Dining in Taiwan is very similar to many countries in the
Far East. If you've never been to the Far East, etiquette, habits, and customs
in Taiwan will seem very odd, and perhaps even rude, however there is good reason
for the way they eat.
Arrive to the meal on time and let your host seat you. Once seated you'll notice
you have little more than chopsticks, a spoon, and a saucer. The chopsticks are
obviously for eating (never place these sticking up in the rice, it's a sign
of death), but most locals will understand if you request a fork and knife. The
spoon is for the soup, and the saucer is reserved for bones and shells that you
pick out of your food.
When the meal arrives, the dishes (including the soup) are generally placed in the
middle of the table. Before dining begins you may be offered a drink accompanied
by a toast. The Taiwanese enjoy toasting and if you do toast
over a meal, make sure you finish the entire glass when you drink. If you're
asked to reciprocate with a toast, be sure to thank your hosts. After that first
toast, eating will begin in order of honor so don't begin until you're directed
to do so by your host.
As you eat the soup, suck it into your mouth so you make a slurping sound; this
will cool the soup and all locals use this technique to prevent burning. The food
shall be picked at with your chopsticks and in some cases may be eaten directly
from the communal plates, as will the soup. If one of those communal dishes is fish,
don't flip the fish over (locals believe it will flip over the boat of the fishermen).
When the starch, typically rice arrives, you should pick up the entire bowl and
shovel it into your mouth bite by bite. Unlike mainland China
however, you should leave a little rice and food on your plate at the end of your
meal to indicate your host's generosity. When finished, join the locals with
a tooth pick in hand to clean any remaining food from your teeth and get ready to
indulge in tea as a dessert. Once the tea is finished however, you are expected
to leave immediately. You won't be asked to leave, but you are expected to thank
you hosts and depart at that time.
Most Taiwanese will order only as much food as is needed,
however for business dinners or for celebrations, an excess of food should be ordered
and the number of dishes ordered must always be even. In Taiwan the host must always
pay for all those present.
Generally there is no tipping in Taiwan; however there are
a couple exceptions. Restaurants catered to locals don't expect a tip, but western
restaurants expect a tip; sometimes a 10% service charge will be added to the bill,
but if not, tip up to 10%.
Celebrations & Events
A number of festivals in Taiwan are associated with varying
foods, most particularly the Spring Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-autumn Festival,
and the Lantern Festival. At the Spring Festival tangyuan (rice balls filled
with nuts, bean paste, and more) is the food of choice and an essential part of
The Dragon Boat Festival has a larger number of traditional foods and this begins
with zongzi, which are rice dumplings wrapped in leaves filled with anything
from meat to fruit. Other popular foods during this festival include mianshanzi
(flour shaped into a fan), jiandui (fried cake), eel, eggs with garlic
or tea, and pancakes (like crepes).
During the Mid-autumn Festival moon cakes are the most common food. These cakes
are always filled with something, in Taiwan they are generally
made from lotus seed paste or red bean paste.
A unique drink in Taiwan is boba or "bubble
tea," which is often served with milk and tapioca balls. If you're seeking
out a familiar drink and reach for coffee, be aware that it is usually served with
salt. Of course other popular international drinks are also available, including
juices, milk, and soft drinks.
Taiwan has access to nearly every popular international alcohol,
but local beers and rice wines are very common. For a more authentic beverage, reach
for kaoliang jiu, which is a local sorghum wine. If none of this sounds
appealing, many popular brands are available in Taiwan.
There is no consensus on the cleanliness of the tap water in Taiwan.
Most hotels purify their water and restaurants generally boil their water before
cooking with it so most water is safe. However the tap water from most homes is
unsafe and should be avoided. Of course you may stay on the side of caution everywhere
and avoid the tap water entirely. If you do decide to drink the tap water, remember
that many people may have troubles adjusting to the local water as it will most
certainly be different from what your system is used to.