Asian Cuisine

10 Classic Taiwanese Dishes

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Wed, Apr 4, 2012 at 12:30 PM
click to enlarge Taiwanese beef rolls - CLARISSA WEI
  • Clarissa Wei
  • Taiwanese beef rolls

Venture into a mom-and-pop Taiwanese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley and first-timers will undoubtedly be intimidated. The menus read much like those of strictly Chinese restaurants, but it's the subtle and uniquely Formosan dishes that make the experience that much more authentic.

Fried tofu that reeks of sewage but tastes absolutely phenomenal? Omelets with a layer of goo and embedded oysters? Before you pass on these unconventional exotic appetizers, note that Taiwan is one of the culinary centers of East Asia. These guys know their food.

Now there's none of that bubble tea and shaved ice nonsense in our list. We stuck with the basics: traditional, homey dishes that are the favorites and staples of the local Taiwanese. Turn the page for our 10 Classic Taiwanese dishes, in alphabetical order.

click to enlarge Hand-shaved noodles from Liang's Kitchen - CLARISSA WEI
  • Clarissa Wei
  • Hand-shaved noodles from Liang's Kitchen

10. Beef noodle soup:

Beef noodle soup, or niu rou mian, is the quintessential Taiwanese comfort food. A nice bowl of the stuff coupled with an icy boba green tea on the side is maybe the perfect way to end a long day of work. You can obtain a bowl of these at virtually any Taiwanese restaurant in the SGV. They are thick noodles (hand-shaved noodle options too if you find the right place) nestled in a spicy dark broth. Most places keep the spice to a minimal because the Taiwanese palette is not traditionally accustomed to the heat. But topped with heaps of beef shanks, assorted vegetables and pickled greens (zha cai), niu rou mian is one of those dishes that will always fill you up. Always. Noodle King, 1265 E Valley Blvd, Alhambra; (626) 281-4836.

click to enlarge We love how the sauce blends into the rice. - MAI PHAM
  • Mai Pham
  • We love how the sauce blends into the rice.

9. Fatty Minced Pork on Rice:

Perhaps not the healthiest option on this list, but it's definitely the simplest. Called lu rou fan in Chinese, this dish is merely minced pork belly served over a bowl of white rice. What makes this particular dish especially epic is how the sauce from the pork seeps perfectly into the rice. Some places will add a tea egg on the side and perhaps a couple slices of daikon radishes. Old Country Café, 2 E Valley Blvd, Alhambra; (626) 284-4610.

click to enlarge A upscale take on rice. - FLICKR: WEI-CHIEH
  • Flickr: Wei-Chieh
  • A upscale take on rice.

8. Glutinous oil rice:

You fan, typically served in small portions, is a sticky rice snack mixed with mushrooms, dried shrimp, shallots, peanuts and pork slices. The literal translation for this dish is "oil rice." The pork adds a salty addition to the earthy flavors of the mushroom and soy sauce-drenched rice. Topped with a chili sauce, the peanuts are a optional addition, but great for that extra crunch. Ay Chung Flour Rice Noodle, 140 W Valley Blvd, #208, San Gabriel.

click to enlarge Oyster pancakes from Sinbala - CLARISSA WEI
  • Clarissa Wei
  • Oyster pancakes from Sinbala

7. Oyster pancakes:

When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it, oya jians are fundamentally omelets. The concept is simple: fried eggs with sautéed veggies and various other ingredients kindly tucked in. But it's those other ingredients that make all the difference. Add oysters, a heaping of tapioca starch for the glutinous texture, a generous swath of sweet and savory red sauce and you're well on your way on creating a Formosa masterpiece. It is commonly served as a night market appetizer, but is filling enough to be an entire meal. The Taiwanese have stringent standards on what constituents a good oyster pancake: the bigger the oysters the better. But luckily for the American palate, the pancakes in Los Angeles tend to go light on the oysters. Lee's Garden, 1428 S Atlantic Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 284-0320.

click to enlarge Unconventional, but it's hearty seafood-based vermicelli dish. - FLICKR: NEMO'S GREAT UNCLE
  • Flickr: Nemo's great uncle
  • Unconventional, but it's hearty seafood-based vermicelli dish.

6. Oyster Vermicelli:

Though not as common in the States, oya misua is a favorite Taiwanese street food staple. The starchy soup texture is reminiscent of sweet and sour soup, but we promise it's a hundred times better. Here's the breakdown. It's vermicelli served in a thickened soup with oysters and pig intestines, topped with a dash of cilantro. To finish it off: a swig of black vinegar and some minced garlic. Hao's Kitchen, 227 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel; (626) 293-3369.

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