Father’s Day is approaching, and it’s not typically a holiday I think too much about. Maybe it’s because my dad never made it a big deal, only asking me to say, “happy Father’s day”. That’s it – no gifts, no big dinners.
That’s not to say we don’t have a bond. Like many Asian American families, our love language is through the food we eat. While my mom is often the one to explore food through restaurants, my dad stays very consistent with what he eats. He will literally go to a restaurant on a weekly basis for months. MONTHS.
In recent years my dad has begun to go back more often to Tainan, in the Southern region of Taiwan, where he grew up. I had the opportunity to join him to pay respects to my grandparents, and spend time with him. He knew to bring me around town, showing me his go-to Taiwanese foods.
That means this Taiwanese food is pretty legit, and very good.
Zhōu shì xiā juǎn
This restaurant is famous and for good reason. They have been around for over 50 years, selling fried shrimp rolls in particular. They now have a few other menu items like noodles or lotus rice, but this place is pretty much centered around their shrimp rolls.
What makes it so good? It’s crispy, light and full of shrimp flavor – simple yet delectable. It definitely gets crowded, so don’t be scared to wait on line. It moves quickly and the trying fried shrimps is worth it!
Ā juān lǔ miàn xián zhōu ròu zòng
This stand is very typical of Taiwan – it’s a hole-in-the-wall where the menu is on the side of the wall, and place your order with the owner or their relative. They hang the lotus rice triangles (肉粽) in the front – a sign of a legit food stand.
Grab a seat at one of the tables, which look pretty worn but still sturdy. Your back won’t have any support, but you’re not here to be comfortable – you’re here for the food. I got their noodles (魯麵) which has a thick corn-starchy broth, but filled with pork-fish “dumplings” (they’re more fish-ball like in texture), wheat noodles, radish and vegetables.
The noodles were silky and slurp-able within this clear thick broth, heavy with umami flavors from the “dumplings” and fish flakes within the soup. This was a very familiar dish to me since I’ve eaten it as a child, and made me so happy. I can’t find this in New York or San Francisco.
Dù xiǎo yuè dān zǐ miàn
This corner stand is located on a very busy food street with large red signs, so it’s easy to spot. Is it touristy? Yeah. But is it good? Yes.
You will get your fill of a traditional Taiwanese noodle – dànzǐmiàn (擔仔麵) – which originated from Tainan about 130 years ago. It’s still a token dish of Tainan, and Taiwan overall. It’s a simple yet a deliciously solid bowl of noodles.
It has braised pork, a shrimp and a marinated boiled egg. You should mix everything together to coat the noodles so you can taste all the umami flavors from the shrimp, salty plus fattiness from the pork and crispness of the bean sprouts. One bowl will likely not fill you up, which will give you the opportunity to explore more eats in this area.
The word that comes to mind when describing how it is for me to eat in Taiwan, particularly in areas outside of Taipei, is authenticity. These vendors and stores have been around for decades, and will continue to produce the same food over and over again. It’s not made for Instagram. It just is what it is, and that ‘it’ is incredibly delicious.
That being said, I am very proud that my dad is from here, and cannot wait to go back again!