Taiwanese chefs are finally starting to clinch Michelin stars in Taipei, but some of the best eating can still be found at soulful, no-frills places, where the lao ban — the master chef running the operation from behind the stove — has spent decades perfecting just one dish, usually the only thing on the menu. In a jam-packed 24 hours of eating, expect to find long lines of locals, 90-mile-a-minute Mandarin, and snacks like freshly pressed sugarcane juice, sizzling scallion pancakes on street-side skillets, and deep-fried sweet potato balls puffed up like clouds. On this itinerary, there’s no time for empty stomachs.
5:30 a.m. Breakfast at Fu Hang Dou Jiang
The breakfast options are ample in Taipei, with 24-hour breakfast spots like Ruian Soy Milk and Yong He Soy Milk dotting the entire city. But Fu Hang Soy Milk, a popular shop that is only open from 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., boasts the most consistently favorable reviews. It’s important to arrive early because within a few short hours, the queue snakes out the door, down the stairs, and around the corner. Fortunately, the line moves fast, and soon, you’ll have your feast of egg sesame shao bing sandwiches; egg dan bing crepes; fried foot-long you tiao crullers; and soul-soothing bowls of sweet or salty soy milk to wash everything down. Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿), No. 108, Section 1, Zhongxiao East Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
9 a.m. Morning Pineapple Cake Crawl
Forget bar crawls. Go on a pineapple cake crawl instead. These square, palm-sized shortbread tarts stuffed with tangy, gooey pineapple paste are Taiwan’s most prized pastry and intensely sought-after souvenir. Though they’re not a daily snack for most, during the holidays, gifting pineapple cakes is a serious endeavor, and locals can articulate the subtle differences between bakeries. A few popular patisseries tend to top the best-of lists every year, and you should visit them all; each has its own recipe, which can range from sweet to mouth-puckeringly tart.
Start at Shou Tian Pin, a shop bereft of elaborate English signs or loud window displays. The ingredients are equally simple — winter melon, pineapple, sugar, flour, eggs, and butter — and, for the most part, minimally processed and locally sourced. Opt for the pineapple cakes with chopped walnuts ($35 TWD/around $1.15 USD each) for that extra-nutty crunch. Then, move on to Chia Te, a prize-winning bakery, with must-try flavors like longan, walnut, strawberry, and salted egg yolk. Finally, head to SunnyHills, which offers a free cup of oolong tea and a pineapple cake sample to try before you order.
Shou Tian Pin (手天品), No. 188-1, Chaozhou Street, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 Chia Te Bakery (佳德鳳梨酥), No. 88, Section 5, Nanjing East Road, Songshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 105
SunnyHills (微熱山丘), No. 1, Alley 4, Lane 36, Section 5, Minsheng East Road, Songshan District, Taipei City, 105
11 a.m. Tea at Hermit’s Hut
To try high mountain oolong tea — a prized, locally grown variety essential to the culture and drinking habits of Taiwan — head straight to Hermit’s Hut. This modern tea house is serene, filled with light wooden furniture and bright greenery. Place your order and wait for your server to steep the fragrant leaves at your table using a variety of traditional Chinese tea sets, all while giving a brief primer on tea-making. The light, floral teas can come with a spread of honey-sweet Chinese tea cakes to nibble on: Choose from osmanthus, jasmine, and walnut, among other flavors. If you have the time, head back to Hermit’s Hut in the evening for refreshing tea-infused cocktails. Hermit’s Hut (三徑就荒), No, 15, Alley 46, Lane 553, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Xinyi District, Taipei City 110
12 p.m. Lunch at Shan Xi Dao Xiao Mien
In the shadow of National Taiwan University, and behind a maze of narrow alleyways, lies an unassuming eatery ladling out beef noodle soup magic. The art of knife-cut noodles is originally from Shanxi, a northern province in China, and per that tradition, the noodle masters at Shan Xi Dao Xiao Mien use blades to slice the chewy noodles off a block of dough before quickly boiling them. They then submerge the noodles in a flavorful, house-made broth. Top your bowl with garlic, fermented black bean, or chile oils to your taste. Shan Xi Dao Xiao Mien (山西刀削麵), No. 2, Lane 118, Section 2, Heping East Road, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
