Every country’s has its one or two “food things.” For America, it might be hot dogs and burgers. For France, croissants or crépes. For Taiwan, it’s beef noodles, soup dumplings called xiao long bao, and a vast array of street snacks, which you mostly find in night markets. I’ve broken down my favorite street snacks in Taiwan, ranked by how macro-friendly I think they are.
The night market culture is Taiwan’s main claim to foodie fame. At these outdoors, nighttime-only markets, throngs swarm the equally as numerous food stands, jostling each other to plunk down coins in exchange for a piping hot meat bun, a sweet and savory sausage on a stick, velvety, smooth tofu pudding, or freshly cut guava doused with sprinkles of Li Hing powder. Night markets see such a distinct and assorted variety of Taiwanese finger foods that you’d be hard-pressed to be able to sample them all. (Pro-tip: try to bring someone so you can “share”.)
Also worth a read: How to Eat Healthy When You Travel and Avoid Getting Fat
Night markets exist all throughout Taiwan. Some markets are more crowded and bigger than others. Shilin is one of the more popular ones and the biggest night market in Taipei, so locals don’t go there. Not that there’s anything wrong with tourists, but it does mean extra packed crowds and jacked up prices. All night markets will have more or less similar street snacks, but few are known to have “specialties.” I don’t know them all, but at Raohe and Shilin night markets, for example, you can find awesome pepper meat buns which I mention in the list.
I will admit that my time in Taiwan wasn’t my healthiest. I ended up eating a ton of street snacks because they were convenient and easily fill you up after blasting through the first couple of stalls. If you’re looking for healthy fare, though, street snacks are not it. In fact, unless you cook a lot at home, Taiwanese food in general is fried or greasy and not ideal if you have physique goals.
There are some options that are at least better than other street snacks, and I do my best to note my thoughts on each food’s macro-friendliness below. Fair warning: They’re rough estimates and aren’t going to be perfect.
My Favorite Taiwanese Street Snacks, Ranked
In this list, we start with the least macro-friendly to the most macro-friendly. If you’re not sure what I mean by “macro-friendly”, please read my other post: How to Eat Healthy When You Travel and Avoid Getting Fat.
1. Deep-Fried Oyster Cake Thing
Well, excuuuuuse me for not being able to provide the proper name. In Chinese, it’s oh-ah dieh. Oh-ah is a rough phonetic spelling of “oyster” that I pulled out of my foreigner ass, but I have no idea what dieh actually means…so deep-fried oyster thing (DFOT), it shall be!
DFOT is that crusty brown brick in the picture, and despite its appearance, actually one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had. It’s made from multiple layers of a special batter that I wasn’t able to identify, piled high with a mound of green onion-chopped veggie mixture and a base of small oysters, then deep-fried. Behold:
The layers of batter give it a much more robust and incredibly crunchy shell that makes it dangerously addictive. The texture reminds me a bit of pork rind chips (chicharrones), but better. You eat it with a special sweet sauce that complements its predominantly savory profile and bite of green onions perfectly. Unfortunately, not every night market has this dish. This one was from a very small, local night market called Nanjichang, a couple miles out of Ximen station.
Estimated macros: I normally don’t care for fried foods, but if it weren’t for the fact that I was sharing this with a few other people I’d have eaten a whole one by myself. It’s not a huge portion, but given its multi-layered, deep-fried outer shell, I’d guess it’s high in fat, moderate in carbs, and low in protein. I’d liken them to TGIF’s potato skins at 12 grams of fat, 20 grams of carbs, and less than 10 grams of protein for a quarter of it (they serve it in cut-up quarters).
2. Chicken Wing Stuffed With Glutinous Rice
These are GIANT roasted chicken wings, man–what more can you ask for? Oh, wait. Apparently, they’re out to rock your socks because they deboned the chicken wing and then stuffed it with glutinous (sticky) rice.
