Indian Food in Taiwan
Tasting Home in Taipei
A young Indian poet talks about her falling in love with a biriyani other than her mother's.
Tasting Home in TaipeiBy Keerthi Sridharan
Here’s the thing: I like a biriyani other than my mother’s biriyani.
For the last 18-odd years I’ve stood staunchly by her side, scarfing down pretty much everything she cooks, telling anyone who asks (and plenty who don’t) that everything she makes is perfect. And that’s still true - amma, if you’re reading this, if you make biriyani, I’ll still eat it. But when I’m home, and I feel a craving deep in my bones for aromatic spiced rice and meat, I’ll grab my wallet, walk past our kitchen, and take a cab down to an unassuming storefront by the Keelung Rd underpass. Or I do, in theory; most days she stops me somewhere around the second step:
“Where are you headed?”
“I’m getting Indian food.”
I always get the same question in response.
“Why did you come all the way to Taipei to eat Indian food?”
Three things, mom.
1) It’s Good.
I was raised on Indian food. Not just at home in my mother’s kitchen, but everywhere I’ve lived: Beijing, Hong Kong, Washington DC, Fiji, Delhi - there’s always a place around the corner, hiding where you least expect it. It’s become a habit to stake out these little pockets of home, to whisper street names and divulge secret menu items to those you deem worthy enough to taste authenticity. And Taipei does authenticity - and does it well. Even your local mall food court’s unspecified “spicy curry” will have the right balance of cumin and fennel, and it only really gets better from there. I’ve had samosas at sit-down restaurants in Xinyi that match New Delhi street food, and that’s one of the highest culinary compliments I can bestow. My grandfather was from Hyderabad, so take it from me: there are places in Taipei that serve biriyani so good it makes you see the face of God.
2) It’s Affordable.
Spoiler alert: I’m a college student. That essentially means that my wallet is always about 10 tons lighter than I wish it were, and when it isn’t, most of it gets distributed to the people I already owe money to. So when I get wind of a two-person meal ranging from 900 to 1400NT, I’m dragging a friend - or a stranger, in desperate times - to the front of the line. When I want good food, I’m usually obligated to go through the preemptive mourning of my weekly budget, but this way, I get the best of both worlds: stinginess and seasoning.
3) It’s Everywhere.
Since quality and expense are both taken care of, the only difficult decisions have to do with the sheer number of options I have when choosing a meal. The range of choices in Indian food available in Taipei helps too - a five-minute food court stop and a formal sit-down dinner are both likely within 10 minutes of wherever I happen to be. Gone are the days of hunting down ‘desi’ joints in sketchy corners and foreign streets - if I want naan, I’m getting naan, and I don’t have to do any sleuthing to get to it.
Most places that boast authentic Indian food tend to have choices that are focused on North Indian cuisine, with very little variety. Not that there’s anything wrong with the usual butter naan + tandoori chicken + paneer combo, but a girl just wants some dosa every now and then. Once again, Taipei delivers; a couple of South Indian restaurants have opened in the last few months, including one that serves unlimited portions of rice on traditional banana leaves in lieu of plates.
One thing I can be sure of? In Taipei, the food comes to you - complete with complimentary papad and chutney.
Keerthi Sridharan is a 18 year old poet, writer and musician currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English at Oberlin College. She has lived in Chennai, New Delhi, Beijing, Hong Kong, Fiji, Washington, D.C., and most recently, Taipei.