1:30 p.m. Mid-Day Scoops at Snow King Ice Cream
With more than 70 years of history, this is one of Taipei’s oldest ice cream shops. But its dozens of flavors stray far from tradition; this is ice cream in bold, innovative form. The flavors at Snow King Ice Cream are unusual — and that’s an understatement. To wit: salty shredded pork, pig’s knuckle, bitter melon, Taiwan Beer, red-hot chile pepper, and, my favorite scoop, spicy green wasabi. Of course, you can stick with more traditional flavors like red bean, green tea, cinnamon, or lychee, but Snow King founder Kao Jih-hsing, also known as the Ice Cream Wizard, prided himself on his more novel flavors, believing the more difficult the task, the more interesting it is to do. Snow King Ice Cream (雪王冰淇淋), No. 65, Section 1, Wuchang Street, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
2:30 p.m. Streetside Scallion Pancakes on Yongkang Street
Snack on always-fresh, crispy, buttery, fluffy scallion pancakes from the Tian Jin Onion Pancake street food stall, just a stone’s throw from the world’s first Din Tai Fung restaurant. With a whir of their spatulas, the cooks at Tian Jin Onion Pancake churn out hundreds of these scallion-stuffed, flattened rounds of coiled dough per day. They can be enjoyed on their own, or as a steamy wrapper for any number of fillings. The move is the basil and egg, but it’s up to you if you want to also throw in some corn, cheese, or ham. These floppy flatbreads are then cooked on an oil-slicked griddle and fried until both sides are blistered into golden crispy layers, all for only $50 TWD ($1.60 USD). Don’t forget to slather on the thick, sweet soybean sauce before taking a bite. Tian Jin Onion Pancake (天津蔥抓餅), No. 1, Lane 6, Yongkang Street, Da’an District, Taipei City, 106
3 p.m. Shaved Ice at Jingimoo
Next, head to nearby Jingimoo, a shaved ice shop and a magnet for wannabe Instagram foodies. Pay no attention to the hordes of iPhone cameras. Rather, focus on the dessert in front of you, a standout example of a Taiwanese staple. You can choose from flavors like tangy mango, green tea, black sesame, and sesame chocolate snowflake ice, but the standout is creme brulee, which servers finish with a blowtorch, leaving a crispy, caramelized layer on top of the mound of shaved ice. Afterward, spend some time walking around fashionable Yongkang Street and its beautiful back alleys, browsing souvenir stores and quaint oolong tea shops. Jingimoo (金雞母), No. 36, Lane 143, Section 1, Hangzhou South Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
4:45 p.m. Cold-Brew Coffee Break at Elephant Machine
In Taipei, tea isn’t the only prized beverage. Specialty coffee is gaining traction all over Taiwan. With minimalist decor and neon lights, Elephant Machine Coffee is the go-to for cold-brew coffee, with thoughtfully sourced beans from around the world. And if for some reason the shaved ice (and boba and ice cream) isn’t enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, there’s a worthy menu of desserts like caramel banana cheesecake, espresso pudding, and tiramisu. Elephant Machine Coffee (咖啡廳), No. 5, Lane 37, Yongkang Street, Taipei, Taiwan 106
5:30 p.m. Xiao Long Bao Appetizer at Shanghai Shao Shi Fu Soup Dumpling
Din Tai Fung will always be the soup dumpling darling of Taiwan (and increasingly, the world), but the hordes of tourists and three-hour waits can be absolutely punishing. Instead, head to a smaller specialty dumpling restaurant like Shanghai Shao Shi Fu Soup Dumpling, which puts clever twists on traditional, pork-filled soup dumplings. Here, you’ll find plates of multilayered pan-fried soup dumplings with a crispy pot sticker crust in quirky flavors like salty, melted cheese with banana chips; mapo tofu with minced meat; and spicy curry. This is xiao long bao 2.0. Shanghai Shao Shi Fu Soup Dumpling (上海邵師傅湯包), No. 31-1, Leli Road, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
7 p.m. Dinner at Raw
