Taiwan: Come for the food, stay for adventure
For some travelers, new and exotic cuisines are the highlight of any vacation. On the other end of the spectrum are those drawn to the rugged sightseeing and adventuring that tend to burn off the calories as opposed to put them on. With Taiwan, the two approaches aren't mutually exclusive.
In no uncertain terms, The Guardian has declared the glory that is the Taiwanese street food scene.
"Taiwan probably has the best night market scene in the world and some of the most exciting street food in Asia," journalist Audrey Gillan wrote.
On the streets of Taipei, it seems that everything is on the menu, including poached quail eggs, roasted squid, oyster omelets and stinky tofu. Yet, step outside of the Asian food capital and its roadside kitchens for a moment, and it becomes immediately evident how it earned the nickname of Ilha Formosa, a nickname by Portuguese sailors that translates to "beautiful isle." Gorges, forests and beaches await the eager explorer. A hearty meal before departing may just be in order.
Turning out the kitchens
Taiwan boasts an estimated 300 night markets, according to CNN. These markets are beloved by locals and tourists alike, serving as nexuses for shopping, dining, people-watching and sightseeing. The food vendors in particular have earned global praise for their casual and yet amazingly diverse fare. Known as xiao-chi, or small eats, the snacks on offer are the perfect dining experience for curious and devoted foodies. Appetizers, entrees, desserts and drinks can be found over the course of a pleasant stroll.
The Guardian chalks up the vibrant street food scene to an issue of spatial reasoning. Many Taiwanese don't have a lot of space to cook at home, and so instead choose to dine regularly at the booming night markets, where the food is cheap and the air is open. The food being served reflects centuries of influence from travelers, traders and colonizers hailing from all over, including mainland China, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.
There are many dozens of worthwhile dishes to be tried at the night markets, according to CNN Travel. The shining beacon is the oyster omelet, one of the most popular dishes served. Both land and sea are represented by the egg and oyster, which is bound together with some sweet potato starch for a distinct and beloved chewy texture. The same prized texture can be found in bubble tea. Beyond those two quintessential dishes, its a matter of following one's nose. Pork-filled dumplings, fried chicken, pepper cakes, pineapple cakes, fish ball soup, goose, ribs, blood rice pudding, cuttlefish and mochi are all on order, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Working it off
Night market food are all the more delicious after a long day's work. The Beautiful Isle is rife with opportunity to earn that upcoming meal or else work off last night's. One of the most beautiful regions in all of Taiwan is the Taroko National Park. The park covers over 500 square miles of land and boasts many peaks exceeding 3,000 meters in elevation, according to Taroko National Park Headquarters. Set in a cool and humid climate, the park's rugged and diverse terrain is great for hikers, cyclists and whitewater rafters. The winding and steep marble cliffs of the Taroko Gorge are of particular note. Other highlights include the Eternal Spring Shrine and the water curtain tunnels along the way to Baiyang Waterfall, according to CNN Travel.
A much milder outdoor adventure, but no less scenic, is the Sun Moon Lake. This alpine lake in the middle of the country is the largest in Taiwan, and a popular destination for tourists. It gets its name from its shape, according to the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration. In the center of the lake is an island that effectively divides the water. The eastern part of the lake is round and so looks like a sun. The western side is crescent shaped like the moon. Part of the lake's beauty is due to its mountainous location, which provides a stunning backdrop to the calm waters.
Yet, travelers need not exert themselves if they don't want to. Taiwan is also home to beautiful coral-lined beaches. According to Lonely Planet, Penghu is an escape from inland Taiwan, and its surrounding county contains nearly 100 islands. Days can be spent lounging on the beach or ferrying to the islands, and the evenings capped with a visit to the night markets.