When I first decided to visit Taiwan as part of my bi-monthly trips out of China for visa runs, I did quite a bit of research on what to see and do there.
I read quite a bit from Adventures Around Asia on the subject of travel in Taiwan, and her description of just how damned good the food in Taiwan was inspired me to eat all of the things. Knowing that I’d be spending four days in the capital, I also spent a lot of time researching things to do in Taipei.
One thing that was a must: trying Taiwan’s famous cuisine.
Knowing you want to try good food and knowing where to find it can be a pain in the ass though, so I partnered up with Taipei Eats to take a culinary expedition through Taipei’s many markets and eateries.
Taking a Taipei Eats Food Tour
I’d made a point of not eating much during the day to ensure I was at peak glutton levels in time for our food tour.Thankfully, there’s no shortage of things to do in Taipei, so it was easy to keep myself distracted from the rumbling in my belly.
Starting in the early evening, my stomach was definitely in the mood to eat all of the things and I was pleasantly surprised that our four hour tour would include the chance to eat 8-10 dishes. Winning!
Joined by a trio of New Yorkers, our small group was lead fearlessly through the streets and laneways of Taipei on an uncomfortably hot and wet Tuesday evening.
Our travels took us through bustling street markets, into little hole in the wall shops where you could see your food being cooked right in front of you, and to popular local spots where space was at a premium.
With the exception of one stop – the popular and well known Koa Chi in Songshan Creative Park – most of our stops felt very off the beaten track.
That isn’t to say they weren’t popular with the locals. We’d often see our table filled just as soon as we stood up, and there was always a steady stream of locals ducking in and out to grab a bite to eat.
It’s not hard to Google ‘best Taipei restaurants’ or read the gospel according to TripAdvisor, but our tour guide piloted us coolly between places I’d likely never have found on my own. That’s the benefit of a food tour in a new city, and we definitely reaped the rewards.
The tour is not rushed by any stretch, with plenty of time to walk and people watch in between destinations. Starting at 4pm with an estimated finish time of 8pm, we actually didn’t say our farewells until closer to 10pm.
There’s a kind of amiability to it that feels like you’re exploring with a local friend rather than somebody you’re paying. Our guide never rushed us when we were enjoying a lengthy discussion of Pokemon Go or US politics or the differences between China and Taiwan, and there were ample opportunities for sight-seeing as we passed places like Songshan Creative Park and the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall.
It was a really fun evening out. The rain and the heat didn’t seem to matter so much when we were all in it together, and there were plenty of chances for us to bond over the walk or over my indecision over whether I like or dislike bubble tea.
One failing of the tour (and this could very well have been because we were such a chatty lot) is that I didn’t feel like I was learning as much as I’d have liked.
My Carpe DC Food Tour might have set the bar high when it came to a tour being educational, but I went home with a full belly and a mind that didn’t feel like it had been quite as nourished.
As I say, perhaps this was just our group never giving our guide an opening to explain the history of a given dish, so I can’t fault Taipei Eats for this. Perhaps in a quieter group, I’d have learned a whole lot more.
All told, it was a fantastic way to spend a night and get an introduction to Taiwan’s many and varied culinary influences.
With a meandering pace and a lot of variety, it’s one of the more relaxed and enjoyable food tours I’ve been on.
Have you ever been on an especially memorable food tour?
Got any favourite Taiwanese cuisines I should try out?
Disclaimer: My Taipei Eats Xinyi food tour was provided free of charge in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.