Sunday, July 08, 2012

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Types of restaurants in Taiwan

7/08/2012 Taiwan Explorer

Taiwan is an amazing place for food lovers. Even though the country is fairly small, the density of incredible restaurants, food shops, snack bars and road side stalls is huge: Food is abundant, rich and flavorsome, you'll find anything you want here - and I mean anything. Taiwanese people love to eat out, it's part of the lifestyle. Sometimes it seems to me, that half of the population is slaving themselves senseless in factories and offices and the other half is cooking food all day and feeding them. Enjoying a nice warm meal is for many Taiwanese the highlight of the day. And because of all the variety of food, there's also a big variety of restaurants available in Taiwan. I believe nobody has really written in great detail about the types of restaurants you can find in Taiwan, but I believe it's an interesting topic, that will make you more attentive, when you explore the country. This post is meant as a reference to first-time visitors to Taiwan and will be updated with more information in the future.

餐廳 - 飯店 - 館子 - 酒樓 - 居
These are the five basic terms in Chinese, that mean "restaurant".

The most common word used for "restaurant" in Taiwan is 餐廳 (cāntīng, lit. dining hall), followed by 館子 (guǎnzi, lit. public building), which is used for smaller restaurants. 飯店 (fàndièn, lit. rice shop) is nowadays mostly used for "hotel", while 居 (jǖ, lit. residence, house) is not so commonly used. 酒樓 (jioǔlóu, lit. wine house) comes from Cantonese and is usually used for dim sum restaurants. Every visitor to Taiwan will be anticipating their first dining experience and thinking about what kind of restaurant they should be visiting. First of all, research my reviews, you'll find a lot of recommendations there, it will help you to find some good places in Taipei. Secondly, it all depends on what kind of person you are: Can you accept sitting on a small chair in a dirty back alley and slurp some delicious noodles? If yes, then you'll blend in well with the commoners. But Taiwan is equally known for exquisite high-class dining, where every detail matters, not only in the way food is prepared, but also the decoration and the presentation, as well as the service.

Dining in Taiwan can be a very diverse experience.

Restaurants in Taiwan can be divided in two ways: Either by the origin of the food they're offering or by the size of their facilities. The latter can be very relative in some cases, so don't take this division too literally. Here is my list:

1. Restaurants sorted by regional origin

1.1 Chinese restaurant | 中菜餐廳 | Zhōngcài cāntīng

Chinese restaurant with delicious Harbin food.

Chinese restaurants in Taiwan refer to various types of restaurants originating in the Chinese Mainland such as Szechuan restaurant 川菜餐廳 (chuāncài cāntīng), Cantonese restaurant 粵菜餐廳 (yüècài cāntīng), Yunnan restaurant 滇菜餐廳 (diēncài cāntīng), Shandong restaurant 魯菜餐廳 (lǔcài cāntīng), Shanghainese restaurant 滬菜餐廳 (hùcài cāntīng) and Beijing restaurant 京菜餐廳 (jīngcài cāntīng). Most types of restaurants, that are common in Taiwan, have their origin in Chinese Mainland, but there are also distinctly Taiwanese restaurants such as the recently popular theme restaurants and bubble tea shops, that are slowly getting popular all over the world.

1.1.1 Round table restaurant | 合菜圓桌 | Hécài yüénzhuō

Round table restaurant.

The round table restaurant is called 合菜 (hécài), which means "all kinds of dishes" and 圓桌 (yüénzhuō), which means "round table". These restaurants offer food on round tables with a small rotating part in the middle, that is used for passing the food among the guests. It's the traditional Chinese way of eating, a social experience. These restaurants are common at wedding dinners or mother day celebrations and usually Taiwanese don't care about how much money they spent here: This type of restaurant is meant to stuff yourself as much as possible.

1.1.2 Dim sum restaurant | 點心, 飲茶 | Yĭnchá, diěnxin

A dim sum restaurant in Taipei city.

Dim sum restaurants are traditional restaurants from China's Guangdong province and very popular in Hong Kong. Food is served in small portions and enjoyed with tea. These restaurants are very popular in Taiwan as well, especially in bigger cities.

1.2 Taiwanese restaurant | 台菜餐廳 | Táicài cāntīng

Shin Yeh is famous for exquisite Taiwanese cuisine.

The restaurants, that serve Taiwanese food 台菜 (Táicài) are focused on regional specialties, that have their origin in Taiwan. Most of Taiwanese cuisine is originating from China, but there are also a plenty of distinctly Taiwanese dishes, such as ah-gei 阿給 (āgěi), coffin bread 棺材板 (guāncái bǎn) or danzi noodles 擔仔麵 (dànzǎi mièn). Some restaurants are creating modern dishes by refining traditional Taiwanese flavors (one of the is the aforementioned Shin Yeh).

1.3 Japanese restaurant | 日本料理餐廳 | Rìběn liàolǐ cāntīng

Japanese restaurant.

