As we previously mentioned, Tainan is the city of small eats, famous for its variety of street food and small dishes. Here are a few Tainan specials we tried during our time there.
Dan Zai Noodles (担仔麵)
This is arguably what Tainan is most famous for these days, at least for the Taiwanese. Dan Zai Noodles, also known as Slack Season Noodles, were started by a fisherman in Tainan during the low fishing season. His noodle shop became so popular that he quit being a fisherman altogether. The original store is still there today, though it now has branches in other parts of Taiwan. While we saw Dan Zai Noodles elsewhere around the island, we waited for Tainan to come to the original restaurant started 115 years ago, Du Xiao Yue.
Dan Zai Noodles, unlike the other popular beef noodles, are served with yellow oil noodles. The noodles are in a light shrimp sauce along with minced pork, small shrimps, bean sprouts, and an egg. I completely understand why they were and are so popular. Because the noodles are oily, they never get soggy, and taste firm and springy as noodles should be. The broth is very flavourful, but light. I was able to drink all the soup in a way that I never could drink all the beef broth in a beef noodle soup. The other ingredients enhance the overall flavour and add variety, so you never get bored of just eating noodles.
The Dan Zai Noodle serving size is not the big bowl of noodle soup that you’re used to – it comes in a smaller bowl. Other restaurants offer Dan Zai Noodles at the same size as a large bowl of regular noodle soup, but Du Xiao Yue sticks to its traditional smaller size. I personally think it’s the perfect size. A big bowl of noodles plus soup can leave you bloated at the end of the meal, especially if there are meat pieces and vegetables within. The smaller bowl of Dan Zai Noodles is just enough to satisfy your craving and your hunger, but not make you feel like you won’t want any for another month.
Coffin Cake (棺材板)
Coffin cake is another classic small dish from Tainan. The name may sound gruesome, but don’t be scared, it won’t kill you to eat it. It is only called a coffin cake because of its shape. Essentially it’s a thick piece of bread that has its center cut out. This “coffin” is then filled with a meat and vegetable soup, similar to a chicken pot pie.
The coffin cake tastes similar to a chicken pot pie as well, though Asian-style. The bread is crisp on the outside, which gives the dish texture. Coffin cake can be found throughout the streets of Tainan. We had ours in the Anping area, where they served us a square one. We also saw rectangle coffin cakes that more resemble the shape of a coffin.
Bean Jelly (豆花)
Bean jelly is a traditional Tainan dessert made out of tofu and syrup. We went to the famous bean jelly shop in Anping that specializes in bean jelly.
Small pieces of soft tofu are covered in sweet syrup with toppings such as red bean. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I traditionally think of tofu as an ingredient for savoury dishes, but I was pleasantly surprised. In this case the tofu is almost like a jello, except even softer, which lends well to a dessert. The syrup is just sweet enough, but not overpowering as to completely mask the natural flavour of the tofu. As for the topping, they add your personal preference to the dessert, whether you like red bean, green bean, tapioca or none of the above.
All three dishes were definitely some of the most unique foods we have tried in Taiwan.