Taipei’s selection of night markets is a reason in and of itself to make the trip to Taiwan. In addition to the cheap, cheap clothes and shoes (and surprisingly good quality!) and great people watching, the food is amaaaazing. Well, amazing if you’re not vegetarian.
A lack of English signs and limited bilingual skills on either side may mean you’re not too sure what you’re digging into, but in my experience, there are only a few choices I’d really recommend avoiding, which we’ll get to. First, let’s start with the good.
My favorite thing, while not too exciting, is the sheer amount of fresh fruit. I nearly pass out every time from guava overload, quickly followed by a second course of dragon fruit, lychee and fresh fruit juice. I stay away from durian, which looks like more like a weapon than a food. You’ll smell it before you see it. No one has ever held a middle-ground opinion on durian, and if you try it, be warned that it will linger. The fruit section is basically a great introduction to Asian fruits, if you aren’t yet familiar.
Drinks continue the fruit tour, including a tea-like sweet wintermelon drink and something called Frog Laying Eggs, which is nothing like its name. It’s a lime drink with jelly (as in, Jell-O-ish) bits. You’ll recognize the stall from the frog on the sign.
Ease into the marathon with an oyster omelet and an egg wrapped in a pancake topped with hot sauce. Iron eggs are tiny black eggs that have been cooked over and over and over again in spices until they shrink. I’d recommend trying stinky tofu in Taiwan rather than Hong Kong. It’s certainly less stinky and way more visually pleasing. Instead of a quivering slab, it’s served in small chunks and dressed up with peppers. The stink will certainly still hit you, so steel yourself. Octopus soup is really fishy; don’t try it unless you can’t live without seafood. For the rest, stock up on grilled squid or fried soft-shell crab.
Meaty Dishes and More
Many dishes available can be described as “gelatinous”, including thick, flat rice noodles that are eaten with a spoon, not chopsticks. You can get it without pork or beef, but the meat really helps in breaking up all that texture. Meat dumplings are super starchy with a thick and gelatinous wrapping. It’s served with gravy on top, and is an acquired taste.
Some of the unhealthier options are unsurprisingly great. Deep-fried mushrooms act as an appetizer to a sausage stuffed with glutinous rice and more sausage. Greasy heaven! Another proven choice are black pepper buns that are stuffed with pork and a generous amount of spring onions. The line for these is usually insane, in part because people love to watch how they’re made: Vendors chuck the buns onto the sides of a tandoor-style oven and let them sit for 15 minutes. Buy two; it’s a worthy investment. Lines are also long at the fried chicken stall, and the size outweighs the cost by about a million to one.
If you can handle more, sit down to a bowl of beef noodles or minced meat rice with Taiwan-style kimchi on the side. Pig intestine noodles topped with mini oysters is a quintessential night market dish. In fact, there are a lot of marinated organs on the menus.
After recovering, it’s time for dessert. The night markets serve up tasty shaved ice. Top it with jelly, sweet red beans, taro balls and sweet potato balls, or just order those on their own. Another delicious option is glutinous rice balls in ginger soup.
Something I wouldn’t particularly recommend is another quintessential night market staple: pig’s blood in rice pudding. It’s absolutely gelatinous, covered in peanut powder for a sweet finish, and served on a stick. It can be confused for red bean cake (if the cake’s not molded into a cute shape). It’s a must for those with adventurous tastes!
Hungry? Have more suggestions? Let us know!