Japanese restaurants are commonly found all over Taiwan; they are mostly focused on sushi and ramen, but offer almost everything. This is the modern day influence of Japan in the region, but Taiwan's cuisine has also been influenced by Japan during its colonial period (between 1895-1945). Dishes like tempura, miso, wasabi with raw fish and the popularity of bientang (bento) are indicators for that. The latter have been massively Taiwanized and are rather seen as Taiwanese instead of Japanese.

1.3.1 Teppanyaki restaurant | 鐵板燒 | Tiěbǎn shāo

Teppanyaki restaurants feature a cook in front of the guest - it's not only dinner, it's also entertainment. There are few of such restaurants in Taiwan - Read more here>>.

1.3.2 Conveyor belt sushi | 回轉壽司 | Hueízhuǎn shòusī

Conveyor belt sushi is popular among young people. Sushi rolls circulate around the restaurant on a conveyor belt. It's not my kind of thing, but some of you might love it.

1.3.3 Shabu Shabu | 涮涮鍋 | Shuànshuàn guō

Shabu Shabu restaurants are found all over Taiwan. They are known as "small hot pot restaurants". Usually you have your own hot pot in front of you, unlike in bigger restaurants, where you share it withg your friends. Shabu shabu is also cheaper than the standard hot pot restaurant.

1.3.4 Izakaya | 居酒屋 | Jǖjioǔwū

A kind of a Japanese pub, where food is also served. There are a few in Taiwan as well.

1.4 Korean restaurant | 韓國料理餐廳 | Hánguó liàolǐ cāntīng

Korean kimchi is very popular in Taiwan.

Due to the popularity of Korean drama, as well as Korean pop stars, the image of Korean cuisine is on the rise in Taiwan. There are lots of good Korean restaurants in the country, especially in Taipei City. Korean barbecue as well as kimchi are people's favorites.

1.5 Southeast Asian rest. | 南洋菜餐廳 | Nányáng cài cāntīng

Malaysian Nasi Lemak.

Southeast Asian food 南洋菜 (Nányáng cài) is very common in Taiwan, because of the numerous migrant workers from Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia. One of my favorite foods from that area is Malaysian cuisine, that can also be found in Taiwan.

In addition to the restaurants above, you also have a plenty of Indian restaurants 印度菜餐廳 (Yìndùcài cāntīng), Thai restaurants 泰國料理餐廳 (Tàiguó liàolǐ cāntīng), Vietnamese restaurants 越南餐 (Yüènán cāntīng), Italian restaurants 意大利餐廳 (Yìdàlì cāntīng) and American style restaurants 美式餐廳 (Měishì cāntīng), that are very popular.

2. Restaurants sorted by the size

2.1 Bigger restaurants 餐廳, 酒樓

Bigger restaurants are usually employing more staff, focusing on service and the reputation of the food. You will definitely need to pay more for dining in such places.

2.2 Smaller restaurants 館子, 店, 樓

Most restaurants in Taiwan are of mid to small size, usually a family business, passed down the generation. This is where tradition is treasured and good shops garner high popularity. There is a lot of variety found here as my long list shows:

2.2.1 Breakfast shop | 早餐店 | Zǎocān dièn

Breakfast shops are very popular and usually full of people, who don't like to cook at home. Sandwiches, pancakes and fried tofu are people's favorites - Read more>>

2.2.2 Snack bar | 小吃店 | Xiǎochī dièn

Taiwan is famous for its little eats or "xiao chi" and there are a plenty of restaurants offering them. Everybody likes a snack from time to time.

2.2.3 Buffet eatery | 自助餐店 | Zìzhùcān dièn

These buffet restaurants are found all over Taiwan, they are the worker's or the commoner's food - it's cheap and convenient and offers a personalized mix of flavors.

2.2.4 Noodle shop | 麵店 | Mièn dièn

Noodle shops are also a commoner's favorite. They are spread all over Taiwan and offer a good meal for a good price - sometimes they are exceptionally tasty - Read more>>

2.2.5 Beef noodle shop | 牛肉麵店 | Nioúròu mièn dièn

Beef noodle shops are a subgroup of noodle shops. The dish came to Taiwan in the late 1940s from immigrants from Mainland. Zhongli City is the center of this popular dish, you definitely need to try it, when you visit Taiwan. It's considered a national dish and unlike elsewhere, small side dishes called "xiao cai" are eaten along with the soup.

2.2.6 Bakery | 麵包店 | Miènbāo dièn

A lot of Taiwanese bakeries offer tables for customers to seat and eat their pastry or bread. The one on the photo is German - Read more here>>

2.2.7 Bento shop | 便當店 | Bièndāng dièn

This shops sell bento (biendang) as a takeaway, but in some of them you can eat the popular dish right there.

