10 April 2016

Eat Your Heart Out: TPE Night Markets

If you live a late night lifestyle like I do, Taiwan’s night markets are essential eating for you. Most of them are open until midnight or later and they have all the delicious foods you crave while taking that disco nap. While I didn’t explore every night market in Taipei, I went to a lot of them. Trying to do a must-eat list of any night market is beyond the scope of this post but I wanted to highlight some favorites items. If you’re looking for fancy photos and nice reviews, you’re looking in the wrong place. I was there to eat, eat, eat.

My basic M.O. was to walk along and collect everything I wanted, and then sit down at a soupy noodle place to eat everything. Some of my staple foods at night markets: fried chicken, guava, fried squid, aiyu jelly or grass jelly drink, pan fried dumplings, maybe an egg fried rice if I’m feeling rice-y. And if I’m around any tofu pudding 豆花 I have to get it. I can eat a lot at one sitting, despite appearances. Nothing disappoints me more than when a partner-in-eating takes three bites and then declares that they're stuffed. Really?!

Here's my other post on late night and non-night market foods I liked: TPE Eats. And if you're don't want to read a thing, just check out the Foursquare list I made.

Ningxia Night Market 寧夏夜市
This was my go-to night market for late night dinner or a snack. The main drag is pretty short but filled with delicious foods. While the fried food selection tends to be lacking, there's a little bit of everything here, even if most of the stuff isn't top notch. Still, it's an easy in-and-out option, with a slew of shaved ice and dessert places. Sometimes I would swing by Ningxia right after dinner elsewhere, simply for dessert.
  • Boneless Milkfish @ 李家香無刺虱目魚 : This delicate fish soup is light and delicious. Perfect to wash down all the other stuff you just gorged on.
  • Sesame Peanut Mochi Shaved Ice @ Linji Mochi 林記燒麻糬 : One of my favorite desserts in Taiwan, although when I took friends to it, half of them weren't as enthusiastic. I don't care, this giant mochi ball concoction is a winner.
  • Sweet glutinous balls 湯圓 and sweet tofu : There’s actually two stands right next to each other on the right side of the street, and they serve similar but slightly different items. Pick your poison, as it were.
  • Thai fusion @ 泰味鮮 : It's more like Taiwanese food with Thai flavors, and good for some staple rice and noodle items.
  • Pig liver soup @ Yuan Huan 圓環邊蚵仔煎 : Most people come here for the oyster pancake 蚵仔煎 but I don’t mess with that stuff so I come for the liver soup.
Raohe Night Market 饒河夜市
This is the night market that many people cite as their favorite. The main reason is that it's got a huge selection of food and with just one long street, it's easy to stroll down. Of course, if it's crowded, which Raohe most often is, getting through just one side can be a chore.

Ciyou Temple 慈祐宮 sits at one end of Raohe and is a nice "wow" moment if you're bringing friends. Note: I tend to skip the wait for the famous Fuzhou pepper bun, or hujiao bing 胡椒餅, because the line is always so long. But if you've never tried it you should get it at least once.
  • Okonomiyaki @ Fukushima Yaki 福島屋圓圓燒 : There's two okonomiyaki spots but this one is better. Look for the yellow awning, the two dudes slinging it, and the round portions (as opposed to the square version).
  • Oyster vermicelli @ 百年老店 : There's a lot of rice vermicelli around, of course, and you might be intrigued by the line at the various Ah-Chung Flour Rice Noodle spots. But this tiny stall at Raohe is delicious and I'd recommend getting the oyster vermicelli, the meatball soup, and the rice. [Can't find a link to this place, so not sure if that's the name. Consult the photo.]
Shilin Night Market 士林夜市
The most touristy and biggest night market in Taipei. Shilin is often a shit show. But there's a ton of shopping there, multiple alleys and avenues to explore, and you gotta go just to go. For most of my time in Taipei I avoided Shilin except when friends visited because I didn't love any of the food there.

Then I discovered the best cold noodle place in all of Taipei. Exclamation exclamation! Now, I've had a lot of cold noodle places -- after hours, for lunch, in my dreams -- but this one is seriously the best. Something about their peanut sauce is just way better than the other cold noodle spots. Sure, Shilin is a little far up there but the Jiantan MRT drops you right off at the entrance and shockingly, Uber-ing there is pretty cheap, like NT150 from Zhongxiao Xinsheng.
  • Cold noodles @ 好朋友涼麵 : They only serve cold noodles and egg drop soup but what a combo. This was my last meal in Taipei right before I left. I weep for how late I discovered these noodles. The name means "good friend" and it's very apt. Farewell friend, farewell...

Shida Night Market 師大夜市
For three months I lived right in Shida night market so I’m pretty familiar with it. Even still, there’s a ton of food I haven’t tried there, and even something pretty well-known, like the salted water chicken I didn’t try until my last week in Taiwan. There’s too much stuff to go over in detail but my go-tos were the scallion pancakes (not as good as one in Dongmen, but serviceable), the gua bao 割包, saying hello to the noodle robot, lu wei 燈籠滷味, and the breakfast spot when you go to class at 10AM (or when you come back from Chess at 5AM),… The list goes on. But below are some highlights.

