Photos by: Samil Kuo
The bustling city of Taipei is a food mecca known for everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to old Mom-and-Pop hole-in-the-wall eateries serving dishes made with century-old recipes. The lively night markets light up the streets at sundown with blowtorches and scents that permeate the night air. And no matter what day of the week it is, Taiwanese families love their afternoon snacks. With an unlimited number of food options available on the island, the afternoon “teatime” is just as much about taking a break as it is about savoring a Taiwanese snack — desserts included. Whether it’s sweet or savory, Taipei offers an array of unique bites that are delicious, cheap, and easily accessible.
So when you’re visiting the capital, be sure to take a break, take a seat, and enjoy the snacks below with your loved ones. From grandparents to toddlers, there’s something to satisfy people of all ages.
SWEET TAIWANESE DESSERTS
In the mood for a pick-me-up? Or maybe you just need to satisfy that sweet tooth? Taiwan’s dessert culture has something for the whole family with unique ingredients, textures, and animal-shaped treats for kids (and adults, too!)
FRIED SWEET POTATO BALLS
The sweet potato is a symbolic and pervasive vegetable on the island. Sweet potato balls (地瓜球) are a dessert that resembles small doughnut holes. Sweet potato balls are made by frying a mixture of mashed sweet potatoes and sweet potato flour in a deep pan. Special tools are used to squeeze out all of the air inside the balls, which make them hollow. It is a fun experience to watch this process; the sweet potato balls expand right before your eyes in the pan as all the air is squeezed out! The result is crunchy, doughnut-like balls that are sweet and soft on the inside. The naturally-sweet vegetable means that no extra sugar is added, so you don’t have to worry about the kids jumping off the walls later!
Shuangbaotai(雙胞胎) is another doughnutlike dessert. It is made by twisting two small pieces of dough together and frying them. When fried, the pieces of dough separate slightly while remaining connected. This process and the resulting shape is what gives this dessert its name; shuangbaotai means ”twins” in Mandarin. This sweet, fried dough dessert is crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.
A favorite among children in Taiwan, especially during the summertime, is shaved ice (剉冰). A towering pile of ice shavings, shaved from a whole block of ice, is usually topped with tropical fruits like mangoes, or traditional Taiwanese ingredients like sweet red beans, mung beans, grass jelly, taro, and sweet potato-flavored rice balls. Condensed milk, syrup, and even ice cream can be added to the top for a refreshing pick-me-up in the midst of the island’s summer heatwave. Shaved ice shops are especially accommodating during the summertime. Most outdoor shops are equipped with mist sprayers to keep customers even cooler while they enjoy their ice.
Tofu pudding (豆花) is a sweet dessert that can be served either hot or cold. Real pieces of soft, silky, tofu are made from rich soy milk which is boiled, cooled, and set with the proper ingredients overnight. The creamy pieces of tofu are then placed in a bowl and served with sweet toppings like tapioca pearls, red beans, cooked peanuts, Job’s tears, mung beans, and syrup flavored with ginger or almond. The more traditional tofu pudding is served in fresh soymilk and can be found throughout the island as well. Served on ice, it’s a great way to cool off while enjoying authentic Taiwanese ingredients made with time, care, and love.
Wheel pies (車輪餅) are a classic, Taiwanese dessert that can always be found on the streets of Taipei. Street-side vendors pour freshly made batter into round cake molds on a machine similar to a waffle iron. The batter is then cooked on these custom-shaped griddles, forming thick, hollow shells — made on request. Sweet fillings like red bean paste and vanilla custard are added to individual shells, which is then sandwiched by an empty shell to form a wheel-shaped, stuffed pastry. These rich and filling desserts are a must-try for the whole family.
Egg cakes (雞蛋糕) are light and fluffy treats that are also made-to-order on custom-shaped griddles. A perfectly-measured egg and flour batter is poured into fun, animal-shaped molds that resemble chickens, bears, monkeys, and whatever you can think of. Children especially love the Hello Kitty-shaped cakes that can be found in Taipei! These light and fluffy cakes are usually hollow, but as with all Taiwanese snacks, a number of variations can be found, including egg cakes filled with chocolate and vanilla custard.
TRADITIONAL SALTY SNACKS
If you want a taste of authentic Taiwanese cuisine, opt for a savory and filling snack that can be shared with the whole family.
STEAMED SPRING ROLL
Steamed spring rolls (潤餅), also known as Popiah (薄餅), are fresh spring rolls wrapped in a soft “popiah,” meaning “wafer-thin skin.” They are filled with fresh vegetables like bean sprouts, shredded carrots, radish, and cucumbers. Slices of fried braised pork are added, and crushed peanuts and sugar are the final touches. Special care is taken to prevent this light, crunchy burrito from getting soggy; the magic is in draining the vegetables to prevent any liquid from getting the delicate skin wet. The large roll can be cut in halves and quarters to share with the whole family.
FRIED RADISH CAKE
If you’ve even been to a dim sum restaurant, you’re probably familiar with fried radish cake (蘿蔔糕). This dish is a glutinous rice cake made from shredded radish and plain rice flour. After the cake is steamed, it is then cut into squares and fried until golden brown. Radish cake typically contains dried shrimps, dried scallops, and Chinese sausages or preserved meat. The sticky consistency and salty flavor pairs perfectly with jasmine or pu'er tea (普洱茶).
In a culture where food is accessible anywhere and everywhere, the afternoon snack time is a special time of the day that is taken seriously by the Taiwanese. Whether it's sweet, salty, warm, or cold, Taipei has something to offer for the whole family. While you’re out discovering the bustling city of Taipei, be sure to take a break and savor the endless number of snacks during the Taiwanese version of “teatime.”
This article originally appeared on Travel Taipei.