TAIPEI IS MORE THAN JUST MILK TEA AND XIAOLONGBAO
When it comes to creative cities, Taipei isn’t as popular as cool kids Tokyo and Seoul or as iconic as legends Hong Kong and Shanghai. Taipei is the interesting new kid with lots of secrets you’re curious to know more about.
Taipei’s well-organized and efficient public transportation system would make the efficiency-obsessed consider booking a one-way ticket. But behind the seemingly cold exterior is an urban center with tree-lined streets, a not-so-secret coffee shop culture, and a wealth of design-driven initiatives. The city juxtaposes its vibrant night markets with upscale 5-star dining experiences and traditional architecture with modern landmarks, creating an unexpected mix of a bustling global metropolis and a slow-paced urban lifestyle.
From the friendly locals, the signature look (It’s 2016’s World Design Capital), and the culture and history to the amazing yums and the convenience of everything you want and need rolled into one, Taipei’s a place where everyone can easily feel at home.
EAT & DRINK
YONG KANG BEEF NOODLES
Founded in 1968, this humble family-run beef noodle joint is loved by both locals and tourists alike. With its upstanding reputation as the must-try beef noodle soup of Taipei, it’s no wonder that, on most days, you’ll have to wait in line before you get your fill.
Beef noodle and tendon soup
An order of the spicy dumplings
Unless you’re a local or a frequent visitor of Taipei, this dumpling house is a place you might overlook. Bafang Yunji (八方雲集) serves dumplings 8 ways which you can order either pan-fried or boiled.
Our money on:
The dumpling flavors that range from your standard pork and leek to curry and kimchi. (You get the bang for your buck at roughly Php 8 per dumpling!)
XIN MALA HOTPOT
A word of advice: go on an empty stomach with one heck of an appetite. Mala Hotpot overwhelms you (in a good way), from the broth, to their fresh selection of meat, down to the ice cream selection which puts the cherries on top of a perfect meal.
Prime cuts of meat, fresh prawns, and shellfish. The broth itself, no matter which variant you choose, is aromatic and adds flavor to every bite.
You will probably come out a few pounds heavier with the smell of hotpot stuck on your clothes, but it’s worth it.
ADDICTION AQUATIC DEVELOPMENT
A seafood haven in the heart of Taipei where you’ll find large king crabs and fresh abalone being sold like hotcakes. There’s a modern fish market, sushi bar, hotpot restaurant, seafood supermarket, and deli all under one roof.
Pretty much every seafood.
Skip the seafood bars and buy an assortment of sushi, sashimi, and other packed meals. It’s a lot less cash to burn for the same amount of satisfaction.
Milk Shop is a popular milk tea spot established by a Taiwanese dairy farmer. A sip is enough to get you hooked. It tastes fresh and creamy with the right amount of sweetness that perfectly coats the tongue.
That life-changing Brown Sugar Fresh Milk
100% all-natural fresh milk. Once you try it, all others pale in comparison.
FUJIN TREE 353 CAFE
Nestled in the heart of a quaint neighborhood away from the typical hustle and bustle of Taipei is Fujin Tree 353 Cafe. You’ll find it in the middle of design stores and boutiques (which we will get to later).
The Dark Brown Sugar Latte is a popular choice.
It may take a little more effort to get to this spot, but the neighborhood’s charm is sure to make it worth your while.
Woolloomooloo is an Australian eatery with a warm atmosphere of communal tables, the low background noise of fellow diners’ conversations, and the smell of freshly baked bread. We even got the pleasure to meet Jimmy Yang, a Taiwanese-Australian architect who also turns out to be the owner of Woolloomooloo.
Its signature Flat White
Spot our Make Sense & Look Good™ sticker behind the counter.
PROVIDER DRY GOODS & COFFEE
We stumbled upon Provider while exploring Ximen, drawn in by its well-done industrial design, the aroma of coffee and, oddly enough, the smell of Japanese curry.
A rotating selection of local and imported coffee which, at the time we visited, was Fuglen Coffee
It houses a dry goods section on its 2nd floor, selling Provider merchandise (reminiscent of things you’d find at Deus Ex Machina).
DIN TAI FUNG
Our team has a slight Din Tai Fung obsession. So it made total sense to pay homage to the Original Din Tai Fung in Taipei—the most touristy thing on our itinerary. We’re happy to say that the taste does compare to what we have back home (so we don’t have to fly miles away for some tasty dumplings).
- Ji Guang Fried Chicken
- KFC Egg Tarts
- Ho Ho Mei Pineapple Bun with Butter
- Sweet Potato Balls
Formerly a residential apartment block that had a “ponding” on the roof, the owners turned the three-storey building into a multi-faceted cultural space for art, design, books and coffee—in short, a utopia for people like us. The ground floor has the coffee bar and the selection of books ranging from local to international publications. The second and third floors are ever-changing spaces that can host talks and exhibits surrounded by fun and clever illustrations on postcards, zines, and more.
