Here’s the formula for a excellent city; a strong engagement in cultural heritage, great transportation connections and superior street food.
Tainan, on the Southern end of Taiwan, is one of the very best cities. Tainan is just bursting with vitality, beautiful art and architecture, and an intense snacking culture. Realizing we were in a street food mecca, HOB and I got down to work, eating like it was our job.
Tainan has so many pleasing places to snack, with kitchens open to the street and casual service. We started our street food orgy at Chikhan Peddler’s Noodles, a cute place with old-school wooden tables. We ordered the iconic dish of danzai (peddler’s noodles) and they did not disappoint. It is one of those simple dishes whose perfectly curated ingredients add up to savory perfection.
We also sampled Coffin Bread which was certainly the most puzzling street food in all of Taiwan. This toasted bread box filled with a creamy seafood stew seemed like a 1970’s Midwestern American idea of Chinese food. I mean, it was pretty tasty but I kind of felt like I was a guest at a particularly daring dinner party in my home town in 1978.
Shrimp rolls are famous in Tainan so we tried them at two different shops.
Chou’s Shrimp Rolls were by far the best, with a tempura-ish crunch. Regrettably, these are deep fried and not the healthiest choice but hey, we did walk all the way from our hotel by the train station to the Anping district to eat at Chou’s (at least 4 k) so we had worked up a sizable appetite.
I adore fermented food so naturally I was psyched to try stinky tofu, the rather notorious street food of Taiwan. Prior to visiting, I had wondered how to find this particular snack. If you share my concern, don’t worry, the stinky tofu will find you. Stinky tofu is not a twee nickname, stinky tofu is stinky. I begged HOB to take my picture eating it, so he did, and then he walked away, refusing to watch me eat. He said it smelled like boiling maggots so I offered to kiss him with my stinky tofu-smeared lips.
Oyster omelets are big in Tainan. All the elements were quite delicious, but I’m not that sure that the combination of squishy oysters and eggs with crunchy bean sprouts is entirely appetizing.
Shrimp Rice is just what is sounds like but better. Ji Pin serves the Platonic form of Shrimp Rice. Order it and then walk around the neighborhood surrounding Ji Pin, which is full of cool street art.
You didn’t think we forgot about desert, did you? People in Tainan were lined up for shaved ice treats so we got in on the action too. I had no idea how to order but fortunately a kind young woman jumped in to assist me. The bottom of the bowl is filled with shaved ice drenched in some sort of sweet syrup, the next layer is strawberries and topping off this bowl of decadence is a caramel custard. The ice melts while you eat and turns into a sinful soup. As delicious as it was I can imagine it must be even better on a hot summer night.
Even after two days of stuffing ourselves with Tainan’s many street treats, we still enjoyed walking about, envying the residents of this vivacious town and their life of gluttony.
We did not, however, feel compelled to sample the poop emoji cake.
How we got to Tainan: train from Hsinchu.
Where we slept: Tia Dao Hotel. Price: €35 for a double. Recommended: no.