fresh oysters, potato starch, eggs and vegetables, it is often topped with a delectable sweet and sour sauce.
Anatomy of a Food Capital
Not only is Tainan the food capital of Taiwan, but it also used to be the economic center and capital of Taiwan, as well as claiming the title for being the oldest city on the island. This rich history has had a huge influence in helping to mold the city into the current food capital of the country. Many of the factors that have helped to shape Tainan into a modern food capital have expanded from its past as a center of sugar production and its proximity to the coast. This has hugely influenced the local cuisine, with dishes in Tainan inclining to be a lot sweeter than in other parts of the country. It also means that the majority of dishes in this part of Taiwan focus on seafood.
Tainan is located 76 km northwest of Kaohsiung City in the south of Taiwan, and about 3.5 hours driving from Taipei in the far north. The HSR (high-speed rail) takes just 1 hour 45 minutes to travel from Taipei to Tainan.
GETTING TO TAIWAN:
China Airlines flies twice a day direct to Taipei from Singapore and twice a week to Kaohsiung from Singapore, also a direct flight. You can search your flight and book directly only at www.china-airlines.com. If you prefer a package deal, you can also take a look at China Airlines’ Dynasty Packages for free & easy packages to Taiwan.
This article is supported by China Airlines and the Taiwan Tourism Board.