Taipei's Night Markets

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Taipei is famous for its night markets, especially ShiDa Night Market, which is right across the street from one of the country's best universities. To me, the ShiDa Night Market is odd in that it doesn't seem to take advantage of daylight hours when students have time to kill ... the majority of the stores open after 3pm, some after 5pm.

I don't live too far from the Tong Hua Night Market, which I visited with my cousin and her cousin my first week here.

There are standalone stores here that are open at night as well as during the day, but there are also plenty of stalls that open only at night. Some sold iPhone cases, some sold black tights (which seems to have stores devoted to just that ... black tights!), some sold dried fruit, some sold costume jewelry. Others stalls were devoted to food like fried chicken, bubble tea, seafood, and stinky tofu. 

I haven't had stinky tofu yet during this trip, but it's basically squares of fermented tofu either steamed or fried. And yes, it stinks! But it tastes really good (or did the last time I had it), and in the case of stinky tofu, the stinkier it is, the better it actually tastes.

Here is what a typical street in Taipei looks like, during the day:

At the night market, we went to one of the dessert shops which serves a typical Taiwanese dessert of "chua bing," or shaved ice. The shaved ice here is very different from shaved ice back in the United States, as the toppings aren't just limited to flavored syrups. 

My cousin ordered mine for me -- it contains red beans, sweet rice balls/tangyuan (the light purple and orange balls), "boba" balls (the black balls) and either "grass" or "tortoise" jelly/Guilinggao (I can't remember). Neither jellies are made of the things that they're named after -- well, the "grass jelly" is made from the stalks of a plant in the mint family, and commercially-made "tortoise jelly" (which has a sweet but slightly medicinal flavor) is made from some sort of herb. According to Wikipedia, though, traditionally it is made from powdered tortoise shell (and from an extremely endangered tortoise, at that!) and herbs. And under all of this, somewhere, is ice. 

It's very filling and not exactly what I would call my ideal dessert, but it seems relatively healthy and not overly sweet.

My cousin's cousin ordered something similar, but with a soft tofu base (I guess it's known as "tofu pudding") instead of ice:

This "tofu pudding" is sold in the Chinese neighborhoods of New York City, too. When I was a child, it was a treat to get a tub of the stuff, which came with a ginger syrup that could be poured over the pudding to sweeten it and give it flavor. It can be eaten with savory ingredients, too.

And according to my cousin, the place we went to was the most popular one of its kind in Taipei, and frequented by celebrities. She pointed out this wall which was covered in signatures (or autographs, I suppose):

I probably wouldn't recognize an Asian celebrity if my life depended on it! I wonder if any American celebs have visited this place ... there seems to be some English mixed in with all the Chinese names ...

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