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!