24 hours in Hualien and Taroko National Park in TaiwanKollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Oh, Taiwan. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Taiwan is known for its mouthwatering food and unparalleled hospitality. Visitors rush to see the iconic Taipei 101, but there’s more to Taiwan than just Taipei. The true beauty of this island country lies on the east coast, where plains are forever green and where mountains meet the sea. 24 hours in Hualien and Taroko National Park doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it’s totally doable (without being rushed) if you plan carefully.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

24 hours in Hualien – How do I even get there?

Chances are, you’re heading to Hualien from Taipei. Cities and counties in Taiwan are connected by the Taiwan Railways Administration, with the fastest being the Tze-Chiang Limited Express trains. Taroko Express and Puyuma Express are both reservation-only Tze-Chiang Limited Express trains that run from Taipei to Hualien. Duration and fares are the same- they’re just owned by different companies.

Tip: Buy your tickets ahead of time; you can do so up to 2 weeks in advance. The Puyuma line is very popular and sells out quickly, especially on weekends and national holidays. You can pick up your tickets at a post office or at any convenience store (7-Eleven, Family Mart, Hi-Life, OK Mart); make sure you have your passport with you.

Read more: Social responsibility at its best – Horizon Inn Taipei

How do I get around in Hualien?

If you’re only interested in checking out Taroko National Park, there are tours and hop-on hop-off buses that do just that. However, I strongly advise against them because let’s be honest- ain’t nobody got time for that! Rent a moped instead and explore the gorge on your own. You’ll be able to go at your own pace and stop whenever, wherever you want.

If you’re in a group of 2-4, aren’t comfortable with scootering around, or are pressed for time… just hire a private driver! We’re all about efficiency here so I highly recommend this option. This allowed us to customize our own itinerary and visit sites outside of Taroko.

Tip: Our driver no longer offers services but there are plenty of recommendations on Tripadvisor. The rate for an English-speaking driver is fairly standard at around $3,000NTD/day (around $100USD).

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

What can I see and do within 24 hours in Hualien?

Qixing Beach

QiXing means ‘seven stars’ in Mandarin. Once a thriving fishing village, this area is now home to Qixing Beach and the Hualien Air Force Base. If you visit at night you can even star-gaze! Visitors are able to see all seven stars of the Big Dipper (hence the name).

You won’t find any sand here- this pebble beach is considered one of the most beautiful in Taiwan. The waves and currents are too strong for a swim but the bike trail is perfect for a beach-side cruise. We spent half an hour here and watched in awe as an F-16 figher jet took off.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Qingshui Cliff

20 minutes away from QiXing Beach is the QingShui Cliff, arguably one of the most stunning sights in Taiwan. Dropping vertically into the Pacific Ocean, the cliff is over 3,000 feet high and stretches more than 12 miles along the Suao-Hualien highway.

Tip: There’s an observation deck once you exit the Chongde Tunnel. Here’s your chance to snap that IG-worthy shot!

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Shakadang trail

Also known as the ‘Mystery Valley’, this was once a narrow path used only by aboriginals- the Taroko people. When Taiwan was under Japanese rule in the 1940’s, the Japanese broadened the trail to transport equipment in order to build the Liwu Power Plant. Marvel at the marble stones and Shakadang River as you explore the past of the Taroko tribe.

Tip: This is by no means a strenuous hike; it’s more of a stroll stretching more than 4km that’ll take you 3-4hrs round-trip. You won’t miss out on much even if you turn back before you reach the end.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Lushui and Baiyang Trail

If you’re interested in more easy hikes check out the Lushui and Baiyang Trails. The scenery is more or less the same as Shakadang Trail.

