(CNN)When Taiwan’s capital city applied to be a UNESCO city of gastronomy a couple of years back, it’s no secret that many islanders were left spluttering into their noodles.
Yes Taipei is the island’s most famous destination, but many of the dishes it was submitting were rooted from its oldest city, Tainan.
Here, dishes are whipped up in makeshift kitchens and cheap food — particularly seafood — is king.
The challenge is locating the best flavors in a city where public transport isn’t readily available and many older folks only speak Taiwanese.
That’s where this list comes in:
This dish is as essential to Tainan food culture as Bruce Lee is to Chinese kung fu.
It features oil noodles with minced pork and fresh shrimp in a shallow broth.
Translated as “peddler’s pole noodles,” the dish was invented in 1895 by Hung Yutou, a fisherman who sold it from buckets strung on a bamboo pole.
Hung’s legacy is two shops founded by his family.
Of these, Du Xiao Yue has become one of the most popular restaurant chains in the country.
Meanwhile, Hung Yutou Danzai Noodles is often said to be a more authentic local favorite.
Du Xiao Yue, No. 101, Zhongzheng Road, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6220 0858
Hung Yutou Danzai Noodles, 12, Lane 508, Chong De Road, Eastern District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 8 0023 4001
These are Taiwan’s answer to Japanese tempura, except the shrimp is wrapped in caul fat and stuffed with aromatics like scallion before being deep fried.
The most famous rendition comes from a store called Chou’s Shrimp Rolls, established in 1965.
Chou’s Shrimp Rolls (Original Store), No. 125, Anping Road, Anping District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6229 2618
Savory rice pudding, or wa gui
Wa gui is the local term for savory rice pudding, served and made in a bowl mixed with duck egg yolk, shiitake, pork, and shrimp.
The pudding is made with rice milk and flavored with soy sauce and sesame oil so that it comes out a faint flush of brown.
Fu Sheng Hao’s has held the crown as the city’s wa gui king for three decades.
Each bowl sells for about one U.S. dollar.
Fu Sheng Hao Ricecake, No. 8, Ximen Road, Section 2, Lane 333, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6227 4101
Taiwan’s tofu pudding (or douhua) is a variation of the soft, slippery soybean concoction found around Asia.
Here it’s topped with a sweet sauce — usually with brown sugar, red bean, green bean, taro and, in summer, crushed ice.
Anping Bean Jelly’s douhua is considered an attraction in itself.
Another vendor, Xiuan Biandan Douhua, started as a shaved ice shop before switching to douhua.
Anping Bean Jelly, 433 Anbei Road, Anping District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6 391 5057
Xiuan Biandan Douhua, No. 157, Ximen Road, Guohua Street Section 3, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6226 1069
Taiwanese meatball, or ba wan
Ba wan is a glutinous, half-translucent gem, most beloved for its Q (the Chinese term for al dente or chewy) texture.
The mega-dumpling is a pocket of pork, shiitake and bamboo sprouts topped with sweet and sticky sauce.
Some vendors like to add a sprig of cilantro for color.
The four-decade-old Martial God Rouyuan near the State Temple of the Martial God makes a fantastic variation that draws long lines of hungry diners.
Martial God Rouyuan, No. 225, Yongfu Road Section 2, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6222 9142
Milkfish is a popular ingredient in Tainan.
So popular that in Anping District it has its own museum selling products such as milkfish popsicles.
“Is it salty or is it sweet?”
Riding a fine line between salty and sweet, it’s not as fishy as it sounds.
Chih-kan Peddler’s Noodle serves a boneless pan-fried milkfish with a squeeze of citrus as well as soup with milkfish balls.
Chih-kan Peddler’s Noodle, No. 700, Minzu Road, Section 2, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6220 5336
Milkfish Palace, No. 88, Guangzhou Road, Anping District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6293 1097
Squid potage soup
Potage soup is a common side dish in Tainan where it’s sweeter than versions elsewhere on the island.
While it’s available everywhere, there are few specialists.
Fushui Huazhi Geng serves squid coated in a paste of ground milkfish and flour, which is then boiled in a sweet, glutinous soup and seasoned with a pinch of cilantro and finely julienned bamboo.
Fushui Huazhi Geng, No. 216, Minzu Road Section 2, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6229 2975
Braised pork over rice
There are few things as comforting and sustainable as fatty pork cubes, braised for hours and served over rice with a sprinkle of cilantro.
At Fu Tai, the incredibly soft pork belly melts in the mouth.
