What to eat in Taiwan – Dumplings

Taiwan is well known for their cuisine. It’s not only delicious but special and unique. Over the past few years, I’ve been constantly in search of the tastiest meals, snacks, and bites that this country is known for. Here is a breakdown of the different varieties of each category as well as my personal recommendations on where to eat. Most of these places can be found in my Taiwan Food Guide app!

In my opinion, dumplings are the perfect food. Each cuisine all around the world has its own version of this. We might disagree as to the exact definition of dumpling. But to me, it’s basically any filling wrapped in dough. Of course, this includes more traditional versions such as gyoza, mandu, pierogi, and the like. But in my eyes, empanadas, samosas, and even Hot Pockets should count. The only discrepancy would be the portability of the more traditional dumpling. But I’ll leave that to the reader.

The dumplings in Taiwan are more or less influenced by Chinese cuisine. This includes all regions of China which vary greatly. The dumplings you’ll find here include traditional fillings of pork, cabbage, and chives in a thin flour-based wrapper. At any traditional shop, you’ll see workers churning out hundreds of these bundles by hand. As someone who has tried to make dumplings en masse, I’m always amazed at the precision and speed of these artists.

Xiao Long Bao – 小籠湯包

Photo via Alpha

The soup dumpling might be the most famous dumpling to come out of the region, even though it’s not considered a dumpling by traditional standards. That’s because it comes in the form of a baozi (包子) or steamed bun. But for our purposes, this soup-filled packet of deliciousness will forever be a dumpling. What makes these dumplings special is, of course, the soup. There is a specific technique to eating these without scalding your mouth with piping hot soup. Getting the soup in the delicately thin wrappers is also very unique. The soup is gelatinized into an aspic which then liquefies as it’s steamed. It’s part chemistry and magic but entirely delicious.

Din Tai Fung – 鼎泰豐

Photo via Wikipedia

DTF is undoubtedly the most well-known purveyor of xiao long bao. Their first restaurant opened in Taipei in 1972 and they have now expanded to over 150 restaurants in 15 countries! In 2010, their first Hong Kong branch was awarded a Michelin Star by the Hong Kong and Macau edition of the Michelin Guide. Their soup dumplings are made with meticulous precision having exactly 18 ‘folds’. Their chefs go through rigorous training sometimes for years to master the craft. The traditional fillings include pork, pork with crab roe, and shrimp and loofah melon. A few branches even serve a truffle soup dumpling.

The original branch located near Yongkang St (Dongmen MRT) is the most popular. You can expect wait times of over 2 hours! Don’t freak out. There are 7 branches in Taipei alone and one each in Hsinchu, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. Although I definitely recommend DTF to anyone and everyone, the wait times (and the prices) might be a bit unreasonable for some. If you do decide to partake in the full DTF experience, I also recommend trying their fried rice, pork chop, and shui mai.

==>> Here are all the Taipei locations

GuBeiTao – 古北饕

This small, local shop is my personal favorite for XLB in Taipei. It’s located near NTNU between the Guting and Taipower Building MRT. They don’t have quite the history, but rumor has it that the chefs formerly worked at DTF. Or maybe I just started the rumor right now. Regardless, they have amazing soup dumplings. I would recommend the shrimp and loofah melon and their dan dan noodles. Head there during off-hours to avoid the wait. It’s a small shop with not much seating. The prices are more reasonable but the quality is still tremendous.

Hanzhou Xiao Long Bao – 杭州小籠湯包

These guys have captured the domain name game (https://www.thebestxiaolongbao.com/#/about). You might scoff at their brazen sense of marketing, but they do make a damn good soup dumpling. You’ll first notice a line. The wait here is a bit more tolerable than DTF, but it’s best to come early or after the lunch rush. The decor is more rustic with short wooden tables and stools. Once the food arrives, you might be fully convinced of their claim. Try their fried tofu soup and dessert dumplings for something a bit unique.

Shengyuan Xiao Long Bao – 盛園絲瓜小籠湯包

Right around the corner from Hanzhou is this little gem. You still might have to wait since this is another popular spot for soup dumplings. The menu here is almost identical to Hanzhou with the same dumpling offerings and sides. I would recommend trying their loofah XLB and their soups.

Yilan ZhengChang – 宜蘭正常鮮肉小籠湯包

This is another one of my favorites near the Raohe Night Market. They make a different kind of soup dumpling that’s a bit messy but definitely soupy. They have a no-frills shop with quick service. It’s also the cheapest on the list. I would also recommend trying their rice dumpling (粽子).

