Two of our meals in our last few weeks in Taiwan were consumed completely at the night market, including our last dinner. There’s something fun about food you can carry with you. It’s like a buffet with hundreds of other people that you pay for every dish! OK, maybe that didn’t sound as awesome as it really is, but I still love it. Here is a list of the dishes we consumed in those night-time dining experiences.
The fry anything booth is both a constant joke, like Moe’s short-term restaurant in the Simpsons (I’m sure there’s a stand that can flash-fry a buffalo in 42 seconds), and a source of deep-fried pleasure. My favourites are the green beans and the yams, but you can get almost any kind of meat, organ meat, a few vegetables (for the health-conscious), french fries, yams, and more than I can think of right now. These are very popular and just may be the most plentiful type of food stand in Taiwan, and not only in markets.
Deep fried soft-shelled crab was something I had heard about and had been looking forward to trying for some time. It’s entirely edible, including the shell. It’s quite tasty and the shell’s not really off-putting, at least in my opinion. I’d give the legs a pass, though, and stick to the body.
Deep fried mushrooms are next. Mmm, healthy, right? These were really, really good, and they’re sold with basil leaves, making them extra tasty.
Shrimp cakes round out our deep fried category. Normally found in Thai restaurants, I’ve seen a couple of stands now where they just slap some shrimp punk in between some dough and drop it in the deep fryer. As this is basically what a shrimp cake in a Thai restaurant is, they’re pretty awesome, especially with the Thai sweet-spicy sauce served with them. No picture, however, due to the fact that the stand was really busy and the cakes really good.
The boil anything stand is similar to the fry anything booth, except that your selections are boiled in broth rather than fried in oil. The choices are a little different – still lots of meat and organ meat, but there are also necks, heads, and feet, in addition to blood cake and seaweed.
Octopus balls were introduced to me by my first manager here and are one of my favourite snacks, though I never seem to be around them when I want them. They’re actually a tiny bit of octopus in a big ball of dough, fried up and garnished with mayo, wasabi, and dried fish flakes. Trust me, they’re awesome, though the fish flakes can be smelled ten paces away – they’re really strong.
Everything balls are like octopus balls, except that they have everything in them. So it seems, anyway. Corn niblets, ham, octopus, squid, and some kind of fish or scallop are what I remember, and I’m sure there’s more, plus the dough that’s used to cement them all together. They’re so big that you only get two per order (as opposed to six octopus balls), topped with your choice of toppings: there were two types of brown sauce (not sure what they were), wasabi, mayo, and fish flakes. Filling, to say the least.
Fried quail egg balls were pretty tasty, especially if you love eggs. I like watching the vendor crack the wee eggs into the frying contraption – they’re pretty fast, though I suppose you have to be to stop anything from burning. And they’re served on a stick – lovely.
Dumplings are a necessary part of any night market, and these small ones were freshly made, cute, and delicious with a splash of soy sauce.
Green onion pancakes are my oldest favourite in Taiwan, so naturally I was elated when Christine learned how to make them. Fried up on a large round grill and served with a spicy sauce and a sweet sauce, they’re an awesome late afternoon snack when you’re in a hurry and hungry.
Stinky tofu is the subject of much derision in Taiwan, often even by the Taiwanese. The reason? Just look at the name. It smells, some say, like an open sewer. Some compare it to a stable, while others…I think you get the drift. It’s not the most pleasant thing you could smell (though there is a saying that says it smells like hell and tastes like heaven), and most foreigners avoid it like the plague. We tried it the first time we were in Taiwan, right before we left, and while it wasn’t heaven in my mouth, I found it much better than I thought I would, especially with the delicious pickled veggies served with it. This time around, I enjoyed it even more – it’s still not my favourite kind of tofu in the world, but I’d eat it again.
Barbequed anything. Well, pretty much anything. This was one of my favourites at the market. You take a basket, choose whatever meat (or vegetables) on a stick you want, and hand it to the guy behind the counter for cooking over coals. Along with the usual selection of organs and bits of meat, squid, and green beans, there were skewers of bacon with green onion and green pepper. This was amazingly good, especially with the sauce that is brushed on it after it’s finished cooking. This stand was visited on both visits to the night market.
I’m seriously going to miss night markets and their wide selection of deliciousness. In addition to what I’ve talked about here, there are sit down places serving hot pot, noodles, even the gravy-beef-egg combo we know so lovingly as Heart Attack Platter. This variety of deliciousness endears Taiwan to me, and always will.