Hnnnnnnnng. I wasn’t able to find this just anywhere, only at Sun Moon Lake. But hey, there’s an idea for your next Super Bowl party.
Estimated macros: Well, it’s a gigantic chicken wing (I don’t even know where or how) that’s stuffed with particularly starchy rice. I expect this snack to be moderately high in all three macronutrients. Here’s a rough breakdown: 28 grams of protein, 15-20 grams of carbs, and 23 grams of fat. You can try to remove some of the skin before eating it, which could slash the fat count nearly in half.
3. Taiwanese Sweet Sausage
Taiwanese sweet sausage is unlike any American or German sausage. Usually made out of pork, Taiwanese sausages are firm, plump, very artificially colored, and really snaps when you bite into it. You’ll taste mainly sweetness, which might sound weight for a sausage, but it works. As you can see from the picture, we left the shop with a huge bag of…sausages. I didn’t eat them all, I swear.
Estimated macros: One sausage that you get from a night market is easily 30 grams in fat and maybe 18 grams of protein, but I suspect it’s less.
4. Black Pepper Meat Buns
Black pepper buns (hu jiao bing) is found mainly at Raohe night market, right near the entrance. The line moves fast, and you can watch workers deftly flatten a tennis ball-size of raw dough and then pack it with a mystery meat mixture (I assume pork) that has green onions and other spices. Sometimes they stuff so much that they remind me of Chipotle’s logic-defying burrito-wrapping skills. You know what I mean: when the food pile is so huge that you wouldn’t think a mere tortilla could contain it all, but somehow it does. Because burrito magic.
Meat buns are usually steamed, so what makes this one special isn’t just the filling, but the cooking method. They slap these to the sides of what looks like a clay oven, where they stay put and bake for a while.
The end result is a crispy outer layer, while the insides remain molten hot. Burning your tongue is a very real hazard. When you take the first (cautious) bite, you teeth initially sink into a firm shell that quickly gives way to the bun’s pillowy texture, and finally, you reach the insides that overflow with meaty juices. Chances are, you’ll burn your tongue anyway, but it’s well worth it.
Estimated macros: I doubt they use lean pork and they brush the top of the dough with egg wash or some kind of oil mixture for the crispiness. All in all, my estimation for this is about 55 grams of carbohydrates, less than 25 grams of protein, and at least 20 grams of fat. Something comparable in a food log would be a 200-gram Chinese BBQ pork bun.
5. Taiwanese Burger
It’s actually called gua bao, and while I’m not a fan of calling it a “burger,” Taiwanese burger is how most folks translate it. That’s because this bastardized burger follows a similar concept: you sandwich meat, usually a really fatty piece of pork belly or sliced beef shank, Taiwanese pickled vegetables, peanut-sugar powder, sauce, and cilantro between a clam-shaped steamed bun. The shape of the bun seals all the toppings in, so that when you bite into it, your beloved food doesn’t just all gush out the other end and make you want to cry.
I love gua baos. I found a gua bao stand in Sun Moon Lake that used dried bean curd (dou gan) as a filling, so being unabashedly American, I asked if she would stuff the dried bean curd and a fat slice of pork belly in it. She gave me a puzzled look, at which point I asked her if it was a bizarre way to eat it. To which she simply said, “Well, everyone’s got different tastes.”
That was nice of her to not call me a crazy foreigner, even though I can see in her eyes that she thought it.
Estimated macros: The steamed bun itself is about 30-35 grams in carbohydrates with little protein and fat. Obviously, the macros would differ depending on if you eat it with pork belly, beef shank, or dried bean curd. Your leanest option would probably be the beef shank, followed by dried bean curd and then pork belly, which is most likely about 15-20 grams of fat.
6. Taiwanese Oden
Oden is a kind of Japanese one-pot dish, where things like fish cakes, daikon, corn, potatoes, and other special items swim in a boiling-hot, concentrated soup base. Taiwanese oden is like that, but has a bigger variety of fish cakes, coagulated pig’s and duck’s blood, corn, a sort of meat sausage rolled in cabbage, and a few other unique items. Most night markets will have oden.
