Six Delightfully Bizarre Foods to Try in Taiwan
The Republic of China has a wonderful culinary landscape, with dual inspiration from mainland China and native Taiwanese cultures. Foreign visitors to the night markets of Taipei and Kaohsiung may find some dishes relatively familiar. Others, on the other hand, may prove more difficult to identify. Here then, are six delightfully bizarre Taiwanese foods.
Also known as a â€œthousand year” or “millennium eggâ€, Century Egg is a traditional Chinese delicacy very popular in Taiwan. Unlike the name suggests, the duck, quail or chicken egg in question is not really a thousand years old. The eggs are actually preserved in an alkaline mixture of lime, tea, salt and wood ash for several weeks or months. The preparation method makes the shell look aged and the egg-white shiny amber. The gray yolk develops rich, pungent flavor compounds, often reminiscent of strong cheese or even ammonia. Myriad condiments, sesame oil and soy sauce help to round out the powerful, distinctive taste of the eggs.
Visitors can find Century Egg on the menus of some of the best hotels in Taiwan.
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Pigâ€™s Blood Cake
One of the most popular snack foods in Taiwan is a native take on blood sausage. Like sausage traditions in Eastern Europe or traditional “blood pudding” for example, Pigâ€™s Blood Cake features pigâ€™s blood prominently of course, with sticky rice as the glutinous binder. A layer of peanut powder and cilantro provides lovely nuance to the sanguine, porcine snack. Taipeiâ€™s Gongguan Market is definitely a great spot to sample the piggy delicacy.
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As far as bizarre foods go, chicken feet rank as pretty tame. After all, from Ashkenazi Jews to tribes in Sub-Saharan Africa, countless cultures have found ways to render the less manageable parts of fowl edible … and even delicious.
In Taiwan, street vendors work magic with chicken feet. The popular snack is ubiquitous in night markets and even as cineplex fare to complement that tub of popcorn and bucket of soda. Slightly gelatinous, fatty and with or without nails (inedible of course), chicken feet can be pretty tasty.
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The heady, rank odor of stinky tofu is unmistakable. The Taiwanese delicacy is the result of a delicate process that involves the fermentation of regular tofu in a vegetable, shellfish, milk or meat brine (or combination of several) for a few months. Herbs and mustard greens impart special flavors to the party. To connoisseurs, the art of stinky tofu is not unlike high-quality cheese production in France or Italy. Indeed, the final product may remind some of a ripe Roquefort or Gorgonzala, often with a delicate goose liver-like texture.
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Another delicacy born from necessity is duck tongue. In Taiwan, night market and restaurant cooks commonly prepare the tongues with soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and basil. Hey, every New York deli serves beef tongue with mustard on rye, so why not?
Duck of course, is one of the most luxurious ingredients in the Chinese culinary arsenal and “All Duck” banquets that feature the bird make delectable use of every part. In Taipei, a plate of grilled or stewed tongues is just about the best bar snack you can find.
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Tripe may seem delightfully bizarre to some. Others however, consider intestines humdrum everyday fare. Again, this is classic peasant comfort food – scraps made edible and certifiably soulful in every corner of the globe. Night markets in Taiwan feature offal buffets where you can choose different barnyard animal intestines and hand them to a vendor for a wide range of preparation methods. The cook may boil, deep fry or stir fry the tripe and of course, copious condiments abound.
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