As one of Taiwan’s oldest cities, Tainan is home to not just delicious food, but also a history and culture as flavorful as the danzai noodles on the table. The historic sites are fascinating and the temples ornate, but for me, the food will always be the reason to visit Tainan. Loosen your belts and om nom nom away!
3 PM – THE HUNT BEGINS
Leave Taipei in the late morning and you’ll reach Tainan by mid-afternoon, the perfect time to grab lunch without those pesky crowds. The first meal after a 4 hour bus ride better be good, so head to Hong Yu Tou Danzai Noodles 洪芋头担仔面 (No. 273, Sec. 2, Ximen Rd) for a bowl of slurp-worthy danzai noodles. The story goes that during the Qing dynasty, a fisherman Hong Yu-tou created this dish when he could not fish during the typhoon season. He sold his noodles out of a pot carried on a shoulder pole, hence the term danzai, ” to carry on a shoulder pole.” Today, danzai noodles are synonymous with Tainan cuisine and no trip to Tainan is complete without trying it. Still hungry? The entire Guohua Street (國華街) is a foodie’s dream come true. Try Hsiu Ann Peddler Tofu Pudding 修安扁擔豆花 (No. 187, Sec. 3, Guohua St) and jazz it up with one of 19 different toppings on offer. If you’re indecisive like me, get the shaved ice with 5 toppings for a taste of some of their most popular toppings.
5.30 PM – SHOPPING IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA
At the intersection between Guohua Street and Zhongzheng Road lies the Zhongzheng – Guohua Shopping District (中正路跟國華街). Trendy boutiques are interspersed with a variety of snack shops, but resist the siren call of those snacks or you risk being too full to eat more at the night market. But if you must give in to temptation, there’s a donut store that sells a wonderfully sinful taro donut. Pliant balls of fried dough are punctured and shot with smooth pureed taro for a so-worth-it calorie bomb.
6.15 PM – TEMPLE OF LIGHTS
Dedicated to Baosheng Dadi (保生大帝), a Chinese god of medicine, the Lianghuanggong (下大道良皇宮) is ablaze with lights at night. Our visit also coincided with a rare sky festival, so we got to experience the full pomp and circumstance of the celebration.
7 PM – A WALK IN THE GARDEN
Where do I even start – the crispy coffin bread stuffed with seafood? The orange and purple fried sweet potato balls? The egg topped ramen burger? Rows upon rows of such delish snacks are crammed into Hua Yuan Ye Shi 花园夜市 (Sec. 3, Haian Rd), Tainan’s largest night market. One thing is for certain: don’t come here on a full stomach. The anguish of looking at all that delicious food and being too full to eat them is very real. Consider yourself warned.
10 PM – ANCHOR HOME
Oldman Captain Hostel (No. 4, Sec. 2, Beimen Rd) offers a cozy and affordable place to spend the night. It’s location is a winner – directly behind the Tainan Rail Station and the staff friendly and helpful with recommending places to visit. According to Mr. Oldman Captain, the hostel is always full on Saturdays, so don’t forget to book early.
10 AM – BREAKFAST LIKE THE TAIWANESE
Waking up early on a holiday (or any other day for that matter) is so mehhh. Luckily, MACC 早安! 美芝城 serves all-day brunch so you can sleep in all you want. The sandwiches are nothing special; pan fried to order, their egg pancake (蛋餅) is nicely crisp and has just the right amount of filling in each bite.
10.30 AM – SADDLE UP
Biking and binging go hand in hand so rent a bike and hit Tainan’s streets in search of more food. With cultural landmarks dotting the city, you’ll have plenty to see between meals too. You can rent a bike from Oldman Captain Hostel for only NTD 100 for a day.
11 AM – THE KOXINGA CHRONICLES
First stop, the Zheng Chenggong Shrine 鄭成功廟 (152 Kaishan Rd). Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) is Tainan’s most famous historical figure. He was a great Ming general who was responsible for ending 38 years of Dutch colonial rule in Taiwan. Nestled amid serene plum trees, his shrine is a careful collection of information about his life and heroic deeds. Next door, the Lady Linshui Temple 臨水夫人廟 (1 Jianye St), is popular with women who are pregnant, or who wish to be pregnant. The patron goddess, Lady Linshui, is worshiped as a protector of women and children. Her temple is adorned with beautiful imagery of female goddesses, right down to the hyper-realistic paintings of female door goddesses.
