The World's Best Street Food - Bamboo Rice (Taiwan)

Global travel authority Lonely Planet presents an inspirational and informative new guide to The World’s Best Street Food.


Is ‘Think globally, act locally’ your motto? You can’t get any more local than this delicious, dense, highly nutritious meal-in-bamboo made entirely from locally grown, gathered and hunted ingredients.

What is it?

Zhutong fan (bamboo rice) is made by stuffing thick stalks of bamboo with a mixture of glutinous rice, vegetables and wild boar meat. The stalk is then sealed (usually with tinfoil and a rubber band) and steamed over hot coals. The result is a filling and flavourful snack that’s perfect for toting along on treks through mountains and jungles, or, if you’re less ambitious, for just sitting on the side of the road.

Finding It

Wulai in Taipei County and other areas with large tribal populations along Taiwan’s east coast are the best places to find this dish; it’s also available in Xishuangbana (Yunnan, China). It will cost around 50 to 60 Taiwan dollars (AUD $1.60 to AUD $1.90).


A 30-minute bus ride from Taipei’s southern-most MRT station brings you to a world far removed from the urban landscape of Taipei to the riverside mountain town of Wulai. In addition to boasting some of northern Taiwan’s finest hiking and hot springs, it’s here on Wulai’s cobblestone-paved main drag where you’ll find zhutong fan stalls springing up in the winter months, when the bamboo is mature. Though no one will fault you for enjoying your zhutong fan on the street, for a more genuine experience why not take a couple of stalks (and maybe a bottle of millet wine, another local speciality) on a bit of a trek? Hike along the river (steaming in spots – it’s geothermal) until you find a spot that feels right. Crack open a bamboo stalk and peel off the outer layer like a banana skin. Then enjoy the sticky, savoury rice – held together by the onion-skin-like inner membrane and emanating the delicate fragrance of bamboo – in the time-honoured manner of the people who created the dish.


Zhutong fan owes its existence to the nutritional needs of tribal hunter-gatherers. After all, what better way to carry a full, filling and nutritionally sound meal of glutinous rice, boar meat and locally harvested vegetables than inside an easily tucked-away (in belt, quiver or loincloth) bamboo stalk?


Though zhutong fan is typically made with pork, some tribal chefs cater to vegetarians, substituting chunks of wild mushroom for boar meat. To indicate that you’re a vegetarian, say ‘Wo jiu chi sude’, which, literally translated, means ‘I only eat pure’.

RECIPE - Taiwanese Bamboo Cup Sticky Rice

As the particular kind of bamboo used in this street snack is only available in limited locations for a short period of the year, we’ve provided an alternative but similar recipe that
can be much more easily produced at home. Using cups made from bamboo stalks will impart the flavour of the bamboo to the rice, but if you can’t find these, use eight small pudding basins or rice bowls instead, greased with a little oil.

You’ll Need

4 cups sticky rice
8–10 dried shiitake mushrooms
½ tbs dried shrimp
a little cooking oil
230g minced pork
3 tbs thick soy sauce
2–3 shallots, chopped
boiling water
optional garnish: sweet chilli sauce, coriander leaves


1. Wash the rice thoroughly and drain.
2. Reconstitute the dried mushrooms and shrimp in hot tap water for 10 minutes and then chop into pieces.
3. Stir-fry the pork with the cooking oil in a hot wok until brown. Drain excess oil.
4. Stir in the mushrooms, shrimp, soy sauce and shallots.
5. Divide the pork mixture between the bamboo cups or greased pudding bowls and press down fi rmly with a spoon.
6. Add rice, again packing down with a spoon, until each cup is about two-thirds full.
7. Add boiling water to just cover the rice in each cup.
8. Place the cups in a bamboo steamer. Alternatively you can place the cups directly in a large pot with about 5cm of water in the bottom, and cover with a lid.
9. Steam at a high heat for 30–35 minutes. Leave in the steamer an additional 10 minutes with the heat off before serving.
10. To serve, you can either turn the rice out onto a plate, or leave it in the cups. It’s great on its own or topped with a little sweet chilli sauce and coriander leaves.

Serves: 8

by Joshua Samuel Brown

Read all about Gelato from the book here!

This is an extract from The World’s Best Street Food by Tom Parker Bowles,et al. © Lonely Planet 2012. Available now from all good bookstores.RRP: $29.99,

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