Tasting Your Way Through Hong Kong and Taiwan

People & Culture

Young Asian Woman Eating Dumpling Batter (Takoyaki) on Street in Hong Kong

Taste your way through Hong Kong and Taiwan – two incredible culinary destinations in Asia that are sure to whet the appetite of any foodie.

Hong Kong

Known as the culinary capital of Asia, Hong Kong boasts more than 12,000 restaurants, many of them clustered in defined food districts. Apart from enjoying the best Cantonese and regional Chinese food, visitors can sample a wide choice of authentic Asian cuisine and Western fare. Local “must try” dishes are dim sum and fresh seafood.

Though Cantonese food can now be found throughout the world, there’s nothing quite like experiencing these flavours in their spiritual home. Hong Kong is the world’s capital for dim sum and other popular Cantonese dishes.

Street Dumplings in Hong Kong
Sample some street dumplings in Hong Kong

The magic of Hong Kong is in its fusion of east-meets-west and modern meets ancient. Traditional dishes and international cuisine are found in the most luxurious hotels with roof-top bars, and noodle shops tucked between modern skyscrapers. Cha chang teng, or Hong Kong style teahouses, attract a diverse crowd, and it’s not unusual to see bankers sitting across from blue collar workers, and school kids alongside senior citizens. Also, among the 87 Michelin-starred restaurants, there are dim sum delights.

It’s hard to go wrong following your nose into any establishment packed with locals, but if you’d like some help navigating the menu, an on-foot tasting tour gives you a three hour crash course in Hong Kong’s signature dishes. This can also be a great way to explore Central and Sheung Wan, including historic spots such as Cat Street, rapidly vanishing traditional barber shops and wet markets, and the famous Mid-levels Escalator, which carries thousands of workers from the residential district into the commercial area each morning. (Local Tip: Don’t forget anything. The escalator only goes one way at a time, and it’s a long hike back up!)

View of the Sheung Wan District, Hong Kong
View of Hong Kong Island

The all-important eating portion of this tour is broken into two main sections with some snacking in between. Chow down on wonton noodle soup at a third generation family restaurant, succulent roast pork or duck – or pigeon, if you’re feeling adventurous – at a local barbecue house. Take a peek inside the kitchens, and visit local juice, sweet, and tea shops before capping off the day with mouth-watering dim sum. Our advice? Take the guided tour early in your Hong Kong stay, so you can dive into the local menus with confidence.

Suggested Half Day Tour:
Hong Kong Foodie on Foot

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

Taiwan

Less than three hours flight away from Hong Kong lies another centre for great tasting food – Taiwan. It would be selling Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, short to say its flavours are wholly Chinese. This small island nation is all about serving a lot in small packages, and its diverse cuisine is no exception. Taking inspiration from indigenous and Japanese culinary traditions, Taiwan creates a menu that is markedly different from that of its neighbours.

Three Guys Eating Dim Sum at Din Tai Fung, Taipei, Taiwan
Enjoying dim sum at Din Tai Fung, Taipei

Perhaps the best way to start is by sampling xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings) at the original Din Tai Fung, on Taipei’s Xinyi Road. Their signature 18-pinch dumplings are now steamed to perfection in restaurants all over the world.  But there’s something to be said for biting into one of these morsels at the once humble original, knowing you’re tasting the roots of a culinary household name. Sure, you’ll probably have to wait, but the queue will still be shorter than at the flashy Taipei 101 location.

Dumpling craving satisfied, it’s time to dive into unique Taiwanese specialties such as sanbei chicken, also known as “three cup” chicken. It’s one cup of rice wine, one cup of soy sauce, and one cup of sesame oil – combine to create this uniquely versatile sauce. Of course, it goes equally well with other meats or tofu if you’re not keen on chicken.

Taiwan Market with Fruit Variety
Taiwan market with fruit variety

If you’d like to try your hand at Taiwanese cooking, Taipei boasts a wide range of cooking schools, some of which offer day classes to visitors. You can learn the secrets distinguishing the local deep fried chicken, or even try to create a dumpling to rival Din Tai Fung.

Like Hong Kong however, many of Taipei’s most delicious treats can be found within its markets, or on street stalls around the city. One great gastronomic stop is Tamsui Old Street (also spelled Danshui, or Tienshuei), located a little outside of Taipei. Here, you can graze on Taiwanese specialties such as fish ball soup, ā gěi, which is fried tofu filled with glass noodles, and “iron eggs,” which have been stewed in a mix of ingredients until pickled. You can also order just about any fried food you can imagine, including durian, the infamously smelly, but tasty “king of fruits.” Try some takoyaki (octopus) balls if you want to sample another Japanese addition to Taiwanese cuisine, then pick up a couple of sweets to round out your gastronomical sightseeing. Just keep in mind that Taiwanese sweets prove that cuter or nicer looking is not necessary to attract customers. Flavour is far more important than its appearance.

Tamsui Old Street Near Taipei, Taiwan
Tamsui Old Street near Taipei
Mango Shaved Ice from Ice Monster, Taipei, Taiwan (Photo Credit - Ice Monster)
Mango shaved ice from Ice Monster | Photo credit: Ice Monster

One destination in Taipei proper that foodies can’t afford to miss is Ningxia Night Market. Ningxia is noted for its fantastic array of fresh seafood, among other Taiwanese dishes. The oyster omelette is an evergreen hit with locals and tourists alike. Grilled scallops, rice-wrapped pork sausage, and the notable stinky tofu are also popular. In short, expect a wide variation in selection here according to season. In winter, you can tuck into a delicious pork stew or soup, while in summer, locals make a beeline for Ice Monster, ready to scoff down a mouth-watering bowl of mango shaved ice. Popular with locals, this market is a great place to try some of those more creative Chinese food options, if you feel so inclined.

Suggested Half Day Tour:
Taipei Foodie Night Tour

Suggested Itinerary:
7-Day Taste of Taiwan

Taipei City Skyline at Twilight, Taiwan
Taipei city skyline at twilight

Whether your culinary journey encompasses Hong Kong, Taiwan, or both, the flavours and stories to be uncovered in these two Asia destinations are unique, and a must-do for any serious foodie.

Hong Kong Logo 2014 HorizontalTaiwan Logo 2014