Fu Tai, No. 240, Minzu Road, Section 2, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6228 6833
White tapioca milk tea
Bubble or boba milk tea was invented in Taiwan, though its exact birthplace is fiercely contested.
Some say it originated from Chun Shui Tang Teahouse in Taichung, central Taiwan, others insist that it came from Tainan.
Tainan’s contender is Hanlin Tea Room, established in 1986 by tea expert Tu Tsung-ho.
Tu originally used white tapioca, which explains why bubble milk tea is often referred to as pearl tea.
Hanlin Tea Room, No. 313, Minzu Road Section 2, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6221 2357
The oyster omelet was created in times of scarcity, hence its inherent simplicity.
The bulk of it is sweet potato starch, oysters, egg, and lettuce.
Bean sprouts are added for extra crunch and it’s blanketed in a beautiful, sweet red sauce.
The owners of Old Fort Oyster Omelet, established in 1958, claim their ancestors were the first to serve the famous delicacy.
Old Fort Oyster Omelet, No. 85, Xiaozhong Road, Anping District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6228 5358
Invented in the 1940s, coffin bread is the Taiwanese answer to the Western bread bowl.
The dish is a piece of remarkably thick toast that holds a seafood chowder pool with pork, mushrooms, peas, and carrots.
It gets its name because it resembles a coffin.
Anping Guiji’s coffin bread is known for being incredibly crisp. For solo diners they have a miniature version meant to be devoured in one bite.
Anping Guiji local cuisine cultural restaurant, No. 93, Yanping Road, Anping District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6222 9794
Lu mian (braised noodles)
Lu mian (braised noodles) is a briny soup noodle, cooked into a cornstarch-heavy broth with fragments of wood ear, egg whites, and pork.
Ah Mei, at the tail end of the East Market, is a lu mian specialist making a delectable broth that can be paired with either oil noodles or vermicelli.
Ah Mei Noodles, No. 88, Minquan Road, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6226 9102
Pig’s trotter over rice
They may not seem appetizing, but pig feet are remarkably tender.
When braised in an aromatic sauce of soy and herbs, they’re great over a hefty scoop of white rice.
At Yi Deng Pin, the trotters come with braised tofu, egg and a generous portion of baby bamboo shoots.
Yi Deng Pin, No. 372-1, Anping Road, Anping District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6350 4128
While eel noodles can be found throughout the island, they’re especially popular down south.
Most vendors use farm-raised eels.
These are cooked and stir-fried separately to have a crisp outer layer and flavored with black vinegar and soy sauce before being whipped up with a clump of oil noodles in broth with wood ear mushrooms.
Eastern Castle Noodles, No. 235, Ximen Road, Section 1, East District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6209 1235
Shredded turkey over rice has never tasted this good.
The poultry is extremely aromatic and tender — a result of hours of work. The rice is infused with the grease and juice of the turkey.
Vendor Roubo Huoji Roufan, which translates Uncle Meat’s Turkey Rice, has been around for 70 years and sells single bowls for less than a dollar.
Roubo Huoji Rou Fan, No. 12-2, Gongyuan Road, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6228 3359
Duck soup pot
The Ah Mei restaurant is known throughout town for classic Tainan dishes, including its specialty duck soup pot.
Chinese cabbage is cooked till dissolved in a broth of pork bones, garlic, fried dried brill.
The duck is poached, marinated, then slow cooked in the broth for three hours over a charcoal fire while more ingredients are added.
The restaurant’s been around for 50 years and seats are tough to come by.
Ah Mei, No. 138, Minquan Road, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6222 2848
Eight treasure shaved ice/soup
Shaved ice, or baobing, is a trendy Taiwanese dessert that’s recently taken a life of its own.
There are hundreds of versions, but one Tainan vendor sticks to tradition, flavoring it with “eight treasures,” including glutinous rice balls, green and red beans, and peanuts.
During the wintertime, it’s especially great in soup form — served in a hot sugary broth.
Shi Jing Jiu, No. 246, Minzu Road, Section 2, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6223 2266
Spanish mackerel is a prized fish in Tainan and can be bought pre-butchered at any day market around town.
The fish’s peak season is from late summer to early autumn.
The most common and best way to sample Spanish mackerel is pan fried with a wedge of lemon.
Fu Tai, No. 240, Minzu Road, Section 2, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6228 6833
Zong zi is a tetrahedral-shaped pocket of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf.
It’s a Taiwanese staple during the annual summer Dragon Boat Festivals and is also a common breakfast, but around Tainan it’s said to have a better texture.
The perfect texture for the steamed sticky rice should be fine, chewy and moist.