The Rest

If you just hate waiting in lines, then first you might want to leave Taiwan. But if you can’t wait to get your soup pouches, then there are plenty of other spots. You’ll find XLB at many 24-hour breakfast joints, quick dumpling take-out restaurants, and almost every night market. The quality and precision might not be the best, but they should certainly satisfy your craving.

Steamed Dumplings – 蒸餃

Image by CassieThinking from Pixabay

While the cooking method is the same (steamed in a bamboo basket), the steamed dumpling is quite different from the soup dumpling. The wrapper is thicker with a bit more bite and chew. The shape and construction is different. It’s certainly a lot less soupy. The traditional fillings include pork and cabbage, pork and chive, and veggie. Most of the XLB restaurants above also serve steamed dumplings and I highly recommend getting an order of these.

Zi Lin Steamed Dumpling – 紫琳蒸餃館

This is my personal favorite for specifically the steamed dumpling. This open cafeteria-style restaurant is set in the basement of a shopping mall. It was also featured in the Buzzfeed video above. There’s usually a short line but the turnover is quick. I would also recommend the potstickers and beef roll which is thinly sliced brisket in a scallion pancake.

Jin Ji Yuan – 好公道金雞園

Walking down Yongkang Street you’ll notice all the different food options. You can miss the mountains of steaming baskets and Taiwanese pastries stacked up in this open kitchen. The menu is quite extensive including XLB, rice bentos, soups, noodles, and various pastries. To get a full taste of Taiwanese cuisine, grab a group and order everything!

Boiled Dumplings – 水餃

Photo via Marco Verch

Boiled dumplings are eaten by pretty much everyone in Taiwan. They are a quick and simple meal that can be found in any food alley, grocery store, and home freezer. There are literally thousands of local-run restaurants serving noodles, these dumplings, and potstickers for the lunch crowds. Many of these are made with a signature double-thumb squeeze (my own coinage) to seal the filling in from the boiling water. The fillings are standard but you can find some unique ones as seen below. Many beef noodle shops will also offer these dumplings served in their soup or on the side.

Takumi Dumplings – 巧之味

This dumpling shop has been around for over 30 years. Their menu is very simple; 3 types of boiled dumplings, 2 types of soup, and various sides that are self-serve. There will be a line during busy dinner times, but it will usually go pretty quick. They are known for a scallop dumpling in a dark green (seaweed) wrapper. Ordering five of each dumpling will be enough for a full meal or a light snack for some.

Dongmen Xingji Handmade Dumplings – 東門興記手工水餃

The Dongmen traditional market has lots of food gems. These dumplings are well known in the area for their size and flavor. Locals come also for big bags of frozen dumplings to take home.

Potstickers or Pan-fried – 鍋貼

Photo via Jeremy Keith

Potstickers are synonymous with the boiled dumpling in their popularity. They are eaten as a snack, quick meal, and even breakfast. Most of the shops will serve both boiled and pan-fried in the same flavors. The quick-serve type look like those finger traps we played with as kids. Some of the ‘fancier’ restaurants will serve them in an elegant circle with a ‘crisp skirt’. Both of which come with a crispy bottom that works perfectly with a thick sweet soy sauce.

Din Tai Fung, Hanzhou XLB, Shenyuan XLB, and ZiLin Steamed Dumpling all serve great potstickers

Xu Huai – 徐淮人家(長安店)

This family-style restaurant serves amazing northern Chinese food. But if you want to find the most perfect ‘crisp skirt’, this is the place to go.

Ba Fang Dumplings – 八方雲集

Finally, you can’t talk about dumplings in Taiwan and not mention this institution. There are probably more Ba Fang restaurants in Taipei than McDonald’s, Starbucks, and KFCs combined. This is a franchise chain that specializes in dumplings; both boiled and potstickers. They are one of the few places to find a bit of differentiation. They serve a curry dumpling and a kimchi dumpling as well as seasonal specialties. You won’t find Ba Fang in any top-rated lists or Michelin guides. But they are my go-to shop for a quick dumpling fix.

That’s it for the dumplings. I hope this guide can help you with your next dumpling adventure in Taipei. There are great dumpling places all over Taiwan and I’ll update the list based on the ones I’ve tried. If you are coming to Taiwan and want more food recommendations, check out my app for all my favorites.