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We arrived in Taipei in early February which is a great time – just a couple of days before the start of the Lunar New Year holidays. We witnessed and felt a fantastic atmosphere in the air straight away, with various street and night markets bustling as people went about their shopping ready to see in the Chinese New Year. We arrived hungry for the start of our XinYi Backstreet Taipei food tour with Taipei Eats one Saturday morning. This particular tour that we chose takes you through the small hidden alleys of a district typically associated with sleek shopping malls, convention centers, and Taipei 101.
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Our tour comprised of four people, ourselves and two others who were just in Taipei for 48 hours. We started in a local market – the enthusiasm of both our guide, Sophia and the locals did not go unmissed – everyone was excited, ready to see in the New Year.
We interacted with so many local stall-holders, who were keen to let us try their wares (even Sophia said she felt like a celebrity that day in the market). From the man selling loofahs sold in his garden to the fruit stall seller who wanted to have his pictures taken with us, it was a wonderful introduction to the street-eats of Taipei.
During the market stop, we tried several different local fruits, plus some unexpected treats as some of the other sellers were so keen for us to taste their homemade products.
We stopped at a small shop in the market to try some famous thousand layer scallion big bread. We were given a demonstration of how it was made, plus we then got to try it straight from the steamer, piping hot (this tasted so good and was one of my favourite dishes on the tour).
There are several variations of the scallion pancake you find around the city and as a second time visitor to Taiwan, I can tell you I’ve eaten countless numbers of these during my time here.
Our first sit-down stop on the tour was to a small but welcoming family run restaurant that produces oh so sticky and delicious pork belly bao buns with a peanut topping – you also get to watch the owner at work out front, steaming the baos (apparently their gua bao has won multiple awards!)
The pork was melt in your mouth marvellous and the whole thing worked so well together – as it was the start of the tour and I was quite hungry, I wolfed it down within seconds. Read more about Gua Bao and other famous Taiwanese dishes on our ultimate Taiwan food guide blog post >
Next up, something I hadn’t heard of before – chewing on a Taiwan betel nut, to stimulate awareness and help people stay alert (almost like a natural Taiwan version of Red Bull I guess). You bite on the nut, allowing the sappy juice to wash around your mouth before spitting it out in a cup, once your mouth becomes a little numb.
Not a taste I’d care to repeat again but it was interesting to try. As people become more health aware, it seems as though these betel shops are on a downward trend with not too many left open, so it was interesting to see something that will likely soon become part of Taiwan’s history
Sufficiently alert, we then made the short walk to go to a restaurant that specialised in stinky tofu, something I’d smelt several times around Taipei (especially at the night markets) but had been reluctant to try.
I learned from Sophia that there are apparently 13 (unlucky for some!) different grades of stinky tofu, with the highest number being the most pungent. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the tour as the putrid smell lingers in your nostrils for so long after each encounter but guess what…it tasted OK, almost like a soft blue cheese. I can’t say I’d want to eat it often as it is still quite an acquired taste but I no longer fear it!
After a quick bubble-tea stop (I still don’t get the appeal of the tapioca balls but each to their own), we stopped at a backstreet pineapple cake manufacturer, run by a cute couple (who also feature on all the branding in cartoon-form). Pineapple cake is one of Taiwan’s most popular traditional treats.
After only several years trading, they’d already won many prestigious awards and were being invited to share their unique taste in other Asian countries. They’d even created a DC Comics / Batman set of pineapple cakes that glowed in the dark – holy smokes! We tried a charcoal version (my favourite!), a mango version and the original pineapple variety – all so good.
Next up, a cold noodle dish with a peanut sauce on the go (uber refreshing), before a dim sum stop at a restaurant in Songshan Creative Park, a lush green city park paradise in the shadow of Taipei 101.
Although most visitors seem to know Din Tai Fung (due to its global expansion), this restaurant is also legendary for its dumplings and apparently tastes far superior to their use of black pork. With several cups of Chinese tea, we devoured two types of dumpling, including the famous soup ones – Xiao long bao.
By now, we were feeling rather full so we waddled to the final savoury stop – a little restaurant that specialised in Tainan sticky rice (plus had the most loveable puppy dog we’ve seen so far in Taiwan). Fishy flossy flavours combined with porky goodness really hit the sweet-spot – and the portion size was a little smaller this time which worked well.
This was also another culinary highlight for me – I hadn’t tried anything like it before and I will definitely seek it out again when we visit Tainan in the near future.
The farewell dish was a local variation on gelato, with several different flavours to choose from (taro, lychee etc), all of which helped to cleanse our palettes, ready to depart into the sunset.
Over four to five hours, we consumed some of Taipei’s best street-eats and had an incredible tour around the XinYi area of the city – Sophia was an excellent guide and it was so lovely to meet so many warm and welcoming local people. Taipei – you truly are a foodie paradise!
How to book this Taipei food tour
We really loved this food tour and would highly recommend this to anyone visiting the city who wants to enjoy a few fun-filled hours with really great Taiwanese food.
We booked this XinYi Backstreet tour online with Taipei Eats. This particular tour starts at 11am every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and lasts 4-5 hours. The tour costs $70USD for adult and $50USD for children. They also run 2 other food tours which I would love to do next time we are in Taipei!
Other Taiwan blog posts
- Top things to do in Taipei, Taiwan
- The Pingxi Rail Line ultimate guide
- Top things to do in Kaohsiung
- What to do in Ximending in Taipei
- Taiwan’s night markets – a photo essay
- Dihua Street during Chinese New Year in Taipei, Taiwan
- Taiwan ‘7-Eleven’ guide
- Taipei day trip – Houtong Cat Village
- Modern Toilet restaurant in Taipei
Here are some highly rated accommodation suggestions for all types of budget in Taipei!
Hostel accommodations that come highly rated include:
Meander Taipei hostel / Formosa 101 hostel / Sleepy Dragon Hostel
If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels are in excellent locations with great reviews:
CityInn Hotel Plus – Ximending Branch / Just Sleep Ximending / Ambience Hotel
Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Taipei:
Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel / W Taipei
Pocket WIFI rental in Taipei
Having a pocket WIFI device was super handy during our trip. We pre-ordered one online with Klook and collected the device at Taipei airport and dropped it off at Kaohsiung’s airport. The rental cost was pretty cheap at only £1.25 per day, and we were both able to connect our phones to it.
Disclosure: We were hosted on our Taipei Food Tour by Taipei Eats, but as always opinions are all our own
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