Here, dishes are whipped up in makeshift kitchens and cheap foodparticularly seafoodis king.
The challenge is locating the best flavors in a city where public transport isn’t readily available and many older folks only speak Taiwanese.
That’s where this list comes in:
This dish is as essential to Tainan food culture as Bruce Lee is to Chinese kung fu.
It features oil noodles with minced pork and fresh shrimp in a shallow broth.
Translated as “peddler’s pole noodles,” the dish was invented in 1895 by Hung Yutou, a fisherman who sold it from buckets strung on a bamboo pole.
Hung’s legacy is two shops founded by his family.
Of these, Du Xiao Yue has become one of the most popular restaurant chains in the country.
Meanwhile, Hung Yutou Danzai Noodles is often said to be a more authentic local favorite.
Du Xiao Yue, No. 101, Zhongzheng Road, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6220 0858
Hung Yutou Danzai Noodles, 12, Lane 508, Chong De Road, Eastern District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 8 0023 4001
These are Taiwan’s answer to Japanese tempura, except the shrimp is wrapped in caul fat and stuffed with aromatics like scallion before being deep fried.
The most famous rendition comes from a store called Chou’s Shrimp Rolls, established in 1965.
Chou’s Shrimp Rolls (Original Store), No. 125, Anping Road, Anping District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6229 2618
Savory rice pudding, or wa gui
Shaved ice, or baobing, is a trendy Taiwanese dessert that’s recently taken a life of its own.
There are hundreds of versions, but one Tainan vendor sticks to tradition, flavoring it with “eight treasures,” including glutinous rice balls, green and red beans, and peanuts.
During the wintertime, it’s especially great in soup form — served in a hot sugary broth.
Shi Jing Jiu, No. 246, Minzu Road, Section 2, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6223 2266
Spanish mackerel is a prized fish in Tainan and can be bought pre-butchered at any day market around town.
The fish’s peak season is from late summer to early autumn.
The most common and best way to sample Spanish mackerel is pan fried with a wedge of lemon.
Fu Tai, No. 240, Minzu Road, Section 2, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6228 6833
Zong zi is a tetrahedral-shaped pocket of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf.
It’s a Taiwanese staple during the annual summer Dragon Boat Festivals and is also a common breakfast, but around Tainan it’s said to have a better texture.
The perfect texture for the steamed sticky rice should be fine, chewy and moist.
Meat rice dumplings (rou zong) and vegetable rice dumplings (cai zong) are equally filling.
They’re best served with sweet soy sauce and with grated peanut powder on the side.
Yuan Huan Ding Cai Zong Rou Zong, No. 40, Fuqian Road, West Central District, Tainan, Taiwan; +886 6222 0752
Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in New York and Los Angeles.