I sat on the Taiwan High Speed Rail with my friend at my side. In about forty minutes, we’d be arriving at the Taichung Station where my dad would pick us up. I’d just spent three days in Taipei and loved every minute of it. The cosmopolitan vibe, the culture, the Michelin starred restaurants.
I was leaving all that behind to spend ten days in Taichung, the second-largest city near the west coast of central Taiwan. Granted I was excited to see my dad, but what was there to do?
My friend who was visiting her mother for a few days questioned my decision as well. “There’s nothing to do in Taichung,” she said.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I can’t wait to return as there were so many activities I didn’t have time for. Like hiking Dakeng Trail or cycling around nearby Sun Moon Lake. Of course, seeing my dad was the highlight of my trip. But it was an extra bonus to discover how much this vibrant city has to offer.
And don’t get me started on the food.
Okay, I have to tell you about the food.
Taichung may not have as many Michelin starred restaurants as Taipei but that will soon be rectified. Michelin recently announced that their 2020 guide will include Taichung restaurants. Taichung is emerging as a draw not only for its night markets but for its highly acclaimed chefs.
Food is the focal point in Chinese culture. We gather around the table for hours to connect with one another. One of my favorite moments during my trip was a casual dinner at my friend’s mother’s house. Over stir-fried eggplant, dumplings, noodles, grilled salmon, chicken soup, and Chinese greens, we chatted about family, friends, and future plans.
And where the best food was.
The Fengjia Night Market is one of the biggest night markets on the island and arguably, the most famous. No trip to Taiwan should be complete without a stop at a night market where you eat tasty street food amidst neon lights and hungry crowds. There I discovered octopus balls which is fried octopus covered in bonito flakes, seaweed, and wasabi sauce. Amazing. Find the place with the giant blue octopus on top.
Dumplings are a staple in Taiwan and you really can’t go wrong with any place you choose. You can play it safe and go to Din Tai Fung which have locations worldwide, including one near me in Torrance, CA. But the best dumplings are from places you wouldn’t even know about.
Like Ri Zheng, a tiny place on the corner of Jianxing and Boguan Road in the West District. The long line out the door said it all. Their pork dumplings didn’t disappoint. Just the right amount of chew with plenty of flavor.
But my surprise favorite was their scallion pancakes. Moist, flaky, and oniony, these were the best scallion pancakes I’d ever had. You can get them stuffed with pork, egg, or plain. I must have gone there half a dozen times.
Pearl Milk Tea
Pearl milk tea originated in Taichung, specifically Chan Shui Tang, which has locations now in Japan and Hong Kong. It’s black tea with milk, ice, and sugar. You can adjust how much sugar and ice you want. You can also substitute for soy milk. The “pearls” are tapioca balls which add a lovely chewy sweetness. My favorite place is a location that I can’t pronounce. It’s located on Jianxing Road, not too far from Ri Zheng, next door to MaLuLian.
And anyone who visits Taiwan will come back with pineapple cakes (or feng li su). They’re buttery shortbread cookies filled with pineapple jam. In the 1930s, Taiwan was the third-largest exporter of pineapples. There was a surplus of pineapples, and thus, the pineapple cake was born.
I’m not a huge fan of pineapple cakes. I will eat them only if they’re presented as a gift as it’s rude to refuse. However, all that changed when I discovered Dawn Cake.
Dawn Cake is a bakery with locations only in Taichung. Some swear this is the best place to buy pineapple cakes. I’m now one of them. The shortbread is soft and buttery and the pineapple inside isn’t too chewy.
In addition to the signature Taiwanese dessert, they have suncakes, cheesecakes, floral cakes, and honey cakes. They provided samples of most items. My favorite were the floral cakes. The soft and moist pastry surrounding sweet white bean or green bean was heavenly.
What I also loved was that the shop itself was breathtakingly beautiful inside. Each Dawn Cake location has a different style. There’s even one that looks like Hogwarts in Harry Potter! Each purchase is wrapped in gorgeous colorful boxes and make perfect gifts.
As someone who is obsessed with food and believes the best way to explore a new city is through eating, Taichung blew me away. If I had to choose between Taipei and Taichung, I’d say Taichung was the city that won my heart (or my stomach, rather). I don’t know if it was the love and thought that went into everything I ate or the locally sourced ingredients, but I still find myself craving those scallion pancakes or wishing I could pop into a Dawn Cake on a whim to satisfy my sweet tooth.
I’ll just have to wait until my next visit which is already in the works.
If you’d like more information about travel and Taiwan, visit my blog Socal Sarah Writes.