Have you ever dreamed of traveling to Taiwan, known for its emerald green landscapes and tasty dishes? To help those who want to know how to explore Taiwanese food and culture in this East Asia island, Epicure & Culture caught up with travel and Taiwan expert Matt Long of LandLopers.com. Read on to learn what to eat, how to go beyond the tourist trail and ways to experience local culture.
1. Please tell us a bit about your experience traveling in Taiwan. What brought you there and what kinds of experiences did you have?
Well I was there on an assignment with AFAR Magazine and had the remarkable opportunity to spend ten days wandering around the country, from the massive cities to the quiet mountain valleys. I didn’t have high expectations before the trip, but afterwards left with a new love for Taiwan.
2. What’s one attraction or experience in Taiwan you recommend that a person probably won’t find in their guidebook?
In the south of Taiwan is a place called Chishang. It’s known for its rice production. It’s also a stunningly beautiful corner of the world and with this in mind the town established a bike route through the gorgeous rice paddies. I spent a morning peddling around, getting lost in the scenery and to this day it’s one of the greatest travel moments I’ve ever enjoyed.
3. For those wanting to experience local Taiwanese culture, what’s a top experience recommendation?
It’s through the food and can be found in any city. Whether you just wander around alleys and small streets or go to the night markets, be sure to eat at all of the hole in the wall places you can find. From delicious soups to noodles and beef, there’s a lot of variety and it’s all amazing.
4. No trip to Taiwan would be complete without savoring the local food culture. For someone wanting a traditional meal, what would you recommend they try?
Traditional is a hard word to define in Taiwan because the culture has had a lot of different influences over the years. In Taipei you should stop at Din Tai Fung for some of the best soup dumplings in the world but in the southern mountain ranges you’ll find delicious vegetarian and seafood meals based on indigenous recipes. There are many great “traditional” meals found around Taiwan, you just have to try them all!
5. Taiwan is also known for its “unusual food fare,” at least for westerners. What was one of your most unusual meals and what was it like?
They’re actually not as whacky as you’d think and definitely not as daring as some of their regional neighbors. One food that gets a lot of attention though is stinky tofu. Very popular in the southern city of Tainan, stinky tofu is just what it sounds like, it’s fermented tofu and has a VERY strong odor. You usually see it served at night markets or small stalls.
6. For those wanting to assimilate into local culture, what’s one etiquette rule they should remember to avoid offending locals?
You can’t say no to food, it’s very gauche. Translated the phrase for hello literally means, “Have you eaten yet?” Food is an integral part of Taiwan’s culture and to refuse something would be incredibly rude. Just take small bites though so you have room for more.
7. What’s one must-pack item for those traveling to Taiwan?
Larger pants; the food there is just that good.
8. One of the great parts about traveling is interacting with locals. What was one of your most memorable local encounters when visiting Taiwan?
Learning more about the indigenous culture was a big part of the trip and one day that meant joining a group traipsing through the forests and mountains that were originally home to the Bunun people. Led by former journalist and preserver of Bunun culture Mr. Aliman Madiklan, it was a day of hiking, eating, laughing and learning. A marvelous way to learn more about Taiwan’s original peoples.
9. While most people have heard of Taipei, what’s one lesser-known destination in Taiwan you would recommend and why?
Tainan, Taiwan’s second city. It was the original capital of the country and is now known as the snack food capital of the country. Not in an unhealthy way, but in terms of the delicious small bites found around town. They’re known for their quirky, artistic culture and for being more bohemian than any other city in Taiwan. It’s a beautiful city to explore and an even better one in which to find a good meal.
10. Were there any accommodations you stayed in during your trip to Taiwan that helped introduce you to local culture that you would recommend to other travelers?
One of my favorite places to stay in Taiwan was at the Silks Place Taroko Hotel. Located within the beautiful Taroko Gorge National Park, this luxury property is as close to the famous mountains and gorges as you can get and staying there is like living in the mountains themselves. Waking up to see the fog roll in, monkeys scamper past and the steam rising from my coffee mug is still a very fond memory for me.
About The Expert
An experiential luxury traveler at heart, Matt Long shares his adventures with thousands of readers every day through his award winning site LandLopers.com. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Based in Washington, DC, Matt has been to more than 60 countries and all seven continents.
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