When you order, you pay for what you want to eat. So just point at various things and the worker cuts everything up for you.
It’s served with a bowl of the very flavorful broth the various oden ingredients have been cooking in. While it tastes good and it’s hot, “refreshing” isn’t exactly the word I’d use when you drink it in sticky, humid weather. You can dip each ingredient into a sort of peanuty-tasting sauce that reminds me of hoisin sauce.
Estimated macros: It really varies since oden is a hodgepodge of things you select yourself. In the picture above, for example, I ordered pig’s blood, which is low in fat and carbs, but high in protein. However, fish cakes, meatballs, and those other items are high in fat, since most have been deep-fried prior. I imagine the broth is also high in fat. If you want to lower the fat content, skip as many of the “fish products” as you can.
7. Oyster Pancake
Oyster pancake is sometimes called oyster omelette. Obviously, there are oysters in it, but there are also bean sprouts, some veggies, and a mixture of potato starch and egg to give the dish that amorphous structure. The red sauce is a sweet and tangy and made out of a ketchup and rice vinegar base. In the picture above, I ate it with a side of fried shrimp rolls, which is a specialty in Tainan.
Estimated macros: Not pleasant. Because the recipes, contents, and amount of oysters can vary a lot, I had usually assumed protein was really low–about 12 grams at best. Most would be carbs and fats. To put some numbers on it, it would be closer to 25 grams of fat and 18 grams of carbs.
8. Minced Meat Rice
Rou fan (meat rice) is a staple in most establishments. It’s minced up fatty pieces of pork belly that’s topped over a bed of white rice.
It’s as amazing as it sounds.
Estimated macros: Depends on the serving size, of course, but in 99 percent of cases, most of the calories come from the rice. You can count on between 40-60 grams of carbs. As long as it’s not a huge mound of the minced meat and it’s not soaked in grease, it’s not too bad. Maybe about 12 grams of fat.
9. Pork Bone Soup
Pork bone soups have been a staple in Asian kitchens since, I guess, people figured out how to start boiling a bunch of things to make soup.
There are as many varieties of pork bone soups as there are chicken soups; it’s mainly just the soup base and you can throw a sundry of other ingredients into the pot. My mom has always believed that pork bone soup has healing properties, and in this particular pork bone soup from Raohe night market, you can taste the medicinal powers. Maybe because I’ve tasted a lot of herbal medicines in my life, where anything medicinal tastes a bit like faint licorice. The bowl on the left is lamb, and you could enjoy a bowl of with minced meat rice (below).
Estimated macros: The pork spare ribs in the soup can be fatty. In most cases, you don’t get that many pieces with a ton of meat on them, so we’re looking at 12 grams of protein (if we’re lucky), negligible carbs, and about 8 grams of fat.
10. Taiwanese Rice Rolls
Not a common street food, but you can find these at 7-11s (at least the ones in Taichung and further south). This is a purple rice rice roll with egg, corn, and tuna I believe.
Rice rolls (or fan tuan) are normally found at breakfast joints. Traditionally, they have crushed dried pork (or its less appetizing name, pork floss), a fried Chinese donut, pickled vegetables, and egg. All of this is wrapped in glutinous rice, so it’s kind of like a Tawainese burrito. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve eaten many of these more times than I can keep track of.
Estimated macros: There was nutrition info on the package, but I had forgotten to take a picture. Roughly, it was about 65 grams of carbs, less than 20 grams of protein, and maybe 8-12 grams of fat. Most of the fat comes from the egg, or if you order from a restaurant, the fried Chinese donut, too.