Meat rice dumplings (rou zong) and vegetable rice dumplings (cai zong) are equally filling.
They’re best served with sweet soy sauce and with grated peanut powder on the side.
Yuan Huan Ding Cai Zong Rou Zong, No. 40, Fuqian Road, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6222 0752
There is not much I can actually claim to know anything about, but given my Southeast Asian heritage—and the fact that I spent the majority of my 20s traveling the backpacker circuit through that part of the world—I feel confident about my knowledge and familiarity with the cuisines of the region. So when Michelin-starred chef James Syhabout recently opened the second outpost of his Thai street-food eatery Hawker Fare in the Valencia Street corridor, we summoned a First World tuk-tuk (aka an Uber) to whisk us there, stat. No reason to keep nostalgia waiting.
Designed to evoke the lively night markets in Thailand, the tables are draped in colorful oil cloths and the walls are layered with the patterned floor mats seen in every Thai home. Red metal folding chairs are charming in a this-is-how-they-do-it-over-there kind of way, but the no-frills seating made me wonder just how transportive the dining experience is meant to be: We’re not actually in Bangkok, after all, and yet we’re willing to pay 10x (or more!) the going rate for street food. So maybe throw a little cushion on the chair?
Since the food comes out of the kitchen at lightning speed, actual consumption is just as swift, which adds to the adventurousness of the experience. We started with the som tom lao, a Laotian-style green papaya salad with salted black crab, fish sauce, lime, and plenty of kick from dried chiles. The salad was practically swimming in its spicy dressing, which felt like a haphazard preparation—again, true to its exotic origins, but I expect a bit more refinement for the price. Even my neighborhood mom-and-pop Thai joint makes a better presentation. To extinguish the fire, we sipped on a puckeringly refreshing rum cocktail called Dr. Wong.
We also enjoyed the satay beef neau, grilled short ribs that have been marinated in coconut milk. Nothing brings me back to childhood like grilled meat paired with rice, and at Hawker Fare, the chicken fat rice is the bowl of choice. It also makes a savory sopper-upper to the true star of the evening, a super funky, earthy-to-the-max, graphite-colored stew of bamboo, wood-ear mushrooms, and whole hard-boiled quail eggs, the yolks of which add richness to an otherwise brothy brew. You don’t know why you like it, or even if you like it, but you can’t stop eating it. Barring this kind of tastebud-brain confusion, the soul-satisfying quotient of this concoction is off the charts.
My father loves to make halo-halo, a traditional Filipino kitchen-sink dessert made with shave ice, sweet beans, ice cream, sweetened condensed milk, fresh coconut, and whatever else you think might taste good. The Hawker Fare version is similar, with coconut sorbet, condensed milk, boiled peanuts, and adzuki beans. I loved the flavors, but wished the ice was snowier. Having spent years of my life rigged up in orthodontics, crunching ice chips the size of betrothal-worthy diamonds is not how I want to reverse all of that good dentistry.
Due to the expediency of the meal (we clocked 25 minutes!), I discovered that I missed the lingering dining experience. To loiter a little longer would have meant ordering more spendy food. We were still hungry, after all. Were the prices on par with street food in Bangkok (everything else is quite evocative—from the full-on flavors to the clanky, two-bit enamelware to the aforementioned breakneck service), staying awhile might have worked out. Don’t get me wrong, I understand about the price of doing business in this city. I understand that Hawker Fare ingredients are higher end, and the recipes have been gourmetified. I understand that those costs must be passed onto the consumer. But there’s no sugar-coating the fact that Hawker Fare tabs run high rather quickly, sooner than you can hit the satiation point, and before you know it, you’re a few doors down at Craftsman Wolves, latte in hand, chocolate chip cookie on deck, in maximum lingering mode.
Hawker Fare: 680 Valencia (at 18th Street), SF, 415-400-5699 (also located in Oakland at 2300 Webster [at 23rd Street]; 510.832.8896)
Experimenting with street food is a culinary rite of passage. Whether it’s devouring a tamale at an outdoor market or slurping up noodles in a narrow alleyway, eating on the street is an opportunity to step into another culture in an honest, authentic way. In these 10 cities, street food is not just about discovering mind-blowing dishes; it is an integral part of the social fabric.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai may be smaller than Bangkok, but its street food scene is just as prominent. Chiang Mai’s massive tented markets are a second home to the city’s inhabitants, who eat out for almost every meal. Dining includes juicy mangoes and sticky rice for breakfast, lip-numbing papaya salads for lunch, and snacks like deep-fried bananas and tender pork skewers slathered in a honey-like glaze.