12 PM – DON’T WANT NONE UNLESS YOU GOT BUNS, HUN
To tide you over till lunch, cycle over to Klin Bao 克林台包 (No.218, Sec.1, Zhongyi Road), Tainan’s most famous bun store. Their eight treasures meat bun and stinky mapo tofu meat bun are to die for. Part stinky tofu, part minced meat, part spiced paste and ALL parts satisfying, it’s hard to stop at one with the stinky mapo tofu meat bun.
12.15 PM – CONFUCIUS SAYS
Meditate upon the wise words of Confucius at the Confucian Temple 孔廟 (No.2, Nanmen Rd), built by Koxinga’s son in 1666. As Taiwan’s “First Institute of Learning”, the temple was meant to nurture generations of wise scholars that would lead the country to prosperity.
12.45 PM – SWEET TREATS
The person who thought of marrying pudding with pastry deserves our eternal gratitude. Sating sweet tooths since 1962, Minsin Bakery 明新食品 (No.4, Nanmen Rd) makes theirs with a hint of burnt sugar. Soft caramel custard pudding sits upon layers of flaky danish pastry; eat it just warm from the oven for a truly melt in your mouth experience. A few meters away, the hugely popular Lily Fruits Store’s Cua Bing 利利水果店的剉冰 (No. 199, Sec.1, Fucian Rd) serves fruit based shaved ice for a refreshing afternoon treat.
1 PM – OLD WORLD BEAUTY
Once dubbed Taiwan’s most beautiful garden during the Qing dynasty, Wu’s Garden呉園 (No.30, Minquan Road) was the favorite hangout of the country’s poets and artists. Today, precious few of the original architecture remains and what is left serves as a quiet testament to its former beauty.
1.30 PM – BUDGET MICHELIN
With its fire engine red signboard touting its Green Guide Michelin Taiwan approved status, Shanghai Huadu Delicacies 上海華都小吃 (No.28, Minquan Road) is hard to miss. Forget everything else on the menu and just order their xiaolongbao (小笼包), NTD 90 for a basket of 7. The thin, almost translucent dumpling skin betrays a certain springiness; a small bite and steaming hot soup bursts forth … go ahead, wipe the dribble from your chin and reach for another one.
3 PM – HISTORY 101
History buffs would know that Tainan used to be the ancient capital of Taiwan. For the rest of us, fake it by visiting the Anping District for a crash course in Tainan’s history. Anping Fort 安平古堡 (No. 82, Guosheng Rd, Anping District) was once Fort Zeelandia to the Dutch. Built over a course of 10 years, the fort defended trade channels to Taiwan and later became the key battleground in Koxinga’s fight to liberate Taiwan from colonial rule. All that war history too stuffy for you? Walk along Anping Old Street 安平老街 (Yenping Street, Anping District) for some old world nostalgia. Said to be the first street created by the Dutch some 300 years ago, the street today bustles with snack stalls and souvenir shops. If you love preserved fruit, don’t forget to visit Golden Spring 金温泉 for cheap dried fruit and snacks. Tofu pudding won’t make your waist disappear, but hey, tofu has heart benefits, so eat away at Tongji Anping Bean Jelly 同记安平豆花 (433 Anbei Rd, Anping District). Scooped out of a wooden bucket, their tofu pudding is about as traditional as it gets. Smooth, gleaming mounds of tofu pudding is bathed in either cream milk or sugar syrup, then topped with red beans, green beans or chewy tapioca balls.
Note: Anping District is 6 minutes away by train from Tainan Rail Station, but an hour away by bicycle. Cycling burns major calories so you know, more food for you.
7 PM – COME FULL CIRCLE
The last meal before leaving Tainan should be another bowl of danzai noodles, but this time at Tu Hsiao Yueh 度小月 (No. 16, Zhongzheng Rd), the real McCoy. Their recipe for danzai noodles has remained unchanged for over a century. Watch as the chef deftly boils together thin noodles, beansprouts and shallots, ladles stewed minced meat sauce over the steaming noodles, plops in a braised egg and meat ball, and pours in a rich soup stock made with sweet shrimp heads. A sprinkling of cilantro and fresh shrimp and you’re ready to dig in. For a sweet finish to the evening, walk over to Yi Feng Wax Gourd Tea 義豐阿川東瓜茶 (No. 212, Lane 2, Yuang Fu Rd), a veritable old shop that has been selling wax gourd teas since 1912. The teas are hand brewed fresh everyday; the mild sweetness a perfect end to your foodie adventure.