The very essence of a night market has got to be what it offers one in terms of food choice. All over Asia, food plays such an important role that cannot be under reported. Because the continent teems with people, sustenance is critical.
And so the tradition of food lives on here on the most beautiful island, Formosa as named by the Portuguese.
Night markets exist all over the island. But in particular, the ones in Taipei are something we devote a little more focus on in this story. Fans and foodies of Taiwan will probably lambast us for what could be a lame coverage of night markets in Taiwan, but hey that’s all the material we have available with photos for “evidence”.
Of the many that we found from simply trawling through net, we chose three locations – one for each free night we were privileged to have.
Tong Hua (通化) and Linjiang (臨江)
This one’s gotta be one of most outspread night market. Strictly speaking, the market is in a small alley street that is rather narrow. Stalls on both sides of the street, some of them literally just the extension of the small restaurants. Some seating available but rather cramped. One thing though, the food stallholders are interspersed with shops selling clothes and accessories etc.
Coming here can be a little tricky. We alighted from Xinyi AnHe (信義安和) station on MRT line 2 and started to walk on the road (section 4) in the direction of Taipei 101. Make a right when you see Tonghua street. The night market is quite a few lanes further down along Linjiang street (臨江路).
Come here before 6pm and you will find that most of the stallholders had already set up shop. Time to shop for a meal!
And it is not just the night market street itself that lends to the atmosphere. In the many small streets and alleys there are also very delicious meals to be had. We had our first take of “smelly tofu 臭豆腐” for NT$50 a serving. Then it was time to taste Taiwan’s famed Hokkien meat balls (肉圓). The carrot cake tasted heavenly too! All this for just NT$125.
This was followed in rapid succession by pork noodles in a small shop located along lane 39 (通化肉圓). Melvin had the dry noodle while Suan took the one with the soup. We shared a mixed dish of seaweed, bean curd and braised eggs. All this only for NT$150.
It’s a good thing the portions are not too large and commensurate with the prices. So you can keep eating without worry that it will be too much!
Rao He (饒河)
Located near the Keelung river, it means ‘surrounding the river’ for a literal translation. And indeed it does as it snakes parallel to the river. We took MRT line 3 to get here, alighting at the terminal station Songshan (松山) and walking out at exit 5. This is the best exit as you will be at the start of the street with its archway welcoming you.
Ciyou (慈祐宮) temple is also located here and quite a sight at night when lit up. We saw that stallholders are also lined up in front of the temple as pictured in the web.
As usual, the stallholders are all set up well before 6pm to start receiving the first diners. Being there early means we could take our time to select and start eating before it gets real crowded. As if we were on a western set meal we started with soup from the “uncle” who was just standing there waiting. Pork rib soup at that. Costing us just NT$70 per bowl, it came with a good number of the ribs which was not meatless. The point was to enjoy the soup, but the meatier than expected ribs were a bonus.
Again smelly (some say stinky) tofu was on the menu. Crispier than we had yesterday, it was hot and wonderful. This stall’s located the opposite end of the market. As usual it came with cabbage to help soothe the throat since it’s all so ‘heaty’. Seems there is a set price in the markets – NT$50 for a serving.
Stir fried oyster omelette is one thing to try too and we did (NT$65). This one seems a little starchy though. The stall is back-to-back with the smelly tofu stall but we cannot order both at the same time… have to change seating. Hmm.
We were very curious that there are many stalls that offer beef steaks on the go. So it was natural to simply just try it. For a 6oz slab costs just NT$150 and it will be prepared on the spot for you – teppanyaki style. It did take like 10 minutes to really have it cooked thoroughly (we don’t want gastric problems),
And many of the markets do sell this – pepper pie. Said to be a traditional pie (can someone enlighten), it sold for NT$50 a piece. The long queue attests to this stall’s popularity. Since it is baked, it is very toasty when you bite into the crispy dough. Be careful not to scald yourself though.
Definitely a place to visit.
Ning Xia (宁夏)
This final one for the trip was very small and definitely the smallest one of all that we have visited on this journey. Not being very near any MRT means it is a walk. Taking line 3 and alighting at the Zhong Shan (中山) station, we took exit 4. From there it is a walk up Nanjing West road. After crossing two streets come up to a roundabout and should not miss the crowds walking in the same direction.
Actually like Tong Hua, there are side streets with numerous other stalls and small restaurants. There is a push cart located at the junction of Minsheng west road (民生路) and Ningxia road. Wow, the braised food stall cost us only NT$80 for 2 chicken wings, a bean curd and a yam loaf and daikon. It had a really long queue. While waiting for our order to be cut and prepared, we spoke to a man who told us this little stall is very popular and affordable. He comes by just to pick up a pack and go!
Before proceeding to walk the market we chanced upon a queue. It’s only 5:30pm and there are already many waiting in line. So we joined them… and it was for Oyster omelette stalls (NT$65/plate served). You can have the serving in a small seating area. Actually we should have ordered two servings. But the modesty in us goaded us to only share one. How regretful.
The market itself is not large. However the difference is that the stalls here have large seating areas behind them for use by patrons. It felt more like an open air “zichar” (煮炒) of the kind we are familiar with in Singapore and Malaysia, probably more Malaysia these days. There was even a seafood stall with live shrimps and fish that you can select fresh. Imagine the amount of work to set up shop every day in the evening.
We should have ordered more of the “UFO” pie at NT$50/piece. It was really nice! And to see the ingredients that went into making was on display. And we found out that in Taiwan they use cabbage for the “popiah”. As we sat at the back of stall eating, we spoke with an elderly lady who was also there for a quick meal. She told us that quite many of the stallholders are related, and that perhaps differences had led them to set up rival stalls. Competition is obviously a boon for consumers, so we should not complain.
Yes we gave Shilin (士林) a miss. And this is intentional. So much literature is available on Shilin that nothing can be added from our end. Besides, we wanted to see the other markets rather than the frequently quoted ones. And indeed we were not disappointed.
Each market appears to have quite similar stalls selling different versions of the same dishes. It can be really hard to tell which one is the best. The one thing that is sure is – the prices are relatively affordable. Quite sure these stalls would not last long if their offer did not meet the expectations of diners.