Where to go: Somphet Market, Moon Muang Road, north of Tha Phae Gate; Chiang Mai Gate Market at the Chiang Mai Gate in the southwest corner of the moat; and Intawarorot Road near the Three Kings Monument.
New York City, United States
Nathan’s Famous Photo via Flickr/drpavloff
New York’s street food is seemingly without limits. On one corner, you can get a gourmet bowl of shakshuka, baked with of halumi cheese and chunks of roasted garlic. On the next, there’s authentic Salvadoran pupusas, or corn tortillas stuffed with pork, chicken, shrimp, veggies or cheese. Yet the beauty of New York lies in its age-old institutions, like the quintessential New York hot dog, which, despite more than a century of change, is always just how you remember it.
Where to go: The Shuka Truck , El Olomega , Nathan’s Famous, Korilla BBQ.
At meal time, businessmen, shopkeepers and laborers crowd around the same vendors along Mumbai’s long stretches of food stalls. The majority of food is vegetarian, as most people are practicing Hindus. Popular dishes include potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and peas in a fragrant curry sauce, scooped up with naan; and vada pav, a deep-fried potato cutlet made with fresh coriander and green chilies, served on a bun. Every meal is finished off with a shot-size cup of chai, and occasionally paan—a triangle-shaped digestive, stuffed with candied fruit, cardamom, saffron, roasted coconut and lime paste and wrapped in betel leaf.
Where to go: Vendors along Juhu Beach and Chowpatty Beach; Elco Market in the Bandra neighborhood; Crawford Market near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station; Badhshah Snacks int the Crawford Market; Ashok Vada Pav in Dadar West neighborhood.
Jemaa el-Fna Photo via Flickr/Mark Rowland
Souks (markets) have been the hotbed of Moroccan culture for centuries. At night, the city’s main squares transform into an army of food vendors wrapped in spiced clouds of smoke coming off of piping hot tagine and shawarma. The chaotic but thrilling Jemaa el-Fna, the city’s largest souk and a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been in action for nearly 900 years. This is the prime spot for dinner for locals and tourists alike. You’ll find dishes like tender lamb roasted in cumin and salt and escargot dripping with garlic sauce alongside snake charmers and tarot card readers.
Where to go: Jemaa el-Fna, Medina Quarterin the Old City.
In Singapore, hawker markets (massive dining centers made up of food stalls) are the equalizer between foreign wealth and local-wage earners. The vendors, which used to operate individually on streets, are required by law to be a part of these larger markets. Some comprise more than 200 food stalls The food is a mix of Singapore’s Chinese, Indian and Malay influences, including char kway teow, a stir fry of flat rice noodles cooked on high heat with dark soy sauce, egg, Chinese sausage, prawns, cockles and sliced fish cake; and roti, the soft and crisp Indian flatbread served with curry; and barbecue stingray.
Where to go: Old Airport Road Food Centre Old Airport Road; Singapore Flyer, 30 Raffles Avenue; East Coast Lagoon Food Centre, 1220 East Coast Parkway.
What is the dish?
Pepián – a traditional meaty, spicy stew that many see as our national dish, found on street food carts, in diners and home kitchens.
What’s the history?
Pepián is one of the oldest dishes in Guatemalan food heritage, borne out of the fusion of the Spanish and Mayan cultures. It is also quite possibly the most famous Guatemalan stew, a recados as we say in Guatemala, or what I call a Mayan curry.
What does it taste like?
It’s thick and rich, with a wealth of roasted spices blended together. Most often it contains meat; chicken, beef or pork. It’s a bit bitter because of the roasting of the ingredients prior to the blending and cooking.
How is it served?
Pepián is normally served with one meat, but you can have a full three-meat version. It always contains vegetables and fruits – such as pear, squash, carrot, potato and corn on the cob.
Usually street food vendors serve it with rice and freshly made corn tortillas. Hot chilli sauce or peppers are normally an option too.
Why should someone try it?
You should try Pepián because it is so representative of Guatemalan food, along with Kakik, which is a turkey stew.
What’s the bill?
Pepián can be found in most street markets, as well as diners and restaurants serving typical Guatemalan food. The bill will vary from $2-3 in the market to $5-15 in restaurants around my home town, Antigua.
Where can you get it?
My favourite spots to eat it in Antigua are the Rincón Típico diner and the restaurants Los Tres Tiempos, La Fonda de la Calle Real and La Cuevita de los Urquizú.
Can you make it at home?
Yes – try my traditional recipe below. Pepián is prepared several times a month in most Guatemalan homes.
What does this dish say about Antigua?