The reservation waitlist at chef André Chiang’s one-Michelin-star Taipei restaurant Raw is as long as ever. But if you’re lucky enough to snag a table online several months in advance, you’ll be treated to a singular parade of beautifully presented plates on the two-hour-plus, eight-course tasting menu of modernist Taiwanese cuisine. The chef chooses up to 24 base ingredients — all from Taiwan — for the rotating menu, a reference to the island’s 24 “micro seasons,” the brief periods when ingredients are at their best. The result is gourmet versions of Taiwanese street snacks, including powdered-milk fish, dry-aged scallops, truffle tofu, mini tea eggs, charred bamboo, and rice porridge in an umami seafood-flavored broth. Raw, No. 301, Lequn 3rd Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, 10491
9:30 p.m. Boba Break at Chen San Ding
Chen San Ding has a constant snaking queue — and for good reason. The shop’s signature drink is translated literally as “frogs crashing into milk” (青蛙撞奶), because the shiny, springy tapioca pearls look uncannily similar to frogs’ eggs. These soft, chewy orbs are steeped in a brown sugar syrup for hours and then submerged in milk. If you can brave the long lines, it makes for the perfect sugar high. Chen San Ding (陳三鼎黑糖青蛙鮮奶創始店), No. 2, Alley 8, Lane 316, Section 3, Luosifu Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
12 a.m. Midnight Snacks at Raohe Night Market
By day, the narrow lanes of Taipei are filled with the prattling of tourists seeking souvenirs and trendy teahouses. But on Raohe Street by night, the noise turns into a different kind of clamor — the Raohe Night Market. Taiwan’s loud, messy nightlife thrives inside rowdy, open-air bazaars full of people, carnival games, arcades, Japanese-style claw machines, and of course, food. Here, fresh custard apple juice, grilled squid with basil, lamb soup, and roasted oolong tea all await.
The Fuzhou Black Pepper Bun stand is the perfect place to start. The workers here stuff black pepper, fresh spring onions, and tender pork into dough sprinkled with sesame seeds. They then bake the hot pork pepper buns in a large, toasty tandoor oven until they are crispy and flaky. Don’t be afraid to get messy, letting the juices of the black pepper pork buns coat your hands as you jostle through the ravenous crowd. At night markets, the general rule of thumb is to open your mouth wide when you arrive, only closing it again when you leave. Raohe Night Market (饒河夜市), Raohe Street, Songshan District, Taipei City, 105
1 a.m. Cocktails at R&D Cocktail Lab
Taipei’s cocktail scene is bustling with new speakeasy-style bars. Most of these follow a similar pattern, complete with vintage decor and dim date-night mood lighting. But the R&D Cocktail Lab is decidedly different. The bar is situated on a barely lit backstreet, with no window and zero signage in front. There’s no menu, either: Just tell the bartender the flavors you like and they’ll craft a custom boozy drink. Expect out-of-the-box ingredients like bitter medicinal herbs and numbing Sichuan peppercorns. After your drink, head to any of the nearby nightclubs in the glitzy Xinyi District to seal in the buzz. R&D Cocktail Lab, No. 36, Jiaxing Street, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
3 a.m. Late-Night Urban Shrimping at Zhi Shan Shrimping Bar
Urban shrimping in Taipei offers a window into Taiwan’s local culinary scene. The Zhi Shan Shrimping Bar sits on an entire hill of warehouse-sized urban shrimping bars, all nestled right next to each other and open 24 hours. For an hourly rate, the bar provides bait, a fishing rod, and a net, which you’ll use to lure giant prawns from the bottom of large pools. The staff adds clay to the water to make catching one extra tricky. Once you’ve caught your wriggling meal, you can grill it, sprinkle it with salt, and chow down. No sweat if the shrimp aren’t biting at first — you can cast your net and fish for as long as you please. Or, you can cheat and order some grilled shrimp off the menu (no judgment here). Zhi Shan Shrimping Bar (台北市士林區至善釣蝦場), No. 13, Section 3, Zhishan Road, Shilin District, Taipei City, Taiwan 111
Leslie Nguyen-Okwu is a bilingual journalist based in Taipei, Taiwan, and covers emerging Asia.