The picture above was one I took in the Taipei MRT subway station. If you look closely at the map image of Taiwan there, it is completely covered in logos of convenient stores. This is an incredibly accurate depiction of Taiwan because it is absolutely and literally covered in convenient stores, with one, two, maybe three on every corner.
For travelers, this is very, well, convenient. Unlike the convenient stores in the United States, the convenient stores in Taiwan have everything from hot foods to groceries to train tickets and even underwear, thermos, and umbrellas or rain ponchos. If you’re tight on budget and a little worried about how your stomach will react to local fresh cooked and maybe not-so-clean dishes, you could literally subsist entirely on convenient store foods during your entire trip. Being there for two weeks, we, of course, did not only eat convenience store foods, but it was pretty darn helpful to have tons of these everywhere to give some level of predictability to the capricious life of traveling on the road in a foreign country, which is true for me, too, even if it is the country of my birth. Even in the boonies East Coast towns of Taiwan, I felt a sense of security seeing a big fat 7-Eleven sign right when I stepped out of the train.
Some of my favorite items were the Japanese rice onigiri, yogurt drink, Japanese pudding, and chocolate swirl mantao bread.
One time, we were too tired to look for a local restaurant to eat at, so we decided to have a hot meal in a convenient store, and I picked out one of the railway bentos. Generally, I’d rather not go for the high preservative foods, but comparing this to some freshly made bentos with the same items, there wasn’t a huge difference. I remember loving these types of meals as a kid, but nowadays I’ve been more on a whole foods organic diet, so I generally found meals like this one, fresh made or from the convenient store, to be too oily and salty for my current palate. Something to consider when you decide what to eat.
Aside from heat pads, fresh fruit, and hot spahgetti dinners at convenient stores, there’s also a plethora of drinks to choose from, and it’s pretty important to stay hydrated if you’re on the go traveling from one destination to another. We walked four to eight hours daily, and not always on flat ground, so it was easy to get thirsty quick. I always had a selection of drinks with me, just in case, especially since I was wary of bottled water, and tap water was just not an option. Some good sports drinks to go with are Supau and Pocari Sweat (not really made of sweat, thank goodness). The 7-Eleven brands of teas and milk teas were especially delicious. I wish they would open up a Taiwan 7-Eleven in the United States so we could have those 7-Eleven brand items here.
Convenient stores are not the only places where you can get a quick meal. Much of Taiwan is very pedestrian friendly. Thus, most shops have easy, quick, and convenient to-go bentos. Here’s one really yummy one we got from a shop in the Taipei Main Station.
Also, there are tons and tons of bakeries everywhere with all manner of baked goods available. In the Los Angeles San Gabriel Valley suburbs, we have tons of Taiwan bakeries, too, such as 85C, J.J. Bakery, and Ni Ni’s Bakery, just to name a few. I passed by quite a few 85C bakeries (since it originated in Taiwan) in my travels there, unexpectedly next to ancient temples or down the main street of a small seaside town. At one point, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the grease and salt and was hankering for something with greens, I was saved by a Yamazaki bakery in the Taipei Main Station, where I found a tuna sandwich with some crisp lettuce and tomatoes and a big loaf of freshly baked bread to nibble off of for a few days.
Finally, there are also a lot of fast food choices to pick from that are pretty familiar. They’ve got McDonald’s, KFC, MOS Burger, Dominos, Pizza Hut, and tons more, but I’d have to say my favorite fast food joint in Taiwan is Yoshinoya, which is actually much more delicious and nicely presented than what I can get at a Yoshinoya in Los Angeles.
At one point, I wanted a hot convenient meal without having to sit down in a restaurant, but I wasn’t feeling too excited about the hot meals available at the convenient store, so I popped into a Yoshinoya and ordered a beef bowl to go and picked up a papaya milk drink at a convenient store. Done and delicious.
In terms of dry goods, if you happen to need something a little more substantial on your stay, a friend of mine introduced me to this excellent dry goods store called Carrefour, which is pretty much like a Target or Walmart of Asia, apparently.
Next up, the world famous Night Markets of Taiwan.