Also, Roboppy has a list of her favorite places to eat in Shida and covers quite a lot of ground, so you should take a look. Actually Robyn is dropping incredible posts about everything Taiwan recently, so go check out all her Favorite Things Taiwan pieces.
Lehua Night Market 樂華夜市
While this night market is quite a bit further away, out to the east by Dingxi MRT in New Taipei, I really like it. For one, it's expansive, with a variety of foods and shops to look at. Also, I've only got one recommendation here, which makes it a super special spot...
  • Thai papaya salad @ 官記泰式涼拌木瓜 : The story goes that this guy used to be a gangster (and I believe it) but is now slinging papaya salad. It's a husband-and-wife team and there's always a huge line because he makes the papaya salad one by one. You'll see why it takes so long once you get there. (Tip: Be careful when ordering because even the mild spicy is crazy hot.) I've only ever had this dish twice but I've gone to Lehua four times to look for it -- it's often closed. This papaya salad is fucking great and I kind of just like watching him make it. Maximum effort for maximum papaya. 
And of course there's a whole bunch of other night markets in Taipei but these were the ones I frequented the most. I went to Tonghua a few times, walked through Datong once, cruised the very traditional Huaxi one, including the weird and sort of scary Snake Alley. When we were very young I remember going to Snake Alley and thinking how cool it was, but now it's basically dilapidated and freaky. Some interesting turtle specimens in the tanks though!

05 April 2016

Eat Your Heart Out: Taiwan

When I first got to Taipei, it was a joy to walk around and randomly find wonderful places to eat. The problem was re-finding a spot. Enter Foursquare/Swarm. I highly recommend downloading both apps and using Swarm to check-in and Foursquare to look for food. While Yelp is in Taiwan now, it's still relatively new and I find a lot of places not on it still.

My entire eating guide for Taiwan is available as a Foursquare list, if you wanna just follow that: Eat Your Heart Out, TPE Edition. As you'll soon realize, fifty-percent of my food consumption is noodles. And here's my other post about favorite night market foods if you wanna take a look.

Late Night Options
While there's always the old standbys for late nights -- 24-hour beef noodle soup, Chinese breakfast joints, 小李子 for congee, cold noodle spots, slurping 7-Eleven instant noodles while sitting on the curb -- I've discovered a few places that are open later than usual and worth the trek. No surprise, Taipei is a night owl's eating paradise.

Also take a look at Thousandth Girl's breakdown of late night eats before you dive into mine because Steph breaks it down pretty accurately. As usual.

  • Chubby noodles @ Gao Jia Silver Needle Noodles 高家莊米苔目 : Open from 7PM till 5AM. There’s basically only five things on the menu here and the standout is the chubby noodles, but you’ll want to order a bit of everything. Note: Seating is outside.
  • Fried fish, plus everything @ 阿財虱目魚肚 : This place doesn’t even open until 10PM, and it stays open till 5AM. I love a variety of things here, from the fried fish to the clam soup, to the fried rice. Mostly it's a nice step up from other late night basic eats. The only downside is that oftentimes there’s a long line.
  • Noodles @ Matsu Noodles 四鄉五島馬祖麵店 : This place is open late, depending on location, and has a variety of noodles plus some fried chicken and nice sides to set things off. Plus there’s a plastic bin of hard boiled eggs right in front, which is the sign of a in-the-know establishment.
  • Seafood congee @ 嘉義鮑魚海產粥 : Now this was a true hidden gem, also another open until 5AM. This place serves individually stewed pots of congee filled with fish, shrimp, oysters, and other assorted seafood. It's a wonderful remedy on a rainy night.
  • Dim sum @ Sweet Dynasty 糖朝 : I don’t mess with much dim sum in Taipei but Sweet Dynasty is open until 2AM and useful as it’s just above Omni night club. Warning: They seem to run out of the popular dishes late at night but if you’re in a pinch for dim sum, this will do.
  • Cold Noodles @ Deluxe Noodle 劉媽媽涼麵 : If you go clubbing in Xinyi then you’ve probably been here. Cold noodles and egg drop soup served outdoors. Open from 10PM until 6AM. Classic. Also, there’s Chen’s noodles 陳家涼麵 nearby, but I hugely prefer this one.
  • Noodles and lu rou fan @ 芝香雞肉飯 : Another post-clubbing staple, this spot is located right across from Taipei City Hall MRT so it's very convenient, and open until 6AM on most nights. Similar rotation of cold noodles, lu rou fan, and egg drop soup.

In General

  • Beef noodle soup @ 濟南牛肉麵 : Everyone has their own favorite beef noodle soup place. This is mine, right by Zhongxiao Xinshen MRT and family run. My grandmother has been going to this place since she was young. The secret's in the broth, which has all kinds of extra complexity over the normal beef noodle soup broth. (Don't confuse this for 七十二牛肉麵 directly across the street.) My usual option B for beef noodle soup, although in a totally different direction, was 林東芳牛肉麵.
  • Yakiniku @ 弍兩日式炭火燒肉 : My Malaysian friend’s parting gift was to introduce me to this cheap Japanese BBQ spot. The decor is worth half a star but the food is delicious and the prices outrageous. There’s an all you can eat NT399 option but we could never even eat enough to get to NT399 so we just ordered plate-by-plate. While they have a lot of things on the menu, after multiple tries we basically just stuck with the beef slices. So freaking cheap and good! This spot is the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Wonton noodles @ 奇福扁食 : Located near the Dongmen MRT, my classmate put me on this and it quickly became a staple restaurant for me. A quick bowl of wonton noodle soup, what's not to love?
  • Sausages @ 紅花大香腸 : The one I frequented was at the entrance of Tongan Night Market and it was the best sausage I’d ever eaten. There are a lot of sausage vendors at the various night markets but this one was just simply above the rim.
  • Octopus noodles @  Tainan Way 臺南味 : I covered this already in my post about slurpy things, but I’ll put it down again because the octopus noodles are just that good. Plus dumplings!
  • Soba @ 2½ Months Soba 二月半 : Also covered in the previous post, and worth repeating.