Healthy Eating Taiwan, Pt. 1 Healthy at Home
Eat healthy on $200 NTD a day
What am I calling healthy? We could bounce ideas around for ages on that very subject. I am going to say a mostly "clean" diet of vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates is healthy. The foods here are mostly gluten-free, in case you are so disabled. I'm pointing out vegan and vegetarian options. Taiwan loves its pork and seafood, but due to a high buddhist population there are tons of options for vegetarians and vegans. Without even trying most of these foods are found locally. Living on a small island encourages that!
Food is remarkably accessible in Taiwan. Every block in Central Taipei has a strip of restaurants. Noodles, dumplings, stir fry, rice based food, bento box, western style pasta, western brunch, tea, Taiwanese breakfast, sushi, and vegetarian are very common. For $50 NTD ($1.50 USD) you can get a slab of delicious fried chicken, two vegetable sides, rice and maybe some soup. Its a deal! It's also greasy, and you aren't going to want to eat that all day or everyday.
Grocery stores are easy to find in Taipei. There's two main ones: Red (Welcome) and Blue (United) with a sprinkling of other stores local and fancy import. If you are craving something from home head to a neighborhood where locals live. I found Bisquick, pickles, and ranch dressing at the Welcome on Heping on Roosevelt roads near Guting MRT Station. Otherwise expect what Taiwanese people like to eat. Traditional markets and fruit stands are a great way to shop for produce. Prices are usually the same or cheaper than chain stores depending on what's in abundance or in season. I will show you my favorite markets soon.
Welcome to my kitchen. This is it, plus a plastic cutting board.
Oatmeal -- 麥片 (Mai4 Pian4)
$114 NTD for 21 servings. That's $5 a serving and will keep you full all morning long. Don't have a hot plate? Its really not so bad raw, mixed into yogurt, or with some milk on top.
Bananas -- 香蕉(Xiang1 Jiao1)
$8-$13 a piece. Local, so local! Yay for living in the sub-tropics where bananas are local. Put these in your oatmeal or have as a snack.
Eggs -- 雞蛋 (Ji1 Dan4)
$54 for 8 @ $6.75 a piece eggs are my favorite breakfast, lunch, and dinner. E-eggs are the standard organic egg in Taiwan. I don't know how cruelty-free or if they are at all. I often poach eggs and put them on top vegetables or salad for lunch. An egg plus lentil soup is a hearty side of the pyramid. I don't suggest keeping eggs for more than 5 days unrefrigerated. I had a very memorable bad egg experience, which taught me this lesson.
Lentils -- 扁豆 (Bian3 Dou4)
$150 a kilo, about 10 servings @$15 each. Bad news folks, green and brown lentils are considered seeds by the Taiwanese government and must be fumigated. Red lentils are in, because they're split I guess. You can find other dried beans at the grocery store (black soy, green, red, and recently saw black-eyed peas) and my favorite Trinity Indian food store. Lentils have consistently been on my plate for years because they are fast cooking and versatile. Lentil soup can be dressed up with all kinds of veggies: eggplant, spinach, broccoli, yams, turnips, pumpkin, tomato, carrots. You name it, its good with lentils.
Canned Tuna -- 鮪魚 (Wei3 Yu2)
$147 for 3 cans @ $49 a can. I eat 2 cans of tuna a week though for some good proteins. Its more than I probably should eat. Mercury levels are high in tuna and tuna fishing isn't the most sustainable. Since I've moved to Taiwan I've learned to deal with doing things I would never have done before, because there are just less options on a our small island. So far other canned fish is not winning in Taiwan. I miss you herring snacks. Canned tuna doesn't need a refrigerator. Its great in a salad or sometimes I mix it in with some ramen, hooha. I've found it pays to buy the most expensive tuna you can. I like the one packed in oil.
Tofu -- 豆腐 (Dou4 Fu)
$17 Huge slab (a pound-ish) for about 4 servings @$4.25 a serving. You live in Asia and you're a vegetarian you say? You can help yourself to enormous fresh bricks of tofu that cost less than potatoes per pound. Most of your problems are solved right there. I don't normally buy a large block, because I can't eat it all in one sitting. Tofu should be refrigerated. Got an oven? Make Tofu Jerky. Possibilities are endless with tofu.