Eternal Spring Shrine

Modeled after a famous temple from the Tang Dynasty, this shrine commemorates 225 veterans who lost their lives constructing the Central Cross-Island Highway. Visitors can’t enter the shrine; you can only view this picturesque landmark from afar.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Swallow’s Grotto

Weaving in and out of a mountain, this trail overlooks a deep gorge and powerful stream. Your driver will drop you off at the entrance while you make your way to the other end on foot. A safety helmet is not required but just put it on anyway. It’s free! This area is prone to falling rocks; better safe than sorry!

Dongdamen Night Market

This humongous night market will probably be the highlight of your 24 hours in Hualien. Come hungry! The food scene in Taiwan is like no other and I wrote about this in another post. You’ll be able to cross some dishes off that list at this night market.

Dongdamen Night Market has a section dedicated to traditional Taiwanese snacks, another featuring aboriginal cuisines, and a third with foods from mainland China. There’s even another smaller night market within Dongdamen… nightmarketception is a thing.

Tip: Listen to your Taiwanese homegirl and try these 3 stands: stinky tofu sticks, deep fried egg scallion pancake, and a variety of barbeque skewers- all pictured below because none of it is in English. If you see anything with signs in English, assume it’s a tourist trap.

Read more: The Ultimate Food Guide to Taiwan

Where should I stay in Hualien?

Echo Villa is where it’s at! You’ll see what I mean by Taiwanese hospitality once you meet the host. Situated right next to a forest, this glass house is the perfect hideaway. I wish we spent more than 24 hours in Hualien because I adored our little B&B so much. There are only 5 rooms, each tastefully decorated with a style of its own.

Homemade breakfast is served in your room every morning. Echo Villa is 20 minutes from city center but trust me, once you’re here you won’t want to leave. There’s also a short trail (20-30min walk) leading you to a hidden waterfall.

Tip: We were in the Stellar Attic and loved it. It’s almost always sold out due to its popularity. Booking opens 2 months in advance so get on it!

24 hours in Hualien – sample itinerary

7AM   –   train from Taipei to Hualien
9AM   –   arrive in Hualien, head to QiXing Beach (七星潭)
11AM  –   stop by the 7-ELEVEN before the Taroko National Park entrance for a quick lunch
Noon  –   QingShui Cliff (清水斷崖), Shakadang Trail (砂卡噹步道), Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠), Swallow Grotto (燕子口)
4PM   –   check in at your B&B, wash up and rest before dinner
6PM   –   pig out at Dongdaemun Night Market (花蓮東大門觀光夜市)

Don’t miss Mukumugi Valley and Sixty Rock Mountain if you’re able to spend more than 24 hours in Hualien. They’re a bit out of the way so you’ll need an extra day or two.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

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Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Lantern Festival in My Motherland – Taiwan!Kollecting Koordinates - Lantern Festival

This post about the Taiwan Lantern Festival is sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

If you didn’t know already, I was born in Taiwan and I can’t praise my motherland enough. The food is to die for and the people are one of the friendliest in the world! What better way to experience authentic Taiwanese culture and hospitality than to visit the Taiwan Lantern Festival?

Also known as 元宵節 (Yuan Xiao Jie), it’s considered one of the most significant festivals in Taiwan. The first full moon of the Chinese New Year shines on the 15th day of the first lunar month- this is exactly when the Lantern Festival takes place. You can say that it’s the grand finale of the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

Image source: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

History and Background of the Taiwan Lantern Festival

元 (yuan) refers to the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar, and 宵 (xiao) refers to ‘night’. In a nutshell, the Lantern Festival symbolizes unity, prosperity, and new beginnings. The whole idea is to celebrate the coming of spring and a fresh start to the year ahead.

So how did the Lantern Festival come about in the first place? There are tons of legends and myths surrounding the origin of this festival. Some say the celebrations are to ward off evil, others say these festivities welcome deities. One legend talks about pleasing the Gods, another explains that firecrackers and red lanterns are to distract an angry emperor.

Whichever story you believe, this important event is where the Taiwanese gather with their loved ones to welcome a brand new year filled with happiness and good fortune.

