夜市. Night Markets. The eponymous Taiwanese street markets with glitzy lights, noisy hawkers shouting and wonderful aromas of fried chicken and 臭豆腐 (Stinky Tofu).
You cannot go to Taiwan without going to a Night Market (or 2… or 7…). Night markets are found in virtually every major city (and many smaller cities) in Taiwan and are frequented by local Taiwanese and foreigners alike. You can buy so many different things from clothing, Bubble Tea (珍珠奶茶), Steamed Pork Dumplings (小籠包) and many other food items, fresh fruit juices or even some packaged food items for you to bring home (this is more for tourists though).
Whenever I go to Taiwan, and many of my friends feel the same, I feel that I will be eating my weight every day. Its a land of nonstop snacking and the moment you have just a little bit of space in your stomach, you find another stall or shop selling some amazing, delicious food and you shell you 45元 for some yummy pork bun or wonton soup or bubble tea or fried chicken. My mind is certainly going crazy with the sheet amount of choices. You could throw a rock in central Taichung and find many yummy food stalls. And if you know any local Taiwanese, they will bring you to their favorite spots. Don’t even think about relying on Yelp (or Zomato for you Aussies).. you either need to know someone who knows the best or you just have to dive in, walk up to a vendor, point at something and say “一個” (yi ge) — which means simply “one of those please”.
The most famous night market in all of Taiwan is the Shilin night market, in the Shilin district of Taipei. There you have streets and streets, alleyways and alleyways, filled of hawkers selling their delicous food items under the light of bright and luminous neon signs that provide a spotlight for your culinary adventures. Don’t bother looking up at the sky, you’ll just see lights. You are taken into a world of adventure and delight as you sample so many amazing dishes.
I am an adventurous eater, so I won’t mind trying things at least once. And one of the best things about Night Markets is that you’ll find smaller portions so you can try more than one thing. I have adventured through many, many night markets, both alone and with friends, and of course the more people you have, the more you can shove in your stomach (note: wear shorts with an elastic waistband.. it will help, trust me).
As you wander through a night market, an ever familiar pungent smell that tickles your nostrils will consistently have you wondering where it may be coming from, and whether it is someone not throwing out the trash properly or if someone is concocting some interesting food item. Well, I am happy to say it is the latter and that smell that is intriguing your nostrils is none other than 臭豆腐 (chou do fu) — Stinky Tofu. There are a few cooking variations of Stinky Tofu, but the most common (and my favorite) is deep-fried (because when is something not yummy when it is deep-fried?). The tofu is fermented, which is what gives it the pungent odor, and then typically serviced with a chili sauce (which is usually more sweet, than spicy — not much of Taiwanese food is actually spicy — well if you ask someone from Southeast Asia).
You can otherwise find countless other yummy things at Taiwan’s night markets. And a good, clear indicator of a food to try is finding a stall with a long line. As with many other countries in Asia, if you see a line for food, it is generally something worth waiting for. One of the bubble tea stalls I came across at Shilin Night Market in Taipei was something that was only making its way to the US and Australia only recently: the wonferful caramelized boba pearls. Boba, the tapioca pearls added to milk tea to make it “Bubble Tea”, are cooked with sugar together in a pan and caramelized to perfection. Just when it liquidy enough, the caramelized boba is put into a cup along with full fat milk, a bit of milk foam and then on top: sugar is dusted and subsequently brûléed with a torch to add an additional texture to the drink. With Taiwan being inexpensive for the average traveller, this drink will only set you back about 45元.
This is the wonder of Taiwan. Food Food Food. If your travels ever take you to Taiwan, you will be in for a wonderful treat of just being in food heaven. I am always at a loss of picking new countries to visit because I know that if I go to Taiwan, I will be filling my stomach to my heart’s content (as well as not really breaking the bank either). My instagram post on my first night in Taiwan when I visited in July 2018 definitely sums up my sentiments.