Dried Seaweed -- 紫菜 (Zi3 Cai4)
$88 for 30 little packs @ $3 a pack. An easy snack, and also useful condiment. I like to crush it up and on top of veggies, salads, and eggs for variety. It has a little iron, calcium, and some other minerals, but mostly this one just shakes things up
Rice Crackers -- 餅乾 (Bing3 Gan1)
$44 for a bag of about 2 servings. Several thousand kinds of crackers exist in Taiwan from wheat-based to, shrimp, squid and right back to rice crackers, even a few corn chips. I really like this the rice seaweed crackers above. Bonus it comes in a fairly sturdy bag that can be used as a ziplock later for other things. This isn't the cheapest snack out there, but its tastiness makes up for it.
Dried Peas -- 青豆 (Qing1 Dou4)
$45 for 10 little bags @$4.5 each. Its hum mid here so a ton of things get individually wrapped. Little bags of green peas aren't too nutritious but aren't nearly as bad a bag of chips. I keep them in my bag for an on the go kind of hunger emergency. These are made in Taiwan too.
Edamame -- 毛豆 (Mao2 Dou4)
$29 for 2 servings @ $15 a serving. Slightly less portable, but much more healthy. A good one to munch on while you relax in the evening. Its covered in Taiwanese spices!
Almonds -- 杏仁 (Xing4 Ren2)
$101 for 10 little bags @$10 a serving. Fiber and all that good stuff. Eat them as snacks, chopped on veggies. Good on the go protein stuff.
Miso Paste -- 味噌 (Wei2 Ceng1)
$110 for a million servings. Realistically, let's say $4 a serving. No really, I've been eating my tub for at least 6 months with no end in site. Miso is salty so please eat in moderation. Miso doubles as a snack and an ingredient. Make some soup, or use it to poach chicken or veggies in. I should add that without refrigeration the miso will grow mold where exposed to air. Don't fear a little mold. I scrape the mold off and just keep going. I am still alive. If you are a person of a compromised immune system you may not want to be eating food kept in this condition.
Yams -- 地瓜(Di4 Gua1)
$38 for 6 medium and small yams, which is good for 4-5 large servings @ $9. Do I need to tell you why you should be filling up on yams? Fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, and potassium. I boil them and sprinkle with seaweed. Sometimes I make a miso yam soup, good times.
Broccoli -- 青花菜 (Qing1 Hua1 Cai4)
$34 for a pound, $17 for 2 big servings. There are tons of veggies you buy locally in Taiwan, but broccoli will last for a whole 3 days outside of the fridge!
Red Cabbage -- 紅高菜 (Hong2 Gao3 Cai4)
$20 for a good hunk, or about 3 servings @ $7 each. Cabbage will last for about a week without a refrigerator. Its loaded with vitamin C and fiber. I find it keeps me feeling really full too. Chop it up for salads containing any combination of the foods above.
Sprouts -- 豆芽 (Dou4 Ya2)
$25 for a bag as big as your head. I will guess and say a bag would make 5 good salads @$5 a serving. Sprouts galore! Adorable green baby plants to decorate your plate. Taiwan has a number of varieties, and I'm not sure where they all have sprouted from. Sprouts are more of a 1-2 day thing without a fridge.
Instant Noodles -- 方便面 (Fang1 Bian4 mian4)
Like the tuna, instant noodles are not the healthiest. I think I can safely say there is very little to redeem this artificially flavored, high sodium, highly processed wheat product. My exception is that a big bowl of hot noodles is good for your soul. Asia's chicken noodle. Ramen is so much better here than in America!! Still feeling iffy? Dress those noodles up with broccoli and miso, to let your conscious relax.
Other things I keep around: salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, olive oil, vinegar, green tea, hot chocolate powder, sriracha, honey, and garlic cloves. The spices of life that you may acquire as you go.
There you have it. You can feed yourself at home and stay on budget, no kitchen necessary, without giving yourself coronary problems. Next edition will approach eating out in Taiwan for the health conscious.