Our tour of Tainan with lifelong local Elisa Lu started food-free, complete with the impressive Datianhou Gong Temple, Dutch-built Fort Provintia, and a lesson on Taiwan’s original naming as Isla Formosa by the Portuguese. However, as soon as we stepped away from the southern Taiwanese city’s historic core, we experienced an epic street food crawl. So can you.
Taisan Restaurant (224 Minzu Road, Tainan, 0912 987896)
Tainan was famous for producing rice about 200 years ago, when the grain fed laborers. That eventually inspired Taisan Restaurant, aka 石精臼肉燥飯, which Lu called “the most famous restaurant in Tainan.” The name also translates to English as “Stone Mill Restaurant,” and she’s been eating there with grandpa for more than 52 years. The open air restaurant is point and pay, with small plates and red tables. The chef serves anything you like from metal platters, whether it’s the signature pan-fried pork belly stewed with soy, rice wine and crystal sugar, or a variety of ingredients that grow in the ground, swim, walk and hop.
MUST ORDER: Stewed Marinated Pork, Frog with Bamboo Shoots, Shrimp Soup with Milk Fish Dumplings, Cuttlefish with Pig Skin, Shrimp Rolls
King of Thick Fish Soup (Tainan, 2233634)
An open-air stall at the mouth of Yong Fu Road has specialized in fish soup (NT$ 50) since 1988, featuring bei ba “white belly” – probably bass – butchered right in front of the booth. The fish is dusted with pepper and scallions, served in a broth thickened with sugar and fried garlic. Rice Vermicelli (NT$ 30) with bean sprouts and ground pork is also popular.
MUST ORDER: Fish Soup, Rice Vermicelli
Yi Feng A Chuan Winter Melon Juice (義豐阿川冬瓜茶) (216 Yong Fu Road, Tainan, 222 3779)
We saw a man breaking down the raw material to produce a juice of dong qua, aka winter melon, aka white gourd. The winter melon mascot, who by the very laws of nature shouldn’t have fingers, flashed the peace sign, and so do we.
MUST ORDER: Winter Melon Juice
Fu Cheng Peanut Brittle (府城花生糖) (200 Yong Fu Road, Tainan)
The proprietor specializes in qua shen tang, peanut candy, producing chewy brittle from fresh ground peanuts. He also makes a chewy roll wrapped around cilantro.
MUST ORDER: Peanut Brittle, Peanut Roll
A giant 3D gold duck signals your arrival at a duck soup stand near Fortune Teller Alley, where people go to choose a wedding date or newborn baby name. The inscrutable menu was an afterthought after seeing the “sign.” A small soup (NT$45 ~ $1.50) features sliced, fat rimmed, gamy duck, daikon, julienne ginger, and a broth thickened with corn starch, popular in Tainan.
MUST ORDER: Duck Soup
Xiao Gong Yuan Fruit Shop (小公園水果店) (331 Ximen Road, Tainan)
This juice stand resides along the Ximen Road roundabout, featuring primary school desks, a refrigerated case for fruit and grab and go drink, and bags of airy loofah. The best reason to come to Xiao Gong Yuan Fruit Sho is their cylindrical jars, which contain colorful salt-preserved starfruit, pineapple, olives, mango peel, mulberry, pineapple heart, plum and more.
MUST ORDER: Starfruit, Mulberries, Pineapple
A Song Steamed Sandwich (阿松割包) (181 Guo Hwa Street, Taiwan)
A Song Steamed Sandwich, aka Ah Shung Gua Bao, features Taiwanese hamburgers. Steamed buns tout either boiled pig tongue, boiled pork or fattier slices of roast pig face, all slathered with peanut sauce and pickled vegetables and served with pork broth.
MUST ORDER: Taiwanese Hamburger
Shu An Tsua Bin (157 Guo Hwa Street, Tainan, 06 226 1069)
Shu An Tsua Bin specializes in shave ice (NT$ 40 ~ $1.35), aka tsua bin, which uses the seed from ai yu, a fibrous mountain fruit, to form natural jelly. The jelly is neutral, so they add sugar and lemon, and if you wish.
MUST ORDER: Shave Ice
Du Hsiao Yueh Danzai Noodles (Tainan, 06 2200 858)
A fisherman named Yu Tou was looking to earn a living in the winter, so in 1895, he set up shop in front of Shui Xian Gong Temple, carrying soup in a tanzai, with twin wooden pails with pot and oven on one side, bowls and spoons on the other, connected with over the shoulder stick. The fourth generation restaurant, the oldest in Tainan, still specializes in Tan-Zai Noodles (NT$ 50 ~ $1.65), which feature shrimp stock and ground pork leg stewed in soy sauce, crystal sugar and a bit of rice wine. The soup noodles also tout garlic, and a touch of cilantro, and tang from dark aged vinegar.
MUST ORDER: Tan-zai Noodles, Braised Duck Egg
Note: My tour with Elisa Lu was part of a government sponsored tour to promote Food Culture in Taiwan.