I was in Taipei for the first time in January and was looking forward to eating all kinds of Chinese street food after hearing so much about the city’s famous night markets from family, friends and on TV.
After three days in Taipei, I only visited one night market, which was rather small and low-profile (i.e. not overrun with tourists). I really enjoyed myself during this brief stay – walked around a lot in the sunny yet cool weather, had my fill of Chinese food, met several nice Taiwanese people including a former colleague from Banyan Tree, went bookstore-browsing at midnight, sipped some fragrant tea, enjoyed what seemed to me to be a slower pace of city life…
Here are some of the street food, snacks and meals that I had in Taipei:
On Sunday night, my ex-colleague brought me to Ximending 西門町, which was buzzing with life and lots of young people hanging out with their friends or shopping. What a refreshing change from the sleepy streets of Brussels, where everyone seems to have disappeared after 8pm.
As we strolled through the crowd, she reminisced about her teenage years when her friends and her would save their pocket money for a special treat or date at Ximending. We stopped first at a stall that sold cuttlefish soup and cuttlefish balls, before going somewhere else to try the local tempura.
In Taiwan, tempura – also known as 甜不辣, is a commonly eaten snack that looks like a mix of fried fish cake with fried tofu and stewed radish. It reminded me of yong tau foo but it had a peculiar spring and chewy texture, what we would often refer to as ‘QQ’.
Fun fact: 甜不辣 sounds almost like ‘tempura’.
We also ordered a bowl of 天妇罗, which looked like french fries but tasted nothing like it. Again, it had a QQ texture! It was interesting to try these but I don’t think I’d order them again.
Background-foreground: 天妇罗, 甜不辣
The following night, my colleagues at W Taipei invited me to dinner and we had hotpot. Apparently, eating hotpot is very popular in Taipei. We ordered a half pot of spicy soup base and the other half with herbal chicken broth. How nice – the best of both worlds!
After dinner, we walked to the nearby night market 臨江夜市, also known as 通化夜市 Tonghua night market, for a foot massage.We stopped to have some roasted sugar cane juice 烤甘蔗汁, along the way. I had mine with a dash of ginger juice and it was delicious! Some people believe that sugar cane juice has health benefits like preventing colds, the formation of phlegm and coughing, as well as balancing the ‘yin-yang’ when one gets too ‘heaty’. Me? I drink it because it’s refreshingly sweet!
I was rather amused with the roasted sugarcane stalks – first time seeing them roasted before being pressed for juice! – and my colleague decided that it warranted a photo.
With our roasted sugar cane juice in hand, we made our way to 脚神 – which literally means ‘leg/foot god’ – for our post-dinner foot massage. This was the first time I was having a foot massage in more than a year.
How sweet life can be!