2.2.8 Shaved ice shop | 冰店 | Bīng dièn

Shaved ice shops are commonly found all over Taiwan, some even became famous - Read more here>>.

2.2.9 Hotpot restaurant | 火鍋店 | Huǒguō dièn

Hot pot restaurant.

Taiwanese love hot pot! This ancient Chinese way of cooking and eating food from a simmering pot is as popular here as it's popular on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. If you invite Taiwanese friends to a hot pot restaurant, you will see them happy like never before. Most of the bigger restaurants are "all you can eat", which includes a plate of meat of your choice, vegetables and drinks and desserts (mostly ice cream). Taiwanese like to mix flavors, something thats not always very appealing to Western taste buds. I'm not a big fan of hot pot, but from time to time it feels good, especially in winter.

2.2.10 Dumpling shop | 餃子館 | Jiǎozi guǎn

Dumpling shops serve all kinds of steamed jiaozi and xiaolongbao. This is traditional Chinese food, a great experience. Restaurants like Din Tai Fung originate from here - Read more>>

2.2.11 Steak shop | 牛排館 | Nioúpái guǎn

Steak shops are very common all over Taiwan, especially at night markets. They are served on a hot plate with a simmering pepper sauce, a small portion of noodles and an egg. These steaks are usually very tasty and fulling, one of my favorite dishes in Taiwan.

2.2.12 Convenience store | 便利商店 | Biènlì shāngdièn

More and more convenience stores are turning into restaurants. If near companies, they are usually full of people eating lunch there. The food is mostly instant and warmed up in a microwave. Common are spaghetti, noodles, bientang, dumplings and rice.

2.2.13 Fast food restaurant | 速食店 | sùshídiàn

Fast food restaurants in Taiwan are dominated by American and Japanese burger and pizza restaurants such as Mc Donald's, Burger King, MOS burger, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Domino's. They are found everywhere in bigger towns and cities.

2.2.14 Theme restaurant | 主題餐廳 | Zhǔtí cāntīng

Theme restaurants such as Modern Toilet are becoming a kind of a tourist attraction in recent years. You can find examples of restaurants, that use themes such as ninja, hello kitty, airplane, hospital and Coca Cola. It's definitely a dining experience with a lot of fun.

2.3 Bars and cafes 館子, 店, 樓, 吧

This is the list of places, where thirst is your prime motive for a visit, but some of them also offer food. Food is everywhere in Taiwan, that's a fact.

2.3.1 Bubble tea shop | 飲料店 | Yĭnliào dièn

Bubble tea shops were invented in Taiwan, so was the drink, that is currently conquering the whole world. The first shop was established in Taichung, but the drink is now common all over the country. Most of these shops offer other kinds of teas and beverages, but no food. - Read more here>>

2.3.2 Café | 咖啡館 | Kāfēi guǎn

Cafes are quite common in Taiwan's cities, in rural areas tea is preferred.

There are a lot of coffee shops of a smaller size with unique and individualistic design popular with young people. The bigger shops are mostly part of a chain. Examples include popular local coffee shop chains such as Mr. Brown, Dante's Cafe and the most famous 85°C Cafe. Starbucks is also very common, but the price is quite high compared to Taiwanese brands. Most of these shops offer food and desserts and a lot of young Taiwanese hang out there all day, some are reading or studying and some are just pretending to do so. The quality of the coffee is quite high, nevertheless, the style is more American rather than Italian or Viennese, which are my favorites.

2.3.3 Tea house | 茶樓 | Chá lóu

Taiwan is famous for great tea and tea shops are very common. Some are small and cater to people on the go, some are bigger and offer food as well. The traditional ones come with a wooden interior and water. They are not cheap, but a very interesting experience. - Read more here>>

2.3.4 Pub | 酒吧 | Jioǔ bā

Pubs and beer gardens are not too common Taiwan, because Taiwanese generally don't drink that much. But you can find some in bigger cities.

2.4 Food stall | 路邊攤 | Lùbiēn tān

Food stalls at a night market.

Food stalls are commonly found on night markets, but you also can spot them on various streets, usually in the suburban residential areas. They are one of Taiwan's quintessential images, usually offering the cheapest warm food you could get in the country. Most of the owners are of older generation, it's a way for them to make ends meet every month and if their dish is popular, they can save a little something for the tough times. A lot of popular stalls are continued with the next generation, you can often see mother and daughter or father and son serving the customers together. Some of these stalls would not pass the German TÜV, but generally eating food from these stalls is safe. I've been living here for almost two years, visited over 50 night markets and never had any problems.

These are the main restaurants and food shops in Taiwan. There are many sub groups and exceptions, but I won't go into that. My list is focusing on the most common and popular examples. If you think I have forgotten to mention a certain group, let me know in the comments. If you've never been to Taiwan, I hope this list will help you to learn and understand more about the country.

[TAIWAN TRAVEL page][All photos by MKL, 2012]