Festivities include making lanterns, solving riddles, and eating 湯圓 (tangyuan), which are glutinous rice balls with sweet or savoury fillings. Growing up in Taiwan, it was a yearly tradition for my family to gather at my grandparents’ house in ChiaYi to make sesame flavoured tangyuan from scratch. The kids would run around with decorative lanterns and play with firecrackers, under adult supervision of course!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

One of my favourite desserts: tang yuan! It’s usually served hot in a sweet soup but you can find this cool twist at Tong Hua night market!

Taiwan Lantern Festival

The first Taiwan Lantern Festival was held in 1990. Since 2001, the official national Taiwan Lantern Festival has been hosted in different cities every year, with each year being bigger and better.

This annual event features dazzling laser and light displays, parades, live music, and various performances. If you’ve been wanting to watch lion and dragon dances, acrobatic acts, fireworks, and folk art skits all in one place, this is the place to do it! Visitors can also check out booths selling traditional handicrafts and snacks.

YunLin County in the mid-western part of Taiwan has been selected as the host of the 2017 festival, which marks the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac. The venue will be decked out with lanterns, lights, and art installations, including a gigantic rooster lantern installation at the exhibit!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

The giant zodiac installation last year- Year of the Monkey! Image source: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Sky Lantern Festival in Ping Xi

Running concurrently is the Sky Lantern Festival in Ping Xi, a small village in New Taipei City in northern Taiwan. People from all over the world visit Ping Xi and Shi Fen year-round to release sky lanterns with their wishes written on them.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival - Sky Lanterns

My friend and her hubby at Shi Fen station. Photo cred: Angel at Also There’s This

During the actual Lantern Festival, thousands attend this one-of-a-kind Sky Lantern Festival after dark to launch lanterns into the night. Imagine countless glowing lanterns slowly rising and lighting up the black sky with everyone’s hopes and dreams!

2017 Taiwan Lantern Festival – Event Info

Event Page:  Taiwan Lantern Festival
Dates: February 11 – 19, 2017
Location of the 2 exhibits:

  • Between the HSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) YunLin Station and the Agricultural Ecological Park (Map)
  • BeiGang township – surrounding areas of ZhongShan Rd and the Tourist Bridge (Map)

For more information, please visit Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s official website or check out their Facebook page.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

Image source: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Heading to Taiwan? Make sure you try these must-eat dishes while you’re there!

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Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

Social responsibility at its best – Horizon InnKollecting Koordinates - Horizon Inn

I wasn’t going to let AS leave my motherland without taking him to one of the best night markets in Taiwan. Our plan was to stuff our faces at TongHua Night Market, hike up Xiang Shan, and continue to eat at the night market until we drop (Stay away from ShiLin Night Market like a plague! It has become too commercialized in recent years. The quality has declined exponentially while prices increased… but more on this later).

Because my family doesn’t live in Taipei, we needed a place by an MRT station to stay for the night. To my surprise, clean, fairly priced, AND conveniently situated hotels are hard to find in Taipei… until we found Horizon Inn!

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Located in the heart of Taipei, Horizon Inn is within a 10-minute walk to not 1, but 2 MRT stations. Family Mart is just steps away, and Breeze Centre is pretty much right across the street. One of Taiwan’s oldest night markets, Ning Xia, is also within a few blocks’ radius. Because the hotel is right by a main street, we never had to wait more than 2 minutes for an empty cab.

Images courtesy of Horizon Inn

After a warm welcome and fresh fruits, we were given the keys to our Deluxe Room. This is the part where I’m supposed to talk about the rooms and amenities, the friendly staff, the cleanliness, the delicious buffet breakfast, etc., but I’ll save you the boredom. Don’t get me wrong, everything was perfect and breakfast was indeed amazing. We’ve actually never seen a non-five-star property offer so many top-quality options at a buffet. While Tripadvisor reviews are all true, what makes Horizon Inn special is its commitment to social responsibility.

