Located just 100 miles off the eastern coast of China, Taiwan is understandably influenced by its large neighbor – but it is also a country with its own culture and cuisine that are deliciously distinct. It’s no surprise that Anthony Bourdain loved Taiwan, which has the best of the region’s food experiences and is a huge urban destination in the capital city of Taipei.
While there’s more to Taiwan than just Taipei, it is the only destination that Anthony Bourdain visited in this island country. Anthony Bourdain visited Taipei to film episode 8 of season 2 of The Layover. It’s his only on-film visit to Taiwan’s capital but is surely a vibrant, interesting episode.
The Layover only lasted two seasons. What separated it from Bourdain’s other shows was its emphasis on a race against time – a challenge to fill a layover with as much excitement and food as possible, so Tony was only in Taipei for three days.
As we know, three days was more than enough to have a thrilling adventure full of delicious food and beautiful sights. Join me as we review all of the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Taipei, and thus in Taiwan.
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The Woo Bar
After a brutal flight to Taiwan, Tony takes some time to relax in the hotel bar – the Woo Bar – at the W Taipei, where he stays for his “layover.” He orders a cocktail he’s never had before; the main ingredient is ginger-infused vodka. “Flying to Asia is punishing,” Bourdain says, “but this is good.”
Keelung Night Market
Anthony meets with an ex-pat guide named Calvin Chu, who brings him the bustling Keelung Night Market. The sky is dark but the market buzzes with light. The sounds of woks clanging, vendors bellowing, and people laughing culminate into an enduring hum.
The first thing they eat is Rice Pot Sticker Soup. The rice is both steamed and baked creating a unique texture and flavor. Mushrooms, bamboo shoots, dried tiger lilies, shrimp, oysters, and shredded pork are piled on top of the rice.
Calvin then has Tony try a Gua Bao: a steamed bun filled with braised pork belly. Anthony is a huge fan of the savory bun.
Afterward, the two enter an unnamed seafood restaurant on the side of the market. They try an array of seafood. Urchin, helmet shell crabs, and steamed king crab legs. But that’s not all – outside Tony and Calvin purchase some small softshell crabs often called ‘one bite crabs’. Anthony calls it the ‘perfect ballpark food.’
Calvin urges Bourdain to try the famous Ba-Wan or Taiwanese meatball. A rice skin is filled with mushrooms and bamboo pork filling. To me, it’s more of a unique, soupy dumpling rather than a meatball. The interesting ball is served in a small bowl with a spoon.
After all this delicious street food, Bourdain voices his disappointment at how he’s pressed for time: “I need three days in this market just to do it justice,” he says.
Jin Chun Fa
Anthony meets another guide named Angela in the Datong neighborhood of Taipei. They sit and converse at a fine noodle shop called Jin Chun Fa. Tony is yearning for some classic beef noodle soup, one of the specialties of Taiwan. They start off with water spinach as a side. It’s a steamed vegetable with a bit of a crunch.
But the main course arrives much to Anthony’s glee. Angela explains that this is the classic beef noodle soup with clear broth. Some other restaurants specialize in the darker, spicier broth.
To make Anthony even happier, the course is finished with some stir-fried beef marrow. If you know anything from other Bourdain episodes, you know he loves to eat marrow. It almost becomes a running joke across his work. And the smile in this moment is just as good as the others.
In the evening hours of the second day, Bourdain heads to a fine restaurant called James Kitchen. The owner’s English name is James Bond, but I wouldn’t say the restaurant is Bond-themed. It’s a simple décor restaurant but the food is remarkable. They start with bamboo shoots steamed in soy, then dusted with sugar for a sweeter flavor. Next, the smoked pork ears arrive followed by the pigtail; Bourdain loves an interesting pork dish!
After the delicious pork, the meal is finished with a pickled turnip omelet. Bourdain expresses his happiness in this moment. “I’ve been to Taiwan a few times, and I’ve always had a good time in Taiwan.”
Raohe Night Market
Bourdain makes it a point to try at least one other night market in Taipei; there are several to choose from. The crew heads to Raohe Night Market in Songshan, another scene with a bustling atmosphere. Tony only eats one thing here: Hujiao Bing. It’s a wheat flour dough stuffed with spiced pork. The bun is toasted in a clay oven. Bourdain says it resembles Indian tandoor.
Tian Xia Di Yi Wei Dao
After stepping out of a cab, Bourdain steps into a bus to eat with Angela. This unique restaurant serves a common Taiwanese style of food called Fast Fry. But what is not so common is the dining setting – a bus.
“Why a bus?” Bourdain asks. “It’s a gimmick to make it memorable,” Angela answers.
The fast fry is a collection of grilled and fried foods: noodles, snails, and cod fillet.
Din Tai Fung
The Din Tai Fung chain is known for its superb soup dumplings. It’s one of Tony’s favorite foods.
Bourdain raves at the expertise of the chefs. “Each ridge on the soup dumpling is another fold of the thumb. The timing is perfect. Masterful!”
Tony takes a tiny bite of the dumpling to let some soup out. This is so he doesn’t burn his face with the scalding liquid. The soup leaks out of the hole and onto the spoon. Bourdain bites the dumpling and is in awe.
Shrimp Shumai is then served. If you don’t know what shumai is, well, it’s another kind of dumpling with rice inside as well as the chosen filling. In this case, the filling is shrimp. ‘Volcanos of love,’ Bourdain calls them.
A massive smile spreads across Tony’s face at the end of this meal. But the layover is almost done. It’s time to head back to the airport. Bourdain feels a bit melancholic to leave wonderful Taiwan and all this incredible food.
Taipei Food Tours to Try
One great way to sample a ton of foods in a new country or city is on a food tour. Tours are an especially great way to visit Taipei’s night markets, since there are so many options and a guide can help lead you to the best ones. Here are a few Taipei food tours you might want to try too during your visit – especially if you’re short on time like during a layover!
Have any questions about these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Taipei and Taiwan? Let me know in the comments below.