By Iris Van Kerckhove
Last month, Lynda and I went to Taiwan with two of our high school best friends for a quick girls' trip. I had been to Taiwan once before, but only for three days and didn’t leave Taipei. One of our friends who came with us on this trip, Vicky, grew up in Taiwan, so this was full experience. We got to travel to different parts of Taiwan with an almost-local, be out in nature, drink, and of course, eat everything in sight. It only seemed fair to do a Feast Meets West recap of our trip!
Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan, and not surprisingly, where most tourists visit. What I love about Taipei is that it has all the elements of a cool city from shopping to trendy restaurants to local culture, but has this chill, slower atmosphere. Unlike a lot of Asian cities, it’s not crowded at all (until you get to the night markets) and people are pleasant and friendly. Here are some spots we hit up.
Placebo is a very cool bar with great cocktails and snacks, and gorgeous retro interior design. However, this negroni’s presentation was a tad over the top for my tastes. I had to take the beautiful flowers out because they kept poking me in the face when I tried to drink my cocktail. Instagram-worthy though!
Pineapple cakes are the iconic Taiwanese pastries and souvenirs. This is my second time at SunnyHills and I love the simplicity of the store. You come in, sit down, and are given a complimentary tea and pineapple cake. Then you go to the counter and tell them how many boxes you want to buy. It’s one of the best pineapple cakes I’ve ever had, but of course, it depends on your preference. Some people find SunnyHills cakes a little dry, but I love them and find them to be a little more artisanal than your average pineapple cake.
Tonghua Night Market on Linjiang Street
Everything you would want in a Taiwanese night market. Not as large at Shilin Night Market, which I visited the first time I went to Taipei, but that can be a good thing because it’s more manageable. Lots of locals at Tonghua. Shoutout to Winson in Brooklyn for inspiring us to try the danzi mian.
LoCo Food 乐口福
We hit up this cute, casual breakfast spot that serves dan bing--a sort of egg-crepe with different fillings that is rolled and cut into pieces. It’s a traditional breakfast item often eaten with soy milk for breakfast in Taiwan. LoCo Food does a slightly modern spin on it, and serves a decent cup of coffee too. This made me realize I need more dan bing in my life.
Train ride bento box
On our way out of Taipei, Vicky told us about her childhood memories of taking the trains and eating the delicious bento boxes sold at the train station. I got the pork, Lynda got the chicken leg. Good shit.
Hualien is a county on the east coast of Taiwan, with its biggest city, Hualien City, only having a population of 106,368 people. It is the largest of all counties in Taiwan, and has so much to offer in terms of nature. Hualien’s gorgeous mountains briefly tempted us all to leave city life and become mountain women. Except Lynda has vertigo. So there goes that idea.
Silks Place Taroko
Dai Ji Wonton
In this world of customization and variety to keep customers coming back for more, it’s refreshing to find places that just do one thing, and do it well. This humble shop in Hualien City makes great wontons with perfect thin skins and dough to filling ratio, in a simple broth. Nothing is over-seasoned, which I appreciated because the ingredients speak for themselves.
I just have to give this place a shout-out because this was one of the coolest hotels I have ever stayed at, and I don’t even really like hotels. Just look at that view from the room. The best part? The rooftop swimming pool and hot tubs among the majestic mountains. I just wanted to stay here forever. Bring your own booze, though. I ordered the worst mojito I’ve ever had here. But no one’s perfect, right? I'll be back, Silks Place Taroko.
After the quiet mountains of Hualien, we went to Yilan City--a small but more populated city famous for its hot springs. We hit up two of its most famous sites: Kavalan Distillery and Lanyang Museum (cool building but boring museum) and went on the most intense food trip with the girls. As usual, I could not keep up. But what I could stomach, I loved.
Kavalan is Taiwan’s most famous whisky distillery. You might not know that Taiwan makes great whisky, but it does! Named after the indigenous Kavalan aboriginal people of Yilan County, one of the distillery’s whiskies was named "new whisky of the year" in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in 2012, and another was named the world's best single malt whisky by World Whiskies Awards in 2015. To be honest, visiting the distillery itself was not an amazing experience and it had a poorly-executed whisky tasting session that I probably still wouldn’t have enjoyed even if I spoke Mandarin, but I’m still glad we went. Fun fact: the same company produces Mr. Brown Coffee, and the best part of the visit was probably killing two birds with one stone by drinking their coffee liqueur.
Our Yilan Food Trip
Vicky led us through an area of Yilan city where we hit up four different spots within an hour and a half...and I didn't catch the names of any of these places. We had lamb soup and noodles, Yilan street snacks, “eight treasures noodles” with side dishes, and one of the best scallion pancakes I’ve ever had: hot, fresh, with egg.
With only two short trips to Taiwan under my belt, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the culinary offerings of this island. But while everyone always praises the food, not enough people are talking about the culture, the beautiful nature, and the genuinely lovely people. Taiwan is a seriously underrated tourist destination. I can’t wait to go back for more.