Horizon Inn is by no means a luxury boutique hotel, but its mission and values are more than extraordinary.

We had the honour of meeting Iven, the General Manager- the man who started it all. Iven is a globetrotter.  After spending years abroad, he wanted to build a hotel in his motherland so travelers visiting Taiwan from around the world can also have a place to call home. A map hangs in the lobby for guests to pin their hometowns onto. Travelers can also document their memories in a massive 365-paged guestbook. His love for traveling, combined with his desire to do something for the greater good, resulted in the birth of Horizon Inn.

Horizon Inn provides a platform for the under-privileged and less fortunate. Commodities like food, bedding, and toiletries are often sourced and purchased from non-profit organizations and small businesses. To give back to the society, it collaborates with many groups and offers opportunities for communities in need in Taiwan.

Mentally disabled children

Baked goods served at breakfast are purchased from the Children Are Us Foundation. Its restaurants and bakeries employ kids with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other mental illnesses. These children and teenagers are provided with job skills, opportunities and long-term care.

Poor seniors

You’ll see a fresh, handmade cake at breakfast every morning. Not only is it without any additives and low-fat, but it’s also for a good cause. Horizon Inn buys these cakes from a Nuns Bakery that raises money for the poor elderly people in Taitung.

Aboriginals and rural residents

The Welldoer Volunteer Association raises money for aboriginal tribes and poor rural farmers by promoting their produce and products, and redistributing in the city for better sales. Many of the fruits and vegetables at Horizon Inn’s breakfast buffet are purchased from this organization. Guests can also help out by buying fruits off a display cart in the lobby.

Images courtesy of Horizon Inn

Victims of domestic abuse

Horizon Inn works with the government and offers rooms to victims escaping from domestic abuse.

The Homeless and long-term unemployed people

You may have heard of The Big Issue. Published in four continents, this is a street newspaper that gives homeless people an opportunity to earn legitimate income so that they can be reintegrated into the society. On top of being a corporate sponsor for close to 2 years, Horizon Inn donates a portion of their revenue every year to support this cause. Iven’s face lit up as he showed us pictures of last year’s Christmas party, where people in need were invited to join in on the festivities. He’s planning to provide the same warmth and support this holiday season!

Images courtesy of Horizon Inn

Burn victims

The hotel regularly donates to and fund raises for the Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation, which provides rehab and counseling services for burn survivors and those with facial disfiguration. When the Forma Fun Coast explosion happened last summer, Horizon Inn provided free accommodation for victims’ families who needed to be in Taipei to care for their loved ones.

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AS and I are amazed at the way Iven runs this hotel; it made us really think about how we can make a difference. Social responsibility has never been a criterion when we’re planning our travels but it is now. We visited Taipei in search of yummy food, but we left with so much more than just a full belly.

Thank you, Iven, for opening our eyes to a completely different side of hotel operations. The amount of effort and care put in to supporting all these different groups and communities is truly inspirational!!

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tips

  • You can do your laundry for free!!
  • Rooms start at just below $100 CAD a night (breakfast and tax inclusive).
  • Like many hotels in Asia, not all the rooms have windows.
  • Some may find the tub a bit small, but it wasn’t a problem for us since we’re only 5’4″.
  • Take the time to chat with Iven if he’s available. The work that he’s doing is amazing.
  • For more information and current promos, check out their official website and Facebook page.

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Disclaimer: AS and I were invited guests at Horizon Inn. However, all opinions are our own and we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves! 

