What's for Breakfast in Taiwan?
Author: Yone Liau "Flavour Journey"
If breakfast isn’t your favourite meal or not that important to start your day, Taiwan might make you revisit that and turn this morning meal into the fuel for you to get exploring around this island.
Taiwanese people will be very proud to say that their cuisine is one of the best and my memories of when I used to travel here to visit relatives or Chinese New Year somehow involved me gaining weight. Queue then my Asian parents questioning my weight and exercise choices. Nonetheless, I didn’t and still don’t regret any bite of what I get to eat now here in Taiwan. I’ve also learnt that the key is to reserve the carb loading (at least for my metabolism) for the mornings.
For the true old-school Taiwanese, a morning breakfast might be a bowl of braised rice also known as 肉燥飯. But for others, like me were born abroad and only certain dishes were available because grandma or any other relative, know a friend you might recognize the good old combo of soy milk and egg pancake.
Fair warning, you might need more than one day in Taiwan to gorge yourself on all these morning goodies. Or better yet if you want to try out a morning breakfast marathon, find your best foodie mates and from 5:30 am in Taiwan, the breakfast shops are ready to get you on your way filled with energy to spare.
To have an idea of what is in store here are some of the most common breakfast dishes;
Congee - 粥
Usually, this is a bit of an all-day dish but for some places, if you’re looking for something not too heavy and will still give you some sense of nourishment. Some might find it ‘boring’ eating a bowl of rice gruel but the real flavour magic happens is with the side dishes. Maybe don’t start off with the pork floss (肉鬆) but work your way up, maybe with some pickled cucumbers, miso tofu, chilli bamboo shoots, black soybeans, sweet potato and preserved egg are some of the options you will find but what goes on it is your final pick.
Plus, on a day where you might be either hungover or with a stomach ache a bowl of plain congee helps smooth those stomach fires.
Steamed Buns - 包子 & 饅頭
The wonders of bamboo baskets and steaming food. Bread in Taiwan isn’t like what you would expect but these buns are perfect morning grab and go treats. For me, a ‘mantou’ 饅頭, is just the plain white bun that is shaped round with slightly flat sides and bottom. While a ‘baozi’ 包子 is a rounded stuffed bun. The fillings for baozi come in juicy pork, veggies, red bean, black sesame, taro and custard. Usually one or two of these will get you filled while you are on the go.
Soy Milk + You Tiao - 豆漿＋油條
In the west, you might have that combo of milk and cookies or coffee and doughnuts. Certain pairings that just seem to go together. This is the lovely case with soy milk & ‘you tiao’, a fried cruller where they balance each other out. The idea of eating fried something in the morning might be a bit much but paired with a warm cup of soy milk, for me seems to balance it out. Better yet stalls in Taiwan will sometimes have unsweetened, salty and sweet soy milk for your choosing.
Sweet Rice Milk - 米漿
Besides soy milk another bubbling hot beverage to see is rice milk, usually sweetened this is a good drink for those looking for an energy boost for the day. Most stalls now will also have the purple rice milk which in my opinion has more flavour.
**PEANUT warning: I’ve also recently learned that in Taiwan they will write 米漿 but the shops here add a little bit of peanut into the milk to sweeten it.
Egg pancake - 蛋餅
One of my favourites breakfast dishes here, perhaps because of the simplicity of what it is. In its most simple version, a thin scallion crepe (or pancake) that’s rolled up and filled with a scrambled egg. Then with a drizzle of soy sauce over it to give that extra salty punch. But nowadays there are different versions that have cheese, corn, ham and what I’ve found was the best - basil in them. What’s interesting to know is also around the island of Formosa there are variations on how they make these, one spot will roll out the dough and fry it up making it slightly more crispy while another spot will have the slightly pre-made dough and then add the egg mix in for a more doughy texture. Or better yet, add a ‘you tiao’ into the mix.
Clay Oven Bread
Clay Oven bread - 燒餅油條
Layered flatbread goodness that comes sprinkled with sesame on the top. I don’t think I have seen these available besides breakfast hours but these clay oven bread rolls tend to be baked fresh (much like everything else on the Taiwanese breakfast menu) and can be stuffed either with the egg pancake, ‘you tiao’ or even both! For those foodie texture addicts, I’d recommend trying that at least once. Might feel like bread overload but you won’t regret it after the first bite.
Daikon Cakes - 蘿蔔糕
Another of my favourite dishes, when done right is the Daikon cake. Now if you don’t know what a daikon is, let me clarify that it is neither radish or turnip. Although it might be more closely related to a winter radish and a staple of Japanese and Taiwanese cuisine. This savoury cake is made from a base of shredded radish and rice flour and depending on the recipe you might find it has extra umami of shiitake, sausage, ham or even micro shrimp. It will look like a giant white jelly cake but for serving these are sliced and fried for a crispy touch. A gluten-free option as well!
Noodle Soup - 麵線
Also known as “mee sua” in Taiwanese, a bowl of these noodles (more like Chinese vermicelli) looks seemingly humble in its thick broth and slippery noodles. The broth might be made either with oysters or sometimes with pig intestines, always comes with a sprinkle of spring onions on the top. Most stalls in Taiwan will either be known for just serving this one dish while other more traditional eateries will have a version of their own.
If you have made it to the end of this without pausing and trying to figure out where to get one of these breakfast yummies wherever you are reading from - colour me impressed! But best of all would be if you have or haven’t been to Taiwan yet, be sure the next time here to make sure to sample the most important meal of the day - Taiwanese style.