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5 Chains To Count On in Taiwan
So, you’ve landed in a new country and are still trying to learn the ropes. It can be tough figuring out where and what to eat, how to order (especially in places where you no little to none of the language), and how much things should cost. During the first little while, we always anticipate that we will spend more, get hungry more often and take more time to find places for food and drink.
While we typically enjoy finding local culinary treasures and trying new food we also enjoy finding our ‘go-to’ places that we either label our favourite or have on standby in case of an urgent hunger pang – we tend to get distracted while travelling and only notice when we are too hungry to think.
Our word for the times we get so hungry we become moody and angry? Hangry. And we use the ‘go-to’ places we find as a way to quash the hanger as soon as possible.
We usually identify at least one place in each city and town we visit but it can take time to find and is not always in the most convenient of locations. In Taiwan however, there are 5 such places that we frequent when needed, or when the craving strikes, and we have found each one of each of those in almost every city we have visited.
If you are headed to Taiwan and want to be able to find a few reliable chains to tide you over while you look for your own favourite places or local flavours, here’s a list that will guide you through!
50嵐 Bubble Tea
One of THE most famous authentic Taiwanese drink is the bubble tea. Originating in Taichung in the ’80s, this beverage has found it’s place in pretty much every city and town in the country with a seemingly unending number of shops. This beverage is made with either milk tea, a fruit or herbal based tea and contains balls (sometimes called pearls or bubbles) of tapioca at the bottom which are sucked up through the straw while drinking. We read somewhere that as of 2013, there were over 16,000 stores selling bubble tea! We’re positive that number has increased since but we definitely aren’t complaining.
While it may not be the healthiest of choices, we often order a bubble milk tea or ‘zhen zhu nai cha’ but figure since we ask for it with half sugar and fresh milk and walk most of the day it probably balances out, right? Since we look for our fix of bubble tea almost daily, we’ve managed to try quite a few different brands.
What we settled on as our favourite is 50 Bubble Tea. Their yellow and blue sign brings a smile to our faces whenever we see it in the distance and almost inevitably beckons us to the counter. We’ve found a 50 in pretty much every city we’ve visited, from Hsinchu County to Tainan, from Kaoshiung to Kenting and up through Hualien and the east coast.
Since we find drinking a bubble tea staves off intense hunger until we can find a restaurant, we occasionally stop for a bubble tea at another shop if we need, but our preference, and a reliable source of our bubble milk tea, is 50.
85°C Bakery Café
While bubble tea shops are abundant, don’t think that you won’t be able to find a cup of coffee while in Taiwan. These shops are numerous as well and many chains can be frequently seen while travelling through Taipei or the whole of Taiwan. We found however, that 85°C Bakery Cafe was one of the most reliable of coffee shops throughout the country with pretty good beverages including a sea salt coffee that, despite sounding circumspect, is actually tasty. While the style of the shops differ – from indoor seating, outlets and WiFi to outdoor seating only, the reasonably priced menu allows you to get that caffeine fix almost everywhere you go.
First opening in Taipei, 85 Bakery Café can now be found in China, Australia, Hong Kong and the U.S.A. and while we’ve yet to try one of their delicious looking cakes or breads, the option is always there if our hunger gets the best of us!
8 Way Dumplings / 八方雲集
We were told about this chain of dumpling houses, 8 Way in English, by friends we made from MovingMeowtains and we visited this restaurant all along the coast of Taiwan as we travelled and inevitably found ourselves hungry and looking for a quick bite. Easy to pick out by it’s yellow and red sign, 8-way is one of our ‘go-to’ restaurants for three reasons: 1. they serve some really good potstickers with several flavours 2. it’s cheap and 3. there are many locations.
This dumpling house has more than just potstickers and dumplings and often times the types of other dishes, such as their soups, differ depending on which location you are visiting. We like it when we find something new on a menu to try. While we don’t eat at 8-way too regularly, we definitely keep it in mind wherever we go in Taiwan and usually know where we can find the nearest one – in case one of us becomes hangry!
If you are looking to find an 8-way, be aware that it is known in Taiwan by it’s Chinese name and asking directions to ‘8-way’ will probably not be fruitful. Fortunately, simply doing a google map search for ‘8 way’ will provide you with most of the locations in your area.
You only need to be in Taiwan for a short while before you notice the influence of Japanese culture on the country as a whole. Though Japanese rule in Taiwan lasted only 50 years, a lasting effect of that time can be seen on the transportation systems, urban development and the culture itself, extending to an obvious love of Japanese food judging by the number of Japanese and sushi restaurants. Among those is the popular chain Sushi Express.
Like the conveyor belt sushi restaurants of Japan, Sushi Express delivers plates of food on a circulating conveyor belt. At only 30NT (roughly 1 USD) per dish (1 dish = 2 pcs of sushi or rolls, 3 pcs sashimi, or a plate of one of their sides) it offers an affordable meal with fresh fish and enjoyable dishes with all you can drink green tea. Sushi Express is also readily found around the country. When we are just too hungry to look around or are craving some sushi, as often happens, we head to Sushi Express for an enjoyable and filling meal.
Alright, we know how this sounds, especially to those of us who grew up with the 7-Eleven as a place to get junk food and a Slurpie, but this is actually a good option for finding some food when hunger strikes at inconvenient times. Yes, it’s true that there are usually several rows of delicious – err junk – food, and that we’re not sure whether or not the refrigerated meals section (they heat them up for you) with noodle and rice dishes are good for you, they also have a variety of fruit and veggie cups, salads, fresh made soups, steamed pork buns, and boiled eggs, amongst other options. They will also make you feel like you’re eating at a restaurant as most have a café area with tables and chairs or counters with chairs along the windows.
The great thing about the 7-Eleven in Taiwan is the sheer number of them. To try and explain how easy it is to find a 7-eleven, you can imagine it like this: all you have to do is stand at the entrance to one of the 7-elevens in the country. Look to your left and you’ll probably see another 7-Eleven sign, look to your right, there’s another – no exaggeration, especially in the larger cities.
Whether you’re looking for a quick snack, hungry during the night, or really just enjoy those prepared salads like we do, the 7-Eleven is an unexpected, but constant, chain you can count on to find food in Taiwan.
Chains vs. Local Shops
We did pause for a moment when we decided to write this post. We love to write about traditional foods and local customs. We are big advocates of finding local restaurants and cuisine and immersing oneself in the culture and community, however we also have realized that things such as chain restaurants are also a part of the country and the cultures we visit. We’ve come to the understanding that whether we’re sitting down at Sushi Express or that small restaurant with two tables and some stools and no menu in sight, we are still amongst the local people and are still allowing ourselves to be a part of the culture.
Comment below and let us know which ‘go-to’ restaurant you’d make your way to first if you were visiting Taiwan!
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