Pepián shows how Mayan and Spanish culture have blended together over the years, and gives a taste of the heritage of both.
Recipe for Pepián
1 whole chicken, jointed, or 8 pieces of chicken, skin on
3 medium onions, 1 quartered, 2 whole
1 heaped tbsp salt
2 guaque (guajillo) chillies, dried, deseeded
2 pasa (poblano/mulato) chillies, dried and deseeded
115g raw pumpkin seeds (pepitoria)
115g sesame seeds
6 large black peppercorns
3 large garlic cloves
1 small bunch coriander
9 roma/plum tomatoes, around 500g
1 tbsp dried oregano
1⁄2 stick cinnamon
1 quisquil (mirliton/chayote) or squash
500g potatoes or root vegetables
- Put the chicken in a large pot, covering it with roughly 3 litres of water, so the chicken is covered. Add the salt and the quartered onion to the water while the chicken boils.
- While the chicken is boiling, roast the dried chillies over a medium heat in a dry frying pan until fragrant. Once roasted, crumble chillies into a mixing bowl; all roasted ingredients will be combined in this bowl so make sure it’s large enough.
- Next, toast the raw pumpkin seeds in the same pan, then add to the mixing bowl. Toast the sesame seeds until golden. Add to the mixing bowl.
- Put one whole onion with 6-8 black whole peppercorns and 6 cloves plus the garlic cloves, in the pan, then toast until golden and mix with the seeds.
- Toast fresh coriander the same as the other ingredients. This will become very fragrant. Add to mixing bowl.
- Next, roast the tomatoes until blackened and soft, then add to the other ingredients.
- Finally, toast 1 tablespoon of dried oregano and the cinnamon, then add to mixing bowl.
- In a separate bowl, cut peeled potatoes into large chunks. Cut quisquil into thick slices and peel. Cut remaining onion into chunks. These will be added to the chicken pot once chicken is mostly cooked.
- Combine all roasted ingredients and add 750ml water. Whizz in a blender to combine fully. Add the mixture to the chicken pot. Continue cooking at a rolling boil until the sauce reduces, add the vegetable and cook until tender. The sauce is typically thin like a soup. This dish can be served in a bowl as a stand alone meal or with rice. Typical Guatemalan style include rice or tortillas.
A well-known New York City restaurant, The Halal Guys, looks to expand from its street-food roots to a restaurant location in Berkeley sometime in 2016.
The franchise’s decision to open in the city comes after positive responses from the young demographic at its New York locations, specifically with college students, according to Tom Nguyen, a franchise owner who would oversee the Berkeley restaurant. He attributes its reported popularity among students to the low prices and accessibility of the company’s food.
The Berkeley restaurant will resemble the New York storefronts but will continue to offer the same options as its food carts, according to Nguyen.
Jerry Bao, a UC Berkeley senior, has tried The Halal Guys’ food several times while visiting family in New York and said he “anticipates a lot of success” for the company, expecting that its popularity will transfer to the West Coast.
“Hopefully, they’ll maintain the same taste from the East Coast,” Bao said. “If they do, it’ll be a huge hit, just the way In-N-Out is in Texas.”
The Halal Guys has opened four carts and two storefront locations in Manhattan since its opening as a food cart in 1990. The company now plans to expand nationally to areas including Southern California, Las Vegas and Texas. The Halal Guys is also looking to open international locations in the Philippines and Malaysia, said Marketing Manager Ali Abdelmohsen.
There are currently three food carts with locations near the UC Berkeley campus, on Bancroft and College avenues.
Ann Vu, an employee with the Healthy Heavenly Foods food truck near campus, said she is not threatened by the potential of a The Halal Guys’ storefront location. She said she focuses on “good food, good service, good prices and a clean establishment” rather than on the presence of other businesses.
“There’s absolutely room for competition,” she said.
Adin Levy, a UC Berkeley sophomore from New York City, said that she ate from The Halal Guys’ carts frequently throughout her high school years but that the “appeal of Halal was not necessarily about the quality of the food … but about the experience.”
She worried, however, that The Halal Guys might be at risk of losing some of what many consider its New York charm by choosing to open in Berkeley a storefront instead of a cart. Levy said she hopes the company will remain “loyal to its roots.”
The company is currently in the process of searching for potential locations in Berkeley, Nguyen said. He added that the Berkeley franchise will focus on being easily accessible to both UC Berkeley students and faculty.
While The Halal Guys hopes to open a franchise near the campus in 2016, the timeline is dependent on the availability of a location in the city.
Contact Elaina Provencio at [email protected].