11. Shaved Ice
Taiwanese shaved ice is special. Obviously, you start with a heaping pile of finely shaved ice, although it’s not as fine as that in, say, Hawaiian shaved ice. Then you pick and choose from a wide variety of very Asian toppings: red beans, mung beans, grass jelly, almond pudding, taro balls, mochi balls, coconut jellies, and sometimes fruit. All of this is topped by generous squirts of condensed milk.
The bowls are big enough to share between two people, but sometimes when it’s particularly gross and humid you want to hog one to yourself. It’s the perfect cool snack to temporarily stave off Taiwan’s stagnant air for, like, 10 minutes.
Estimated macros: Normally, this is really high in carbs, but it all depends on what you put on it! Toppings like red bean and mung beans offer a teeny bit more protein, but they’re generally furthered sweetened with added sugar. Additionally, condensed milk adds loads of sweetness. Usually, I like to order mine without condensed milk (or just a slight drizzle) because I get enough sugar from red beans and a few other toppings.
12. Cut Fruit
Most food blogs celebrate all the other foods, but Taiwan’s fruits are actually some of the most delicious and sweet I’ve come across. Fruit game is strong. They’re best known for their watermelon (which. are. HUGE.), guava, pineapples, lychee, dragonfruit, and then some. This one is guava that has been steeped in what I think is Li Hing powder and flavoring. So good. Throughout night markets, you can find cut-up fruit at exaggerated prices, so I recommend going to a legitimate fruit stand somewhere else and just cutting it yourself.
Estimated macros: You can at least count on fruit being straight carbs. Probably at least 30 grams of it.
13. Pig’s Blood Cake On a Stick
Okay, this is probably why I don’t write menus, but there’s really no other way to describe this one-of-a-kind street snack. What you get is pig’s blood that’s been mixed with some chewy filler (I assume glutinous rice) and molded into rectangles. You can eat it in Taiwanese oden, or on a stick and dusted with finely ground peanut powder and green onions. It’s actually quite tasty. You can find this at many night markets.
Estimated macros: Pig’s blood is high in protein and low in fat, but the sheer amount of peanut powder, which I have to guess has also been rolled in some sugar, puts a damper on an otherwise macro-friendly food item. The picture makes it look bigger than it really is, but it was maybe the length of a typical hot dog. That said, it’s about 20 grams of protein, less than 10 grams carbs, and no more than 8 grams of fat.
14. Stinky Tofu
Stinky tofu is a Taiwan phenomenon. Mention stinky tofu to someone and they’ll either love it or hate it. As for the name, you’ll understand why they’re called stinky tofu when you come across it. Think of it like cheese: some people like the smelliest and grossest-smelling cheese because it has more flavor. It’s the same with stinky tofu, which is fermented for various lengths of time.
Many stalls across Taiwan serve stinky tofu in various ways–steam or fried. The one in the picture above, from Nanjichang night market in Taipei, was delicious. You couldn’t even tell it was stinky tofu. The sauce muted any “stinky” flavors.
Estimated macros: Stinky tofu has a fairly even spread of fat, carbs, and protein. It can definitely be a part of a macro-friendly and healthy meal. Half a block of the typical tofu package (I looked up 100 grams of extra firm tofu here) runs about 5 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of protein.
15. Tea Eggs
Tea eggs are essentially hard-boiled eggs that have been steeped in a solution of soy sauce, black tea leaves, star anise, fennel seeds, and other spices. The result is one of my favorite go-to snacks. You can find these at many night markets and convenient stores, and they’re super cheap. Not to mention they’re a good, reliable source of protein.
There’s another type of egg that’s unique to Taiwan (in Tamsui, specifically) called “iron egg.” They’ve been stewed repeatedly and then air-dried, so what you’re left with is a very flavorful egg.
Estimate macros: You can’t really go wrong with hard-boiled eggs. They might be on the saltier side depending on where you get them. A whole egg with the yolk is about 7 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get all of the street snacks in Taiwan here simply because I didn’t get to eat them all. I wish I did. Perhaps next time.