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Kollecting Koordinates - Horizon Inn

Recipe: Taiwanese three cup chicken

Ginger, basil, chicken… A yummy staple dish in every Taiwanese household. This three cup chicken recipe is super easy to master. The “three-cup” in its name refers to the ratio of the 3 main ingredients: 1 portion of black sesame oil to 1 soy sauce to 1 rice wine.  DSC02805

three cup chicken recipe

ingredients

  • 6-8 pieces of boneless chicken thigh
  • 1 whole garlic
  • ginger; the size of 2 fingers (unless you have huge hands)
  • 3 tablespoons of rice wine
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of black sesame oil (since chicken thigh itself is pretty fatty, you really don’t need the same ratio of oil)
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1 big bunch of basil
  • a teaspoon of chili sauce (or more if you like it spicy, or none at all)

prep work

  1. Peel garlic and crush each individual clove to release its oils
  2. Cut ginger into thin slices
  3. Remove basil leaves from stem

directions

  1. Heat pan on medium. Without adding any oil, place the thighs in the pan and cook each side for about 2 minutes. Your chicken is still uncooked at this point, this is just to give it a slight crisp.
  2. Remove thighs and wipe the excess oil from the pan. Cut each piece into about 5 chunks (not too small!).
  3. On medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of black sesame oil and ginger slices. Make sure your ginger slices don’t have any moisture on them otherwise the oil will splatter.
  4. When the ginger slices turn brown and shrivel up, add the crushed garlic cloves and stir until you can smell the garlic-y goodness.
  5. Add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and quickly stir until it starts melting and caramelizing.
  6. Add the chunks of chicken thigh and stir.
  7. On medium-high, add 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and coat each piece of chicken evenly, stir.
  8. Add 3 table spoons of rice wine, stir. Also add however much of chili sauce you want.
  9. Put a lid on and let it simmer until the chicken fully absorbs the sauce. It will look thick and pasty at this point.
  10. Add the basil leaves and remove pan from heat. Stir and infuse the basil with the residual heat.
  11. Serve!

Read more: The ultimate taiwan food guide

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Kollecting Koordinates - three cup chicken recipe

The Ultimate Food Guide to TaiwanKollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Food Guide

Born in Taiwan, I revisit my motherland every few years since my parents still live there. Taiwanese food is probably the biggest thing that gets me excited about visiting! These flavours are exclusive to Taiwan (as well as my mom’s cooking, and now my own!) and they signify home. We’ve created a Taiwan food guide featuring our favourite dishes and where to find them.

Taiwan food guide

1. taiwanese beef noodle soup

The beef is braised for hours until it melts right in your mouth, with broth so good you’ll want to slurp the whole bowl. Topped off with some chopped pickled cabbage and green onion, this bowl is heavenly. You can customize your bowl; from the thickness of the noodles, to the meat to tendon ratio, to the level of spiciness. To complete your meal, order some side dishes to share among your table. You can’t go wrong with marinated beef tripe and pork intestine.

My family lives in Hsinchu City; our go-to place is called 段純貞 or duan chun zhen. Without fail, there’s always a massive line in front of the restaurant. I love the texture of their hand-cut noodles, the tenderness of their beef, and the flavour of their broth.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

2. Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang

This literally translates to small intestine in large intestine, but it’s really just char-grilled sausage. It’s usually served like a hot dog, with sticky rice sausage instead of the bun, and a huge piece of Taiwanese sausage instead of the hot dog. You can find this at street-side vendors or night markets.

Our go-to place has been around since I was little! My mom used to be a highschool math teacher and she taught the owner’s daughter. They serve this dish chopped up in a bento box drizzled with their house special sauce, with pickled vegetables on the side.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

3. chiayi turkey rice

Yes, the real deal has to be from Chiayi. My mom’s side of the family is from this city in mid-southern Taiwan and this is the dish they’re famous for. Our go-to place is called 噴水火雞肉飯 or pen shui huo ji rou fan; it’s so good that people living in other parts of Taiwan would make a trip out here just to eat it! Unlike other restaurants where they serve you shredded chicken, these guys are very generous with their portions and the turkey is served in juicy slices. They have other things on the menu too but their signature turkey rice is the best. Don’t forget to order bamboo shoots on the side- they complement the rice so well!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

4. rou yuan (bawan)

More commonly referred to as Bawan (in the Taiwanese dialect), this is AS’s favourite dish. This is a translucent, gelatinous disc that’s filled with braised pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and herbs. They are deep fried to give the exterior a slight crunch and drenched in a delicious sauce. There are 2 kinds of bawan: the ones you find in northern Taiwan are usually red, smaller, and resembles more of a ball (right). The ones in the south (left) are flatter, more transparent, with a different kind of sauce. Both are very yummy!

