Discovering Taiwan (Series): Tasting Unusual Foods in Taiwan

Mudskipper soup - Tainan, Taiwan

I’ve always thought of myself as an open-minded person. After all, I grew up in different cultures and started traveling from age 1. I love to try anything new – new foods, new traditions, new clothes, new languages… you name it.

Still, never has my open-mindedness been tested as much as it was in Taiwan, sampling food for seven days.

Taiwanese cuisine – a blend of aborigine Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese influences – presented a whole new world of flavors. At home, I normally stick to Vietnamese or Thai when it comes to Asian- it’s “safe,” and I know exactly what I’m getting.

But in Taiwan, almost every day, I was faced with odd-looking dishes: river fish, livers of various kinds of animals, pork (lots of pork consumed in Taiwan), intestines, chicken feet and other types of snacks at night markets, some of which I couldn’t make out. I had to taste flavors that lingered on my palate and had to be washed away with a sip of vinegar. I also had to get accustomed to new table etiquette (I never really mastered the art of chopsticks and never had to before this trip, but boy, did I learn fast!)

There were a couple of days when the meals were more of the “expected” type – delicious dumplings, beef noodle soup, lamb and oysters. But I’ll admit, there were those other times when I had to take a deep breath before even lifting that particular piece of meat or fish towards my mouth. Like the time I was sampling a beautifully presented “Lotus” fish soup.  I was sipping away and occasionally crunching on green and soft looking vegetable shoots in the mixture, only to find out on closer examination that the latter were small green river fish – with the eye staring right back at me. I put my spoon down and, that was that! But afterwards, I realized that it was all in the mind – the broth was actually quite tasty.

In fact, in Taiwan, I found that most of the “unusual-looking” foods turned out to not taste as bad as I assumed.

As they say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

This trip – the first “food based” tour I’ve taken – was a reminder of what travel is all about, and how much food and culture go hand in hand.You can’t experience one without the other and if you even try, you’re missing out, big time. Especially in Taiwan, where eating is like shopping – part of life’s daily enjoyment.

Here are eight dishes and foods that took me by surprise in Taiwan. Some were served, others I spotted at the night markets. Either way, Taiwan put a whole new meaning to “snacking.”

Kissfish with crab meat and pork in the middle, and tofu sauce. Mudskipper soupMeat stands at the night market in Taipei: duck intestines, chicken intestines, liver, tendons, duck tongue and parts I could not identify.Fish stomach in milk fish soup - a traditional breakfast dish (yes, breakfast - more on this later)One of Taiwan's traditional snacks: Stinky TofuBlood cake - the dark piece the shopper is picking up in his right hand to add to his bowl.Bamboo shoot soup with shellfishWinter-picked mushroom and pig tendon soup


What do you think, would you try these? Or do you avoid local foods that seem “strange” to you when you travel?

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning, Ethiopian-American travel writer, photographer and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Moon Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic (October 2016). Her work focuses on Caribbean culture and adventure, and has been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Every Day With Rachael Ray, among many others. Lily is also the 2016 recipient of the Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for her Caribbean coverage, from the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–she speaks four languages fluently and has lived in Cote d’Ivoire, England, Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and traveled to some 30+ countries around the world. Last but not least, she is a former corporate attorney who ditched her Washington DC office for the road in 2009 to pursue her dream of becoming a storyteller. Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish (summa cum laude) from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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  1. Diana 6 November, 2011 at 11:13 PM #

    Oh gosh girl! You brave. I don’t know what I’d do in that situation. Perhaps do the same as you and tell myself, “It’s all in your head.” But you know we Jamaicans love our chicken feet! So that wouldn’t be strange to me at all.

  2. Lebawit Lily Girma 6 November, 2011 at 11:19 PM #

    Exactly! I was JUST now telling a group of friends about it, because they also love chicken foot soup in Belize (and pig foot soup).
    You know in Ethiopia we eat raw meat (it’s a delicacy) and we also have a dish called “dulet” which is a mix of beef, tripe and liver mixed with spice… growing up it looked like intestines to me and I’ve never wanted to taste it, all these years!
    It’s a delicacy as well and my parents love it.
    So I guess, it’s all relative, isn’t it? 😉

  3. Seveen 7 November, 2011 at 10:16 AM #

    lovely photos – i wish i could try them all
    hey – i’ve had worse things in my mouth :-d

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