Alice Levine Taipei

When you take someone on a trip to explore a city through food, you hope that you won’t have to test their gag reflexes. But there I was, in Taipei with Radio 1 DJ and food entrepreneur Alice Levine, watching her face turn another shade of white and resisting the urge to be sick as she took a bite of stinky tofu.

We had become aware of this Taipei delicacy the night before, when a pungent smell enveloped us at the night market. It was like a foul blue cheese, as if something had crawled up your nose and died. I couldn’t help but think of the Rudyard Kipling quote: “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

Stinky Tofu Taipei
Stinky Tofu at Unique Stinky House

We caught our first whiff of Taiwanese culture in 2015 when the country’s cuisine caught the attention of UK press: food critic Tom Parker Bowles declared that Taiwan had become the hottest food destination on Earth. Meanwhile, half of London’s young creative population were descending daily upon Soho’s Bao, hungry for a taste of perfectly steamed milk buns filled with slow-braised pork and sprinkled with peanut powder and freshly cut coriander.

So when we were planning The Taipei Exchange – a five-day trip dedicated to exploring the city through its local people and powered by SUITCASE, The WW Club and The W Taipei – female entrepreneur-cum-foodie Alice Levine seemed like the obvious choice to bring with us. Most famous for her career as a BBC Radio 1 DJ, Alice is also a co-founder of food company Jackson & Levine. Along with her partner Laura Jackson, she hosts and cooks for intimate supper clubs and writes a food column for ELLE UK. Food has always been the driving force behind her travels.

We wanted her to get to the heart of the city through its culinary culture, in the same way that Madeline Poole and Serena Guen would with beauty and Olivia Lopez and Phoebe Lovatt through fashion and design. Famed for its street food we took a tour designed by local Instagram sensation Taipei Eats through the Xinyi district. The tour aims to show you a different, more local side to the district most commonly associated with shopping malls and Taipei 101.

While both Alice and I agreed we would usually turn our noses up at an organised tour, it is impossible to find the best food hotspots in Taipei without a guide. All of the local favourites are hidden down non-descript streets, or sit unbranded and unassuming on main walkways. More often than not, menus are untranslated, while each place is renowned for a specific dish –  ordering a hot beef soup from somewhere famed for cold noodles would be nothing short of a crime. Taking a tour with our lovely guide, Jeanne, enabled us to taste the best of Taipei with the least amount of hassle.

And stinky tofu wasn’t the only thing that elicited a strong reaction from Alice and me. The two of us couldn’t help but let out the odd embarrassing moan as soup dumplings popped in our mouths, bursting with flavour, or when we walked past a local market and caught a whiff of fresh pineapple.The tastes and smells were a combination of Chinese and Japanese influencers (Taiwan was under Japanese rule from 1895-1945 when the Kuomintang from the Republic of China took control) fused into a thrilling culinary experience.

Taipei Eats Tour

Hulin Traditional Market at Yongchun Station Fresh fruit and thousand-layer scallion cake

This is a perfect example of one of the many food markets which are an essential part of daily life in Taipei. Go here for freshly cut pineapple (sweeter than you’ve ever tasted before), wax apple (a cross between an apple and a pear) and papaya. Halfway down you’ll find a famous stall for thousand-layer scallion cake, a baked bread with green onions, salt, and sesame worked into the sweet dough. Served hot out of the oven, it’s perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle

Songshan Gua Bao Gua bao

This is one of the best places to find the famed gua bao (Taiwanese burgers) and it was one of Alice’s favourites. These ‘burgers’ are soft buns filled with pork belly and sweet soya sauce, preserved mustard greens and peanut powder.

  • No. 179
    Songshan Rd
    Xinyi District

Red Bean Cold Noodles Cold noodles

Noodles are a must in Taipei, but a steaming bowl of hot noodles on a humid day can be overwhelming to say the least. The cold noodles at Red Bean are a refreshing take on the Taipei dish made with sesame and fresh cucumber.

  • No.105
    Yongji Rd
    Xinyi District

Unique Stinky House Raw stinky tofu

Proceed at your own risk. This is one of the most potent things we have ever tried. Opt for the raw tofu to really test your taste buds (the fried stinky tofu is nothing in comparison) and make sure you have some winter melon and sour plum tea at hand for afterwards. This spot is famous for its stinky tofu burger – US celebrity chef Andrew Zimmerman could famously only take one bite. (Closed on Tuesdays).

  • No.2, Allery 3
    Lane 120, Yongji Rd
    Xinyi District

Kao-chi Dumplings

Most people will tell you to try Din Tai Fung while you are in Taipei, but if you don’t feel like queuing up around the block try Kao – chi famed for their soup dumplings. We’d say they are just as good. There are a few spots around the city but try the one in Songshan Cultural and Creative park in the Eslite Spectrum Centre for a hearty lunch before a day shopping.

  • Eslite Spectrum Songyan
    No.88 Yanchang Road
    Xinyi District

Wu Pao Chun Bakery Pineapple cake

This is an award-winning bread store in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park famed for their pineapple cake. A staple in Taiwanese cuisine, it has a hard, crumbling crust with a sweet pineapple filling. Try the one in the Eslite Spectrum Centre.

  • Eslite Spectrum Songyan
    No.88 Yanchang Road
    Xinyi District

Bei Men Fung Lee Bing Traditional sorbet ice

On hot days in Taipei, there’s nothing like a shaved mango ice to help you on your way. (Closed on Mondays).

  • No.9 Alley 33
    Lane 216 Section 4, Zhongxiao E Rd
    Zhongxiao E Rd

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