My favourite bawan stand is in Chiayi, just a few blocks from my grandpa’s old house. This stand has been around for longer than I’ve been alive!

5. rou geng

You can eat this with or without noodles (image above on the right). Growing up, my brother and I ate rou geng mian for breakfast every weekend. This is a thick soup containing pork and fish paste nuggets, bamboo shoots, and shitake mushrooms. The broth is loaded with black vinegar, white pepper, and lots of cilantro. A hearty meal that warms you right up!

6. traditional taiwanese breakfast

Speaking of breakfast…! The combination of dan bing (egg crepe), you tiao (Chinese donut), and dou jiang (soy milk) brings back sweet childhood memories. Some places wrap dan bing over you tiao, but I prefer to have them separately so that the you tiao stays crisp. Part of the breakfast ritual is dunking you tiao into soy milk before you take a bite. What’s even tastier than soy milk is mi jiang (rice milk), made from peanuts and rice.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

7. qing wa xia dan

The direct translation doesn’t sound very appealing (frog lays eggs), but this drink is so damn good when they make it right. They have this on the menu at most bubble tea joints but it ain’t the same as this stand in Hsinchu City. I’m not a big fan of bubble teas but this stand is something else. These guys make their drinks with real lime and lemon, tapioca, and aiyu jelly (made from fig seeds).

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

8. stinky tofu

Found in night markets and street side vendors, a lot of foreigners are afraid of this dish because of the strong odor from the fermented brine that’s used to make these tofus. I don’t think it stinks at all- it smells great! Just a whiff of it makes me salivate! These tofus are deep fried and served with lots of garlic paste, chili, and a side of pickled cabbage. I like to shove everything into the center of the tofu with my chopsticks and eat it in one big bite.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

9. da chang mian xian

Mian xian (or mi sua in the Taiwanese dialect), is a tan-brown vermicelli made from wheat. The thick soup is made from pork bone stock, containing either pork intestines or oysters. A Taiwanese soup noodle dish wouldn’t be complete without loading it with garlic paste, black vinegar, and lots of cilantro!

10. deep fried chicken cutlets

This baby right here is so simple, but so good. It’s just a piece of chicken hammered down to make a patty, marinated for a few hours, and dipped in batter before deep frying. There’s a lot of hype about this place in Shilin night market that sells them as big as your face. I think it’s a tourist trap as the flavors aren’t great and it can sometimes be quite dry. Quality over quantity, people!

I like the place my mom always gets it from. The meat is ridiculously tender, juicy, and flavorful! The cherry on top is the plum seasoning they sprinkle over the deep fried patty. YUM.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

11. tofu pudding dessert

Douhua is my all-time favourite dessert. I eat this all day, every day when I’m in Taiwan. There are 2 kinds: one with a pudding-like texture that come in original, egg, and chocolate flavors (left), and another kind made from real soybean, topped off with mung beans, barley, and soft peanuts. When it’s cold out, you can also have it hot with ginger sugar syrup. It’ll warm you right up!

12. 鼎泰豐 or din tai fung

This is a restaurant that was founded in Taiwan in 1958. Today, it has chains worldwide but nothing can compare to the real deal in Taiwan. This restaurant is famous for their xiao long bao (steamed pork buns), but what I like the most is their spicy chili wontons. Everything on the menu is to die for, and you really can’t go wrong with any dish!

How dishes in this Taiwan food guide have you checked off?

Read more : Taiwanese three cup chicken recipe

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Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Food Guide