From award-winning cat boxes to elegantly packaged noodles, there’s a wide range of unforgettable presents to bring home from your Taiwan adventure.
There was a time when tourists to Taiwan viewed the nation as a microcosm of traditional Chinese culture. Gift shopping would mirror this thought process, and consequently, the tired traveler would return home with vague tropes of China.
Tourists would buy jade at the markets even though hardly any of the jade was locally sourced. Old Chinese lanterns and umbrellas were sought, along with hand-painted fans and Chinese opera face masks or hand puppets. Perhaps some “Chinese tea.”
Of course, there is nothing wrong with these souvenirs, but there’s so much more to appreciate and give from Taiwan. Following is a selection of uniquely designed presents that are easy to pack and take home.
1. Fashion at Wufenpu
Buying gifts doesn’t need to involve a last-minute grab-and-cash at the duty-free shop. On the contrary, it can be an adventure. A trip to Taipei’s Wufenpu is a great way to immerse yourself in rag trade market culture.
On weekdays from Tuesday to Sunday, from about 11 a.m. until late (especially on weekends), it mostly sells bargain apparel rather than big brands. If you play your cards right, you can walk out with a new closet without putting a big dent in your wallet. Bargain hard, and don’t be afraid to walk away, as you can always go back.
2. Made in Taiwan by Clarissa Wei
Everyone knows Taiwan is heaven for foodies, with an international reputation for hot takes like shaved ice and boba milk tea. Michelin-starred eateries and new-gen restaurateurs now supplement the traditional dining options.
A recent book by Clarissa Wei that is doing well on the Amazon.com Best Sellers lists is Made in Taiwan: Recipes and Stories from the Island Nation, which essentially takes a nativized look at Taiwan’s food traditions. Once famed for its Chinese cuisine, Taiwan has forged its own identity, and Clarissa Wei’s tome makes this crystal clear.
Bring home a taste of Taiwan with this book, which is immaculately researched and styled, with 100 great recipes to enjoy.
3. Copycat-ed cat boxes
You know how it is. You buy your feline friend the finest item of cat furniture, and its only interest is the box it came in. Hulumao’s cat box is home décor catnip, ideal for scratching and designed for rest. This creation was awarded a gold medal at the A’Design Award and Competition, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious design accolades.
You’ll have no trouble bringing home this flatpack design bed made of corrugated cardboard. It is easy to assemble and has an origami sensibility that is both functional and pleasing to the eye.
Interestingly, a suspiciously similar cardboard cat bed was released by Tesla China this year (Hulumao’s bed was released in 2017). The Tesla product, available on the company’s website in China and e-commerce platforms like Taobao, is marketed as resembling the company’s Cybertruck, which is expected to begin production next year.
4. Strong spirits
Taiwan produces plenty of good spirits, and taking home a bottle can be both an adventure and a practical shopping exercise. Whiskey connoisseurs can travel to Yilan County for a tour of the Kavalan Distillery, where they can also pick up one of three annual limited edition gift sets, all designed with the utmost care. Those who are planning a trip to the island of Kinmen, where the 58-proof firewater Kaoliang has been made since 1952, can opt for the stronger Taiwanese alternative.
5. Tea-infused perfume
Some scents are so powerful they can transport you back to Taiwan long after your visit has ended. P.Seven’s perfume and colognes do this beautifully. The 2022 Art and Olfaction Independent Award-winning fragrance is made from tea that is “hardened” for decades before bottling.
It’s a cool way of celebrating Taiwan’s tea traditions. The perfumes come in triangle-shaped bottles with simple and elegant designs. P.Seven offers oolong, aged, and Formosa tea scents.
6. Organic noodles
Instant noodles were invented in 1958 and are to this day widely associated with Japan. But any Taiwanese person will be able to tell you that the inventor, Go Pek-hok (also known by his Japanese name Momofuko Ando), was born into a wealthy family of Hoklo Chinese descent in Taiwan’s Chiayi County.
A smart tourist would bring home some instant ramen from their Taiwan trip, in case they find themselves in need of cheap and cheerful comfort food after spending all their money on travels.
Equally, the gift of Kiki instant noodles will be a surefire success. These noodles originate in the historic food capital of Tainan and are sun-dried rather than salt-preserved. Best served al dente, the organic noodles come with high-quality sauces and in beautiful packages.
7. Cute dried fruits
Taiwan is well-known for its juicy and fresh fruits, with an annual export of around 60,000 tons and a value of NT$3,452 million. Taiwanese fruit also has a tendency to become political. When China banned the importation of Taiwanese pineapple in 2021, it was met with strong domestic and international response, and the term “freedom pineapples” was born.
Regardless, dried fruit presents an excellent way to bring home a taste of Taiwan. Sourced from independent farmers and freeze vacuum-dried in ultra-modern plants to preserve the extracted nutrients, these sweet treats offer an explosion of natural flavor. Up to 99% of the moisture is sucked out during the vacuum drying process, making the fruits light, easy to pack, and have a long shelf life.
The Freeze Dried Strawberry Crunch from Taiwanese food company I-Mei Foods, founded in 1934, is recommended. The flavor is great, and the cute, cartoonish design makes it a perfect gift for kids or adults who are still young at heart.
8. Award-winning soy sauce
A family-owned company from Pingtung County is responsible for making Doyoubo, whose naturally brewed tea bean soy sauce recently won a Golden Fork Award at the Great Taste Awards, also known as the world’s “Oscars of the food industry.” The soy sauce comes in sophisticatedly designed bottles that make the act of putting the condiment on the kitchen table feel like a bit of a treat.
Founded by the 82-year-old Li An-tian, the potent brew is said to “represent Taiwan” and has a unique salty-sweetness that some connoisseurs claim to drink straight up because of its high quality and flavor. Moderation is, nevertheless, advised.
9. Refined glassware
Most of the gift ideas mentioned so far have been modest, but you may want to splurge a little and bring back something more sophisticated. If so, go for glass – just make sure to wrap it well.
Founded in 1987, Liuligongfang was the first glass art workshop in Taiwan. Since then, it has become a leading brand known for its creativity, craft, and innovation. Liuli (琉璃) is the archaic Chinese word for glass artwork, and founders Loretta Yang Hui-shan and Chang Yi chose the name to reflect a more refined style that embodies Chinese culture and history.
Since its debut, Liuligongfang has been on display in Asia, Europe, South Africa, and the United States. It has also joined the permanent collections of numerous domestic and international museums.
10. Modern tea
High-quality Taiwanese tea doesn’t need to be packaged in boxes with trite, stereotypical design patterns. Tea Struck uses sleek, black-and-white packaging to present its hand-picked tea leaves. By blending traditional taste and novel design, Tea Struck brings forth a collision of old and new. Its flagship store is conveniently located in Taipei 101.