Pinyin is a widely used romanization system for transcribing Chinese. Each of its 21 initial letters is presented here with a corresponding Taiwanese food.
Influenced by the various people that have inhabited the island over the course of several centuries (most notably the Chinese, Japanese, and indigenous peoples), Taiwanese cuisine is a blend of styles and innovations. The foods showcased provide an overview of common ingredients and dishes.
Bōbà nǎichá (bubble milk tea or boba) is a cold, sweet, tea drink containing tapioca balls or other toppings. Boba originated in tea shops in Taiwan during the 1980s and has become one of the country’s most popular food exports.
Páigǔ (pork chop) is a Taiwanese dish consisting of a marinated, breaded, and deep-fried or braised pork chop. The pork chop is often served along with an array of side dishes over rice as part of a bian dang (bento boxed lunch).
Mántou (mantou or Chinese steamed bun) is a steamed bread eaten in Chinese cuisine. In Taiwan, it is popular as a breakfast food or as a portable snack or meal.
The term “mantou” refers to plain or unfilled buns, while “baozi” is a steamed bun with a savory or sweet filling.
Fènglí sū (pineapple cake) is a traditional Taiwanese pastry with a shortcake-like exterior and a pineapple jam filling. Historically a ceremonial food, pineapple cakes have become one of Taiwan’s best-selling souvenirs.
Dòujiāng (doujiang or soy milk) is a drink made from soybeans that are ground, boiled, and strained. Soybeans are central to East Asian cuisine, and soy milk is ubiquitous.
In Taiwan, both sweet and savory varieties are traditional breakfast fare, often accompanied by foods like shaobing (sesame flatbread), youtiao (deep-fried dough sticks), and mantou (steamed buns).
Tāngyuán (tangyuan, literally: “soup balls”) are a dessert made from rice flour mixed with water and shaped into balls. Tangyuan can be filled or unfilled, large or small, and served hot or cold in water or syrup. Sweet fillings include sesame paste, red bean paste, chocolate paste, and chopped peanuts.
Niúròu miàn (beef noodle soup) is a Chinese and Taiwanese dish of stewed or red-braised beef, beef broth, vegetables, and noodles. In Taiwan, beef noodle soup is especially popular and considered a national dish. There, it is often served along with cold side dishes and topped with sour pickled vegetables.
Liánwù (wax apple, lianwu, literally: “lotus mist”) is a fruit native to Southeast Asia and found in the south of Taiwan. An apple by name only, the taste is mildly sweet and the inner flesh is juicy, crisp, light, and refreshing. This airy texture, along with their rarity (they are not widely cultivated due to their perishability), makes wax apples prized and truly unique.
Guàbāo (pork belly bun) is a xiaochi dish popular in Taiwan, traditionally consisting of braised pork belly sandwiched in a steamed bun and garnished with pickled mustard greens, fresh cilantro, crushed peanuts, and sugar.
Kǔguā (bitter melon) is a vegetable used in Asian cuisines, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and fermented black soybeans), stews and soups, and herbal teas. Bitter melon is valued for its extremely bitter flavor and health benefits.
Jiǎozi (jiaozi) are a Chinese dumpling, generally made of ground meat and finely chopped vegetables wrapped in a thin piece of dough. Jiaozi can be boiled, steamed, or pan-fried (called guotie or potstickers), and are especially popular during Chinese New Year, when extended family members may gather together to help make them.
Fillings vary by personal tastes and region, and can include pork, mutton, beef, chicken, shrimp, cabbage, scallions, leeks, mushroom, carrot, and garlic chives.
Qiū dāo yú (mackerel pike, Pacific saury, Japanese: sanma, literally: “autumn knife fish”) is a fish used in Taiwanese cuisine but most notably in Japanese and Korean cuisines. It is often grilled whole, but can also be deep-fried or braised.
The intestines are very bitter, but many people revere the taste. Renowned Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu’s 1962 film An Autumn Afternoon literally translates to “The Taste of Sanma.”
Xīguā (watermelon) is abundant in Taiwan from April to August. Taiwan produces some of the world’s tastiest varieties, due in large part to the extensive and innovative work of horticulturalist Chen Wen-yu, known as the “Watermelon King.”
Zhúsǔn (bamboo shoots) are popular in Taiwan in the winter and spring, when many varieties are harvested for use in numerous dishes and broths. When fresh, they are sweet, crisp, nutty, and creamy. Bamboo shoots are also available year-round dried, frozen, canned, or pickled.
Chòu dòufu (stinky tofu) is a fermented tofu popular as a street food in Taiwan. In night markets, stinky tofu is commonly served deep-fried and topped with pickled cabbage, but can also be eaten cold, steamed, or stewed. Traditionally prepared in a brine of fermented milk, vegetables, and meat for up to several months, stinky tofu is said to have an odor resembling that of rotten garbage or smelly feet.
Shìzi (persimmon) is a fruit native to China, in season from September to January in Taiwan. There are two types, astringent and non-astringent. Astringent varieties are often dried and eaten as a snack or used to make drinks or desserts. Non-astringent varieties (pictured) may be eaten fresh while still very firm and remain edible when soft.
Ròu zào fàn (minced pork rice, braised pork rice, rou zao fan) or lǔ ròu fàn (lu rou fan) is a Taiwanese dish of Chinese origin consisting of braised minced pork served over rice. Beloved as a comfort food, rou zao fan is a staple of Taiwanese home kitchens and eateries.
Zòngzi (zongzi or sticky rice dumplings) are a traditional Chinese food made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings, wrapped in bamboo leaves and boiled or steamed. Traditionally eaten during the Duanwu Festival (Dragon Boat Festival), they can now be found year-round and include savory or sweet fillings that vary by region. Taiwan-style zongzi can include salted duck eggs, pork belly, peanuts, dried shrimp, and shiitake mushrooms.
Cōng yóu bǐng (cong you bing or scallion pancakes) are a savory, unleavened flatbread folded with oil and minced scallions. Cong you bing are typically shallow fried or grilled and served as both a street food and restaurant dish. In Taiwan, variations include dàn bǐng (egg pancakes) and niúròu juǎnbǐng (beef rolls).
Sānbēijī (sanbeiji, literally: “three cup chicken”) is a popular Taiwanese dish with roots in southern China. The dish derives its name from the equal parts of soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil used to cook the chicken (though many deviate from this 1:1:1 ratio).