We also like digging for quality tunes, so when we heard about Waiting Room, we had to reserve its spot in our itinerary. Apparently, it’s owned by a member of Touming Magazine, one of Taipei’s popular bands. That alone can already give you a taste of what they sell: a smart selection of rare CDs and records (a fertile ground for vinyl hunters), apparel, merchandise and art books by other local bands and their affiliates.
Oh, Eslite. Where do we even start? While we love Taiwan’s charming and off-beaten shops, Eslite just satisfies the bibliophile in us—too much that we had to visit a bunch of their branches. With more than 40 (one famous for being open 24/7), it’s the convenient bookstore—or dare we say cultural institution—with English language titles (plus accessories that go with your love for reading and learning).
- Design Butik
HUASHAN 1914 CREATIVE PARK
Housed in what used to be a winery, Huashan 1914 Creative Park is the perfect place for some post-brunch midday exploration. For those looking to bring something home, there are lots of specialty stores selling the nicest things (like a Toy Story music box that plays “You Got a Friend in Me” and popsicles with flowers IN them). We also got to catch the adorable Moomin and Mr. Potato Head exhibits and marvel at a hundred different kinds of washi tape.
SONGSHAN CULTURAL AND CREATIVE PARK
Situated in a former tobacco plant and spans buildings filled with rooms of creative merchandise and exhibits (with one of Eslite’s biggest branches right at the edge of the park), we were lucky enough to have our visit to Songshan coincide with the Taipei Illustration Fair, where we spent over an hour admiring the work of local illustrators. We left with slightly lighter wallets, but with some of the cutest things our NTD could buy.
Skip the busy main road and head straight to the side streets and alleyways when you’re at Zhongxiao Dunhua. There’s something for everyone with an interesting mix of international and local brands alike. With local brands and small independent stores lined up on the same street with big names like Aesop and Stüssy, make sure you come prepared.
Fujin Street is a lesser-known neighborhood that could be considered one of Taipei’s best-kept secrets. Lined with trees, rustic buildings and tiled walls, the neighborhood itself exudes its own unique charm that doesn’t quite compare with anything else in the city—reminiscent of Tokyo’s Daikanyama. The area is home to a creative community in Taipei known as the Minsheng community, which is probably why it’s full of small cafes, independent stores, and local boutiques. It’s the type of neighborhood where you can walk aimlessly yet still find yourself being drawn to each and every store. In fact, there are a lot of hidden gems that are yet to be discovered in this neighborhood. Some of our favorite spots are BEAMS, Funfuntown, and of course the Fujin Tree establishments.
Here’s a tip:
Stop by Fujin 353 Cafe to grab a neighborhood map (and a cup of coffee while you’re at it).
MAJI Square is for the lovers of outdoor markets who are looking for something, well, indoor. The entrance is lined with specialty lifestyle stores on one side and food stands on the other. Many of these shops specialize in dishes from different countries, perfect for those who want a variety of tastes in one meal. Venture inside and you’ll be greeted with stall upon stall of unique accessories, clothing, houseware, and decor, all tastefully made with the feeling one gets from vintage or handmade goods. At the very end of the area is a mix of restaurants and pubs. Don’t be fooled by MAJI Square’s modest exterior because behind some of its unassuming walls lies Triangle, one of Taipei’s most popular nightclubs.
THE RED HOUSE
The iconic red-brick octagonal structure was originally built in 1908 to serve as Taiwan’s first public market before it became a theater in 1945. It has undergone a lot of changes since then, including the construction of an adjacent building, being appointed a Class III Historical Site, and more (which you can read about here). Today, it houses a tea shop, a theater, and a collective of entrepreneurial creatives and creative entrepreneurs selling a wide variety of items such as accessories, decor, stationery, and even temporary tattoos. It is also a popular part of Taiwan’s gay scene that complements well with nearby establishments.
SHIDA NIGHT MARKET
Named because of its proximity to the National Taiwan Normal University (colloquially called ShiDa in Mandarin), ShiDa Night Market is unlike most of the night markets we have ever been to. Instead of food, this small network of streets has mostly clothing and accessory stores with a few food stalls sprinkled in between. This is where we found Ho Ho Mei, the aforementioned pineapple buns with butter, and our favorite accessories store where we had a total earring count of 10 pairs.
RAOHE NIGHT MARKET
One of the oldest (and dare we say best) night markets in Taipei, Raohe Night Market gives a taste of authentic Taiwanese street food. Unlike other night markets that cover several streets or even blocks, Raohe Night Market is one long (long, long) street filled with delicious finds. Whether it be sweet potato balls, grilled beef cubes, the infamous stinky tofu, or even some classic xiaolongbao, this night market has enough street food to make you come back every day for a year and still be unable to try everything. Despite thousands of people flocking, it’s extremely easy to navigate because, in true Taiwanese fashion, mostly everyone here is disciplined. Those on the right head to one direction, and the ones on the left to the other.