Story by Manos Angelakis
Photography by Manos Angelakis and Barbara Angelakis
Taipei’s Night Markets
In Asian cooking, the ingredients are always extremely fresh, whether the cook practices his/her craft at home, in restaurants or night-market stalls. “Night Market” is the name given to open-air areas in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore, housing numerous stalls that sell a variety of inexpensive but tasty food. In ancient China, markets that operated at night were known as “ghost markets”; in Malaysia and Singapore, night markets are now commonly referred to as Pasar Malam, which literally means night market, "pasar" being related to "bazaar", a Persian word meaning “marketplace”.
Eating is a national pastime in Taiwan. Food courts appear at practically every highway stop and the basements of many large buildings. For tasty local food though, head to the night market; there is quite a number of them in Taipei and they all offer quality and variety for little money.
Chinese foods can range from spicy to bland, steamed to deep-fried, and the list goes on. Night markets in Taipei are street markets that operate in urban or suburban areas. A few, such as Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market also known as Snake Alley, utilize purpose-built structures but most occupy either sidewalks or entire streets that would be normal thoroughfares by day. The atmosphere is crowded and noisy, especially during traditional holidays.
I was in Taiwan for the annual Lantern Festival – a celebration of the end of the Chinese New Year’s festivities - and a few of our group decided to visit a night market near our hotel.
These night markets have become famous for their xiaochi foods (xiaochi roughly translates to "small eats" i.e. finger foods). Cooked in small portions, these dishes are often taken as carry-out items, but numerous sellers provide folding tables with stools or folding chairs where customers can stop and consume their purchases. Though some of the xiaochi will change from year to year, certain others such as sliced boiled or roasted chicken, steamed or fried buns, deep-fried calamari or cuttlefish, oyster omelets, and stinky tofu endure and have become staples in many of the markets.
The Shilin Night Market first opened in 1899 and is centered on the Yangming Theater in the Shilin District of Taipei; it is considered to be the largest and most famous night market in the city. The market encompasses two distinct sections sharing a symbiotic relationship: a section formerly housed in the old Shilin Market building contains mostly food vendors and small eateries; and the surrounding businesses and shops are selling nonfood items. The food court holds 539 stalls, and the second floor serves as a parking lot for 400 cars.
The night market we visited on this trip was the Ning Xia Night Market. The first half of the market is dedicated to eating establishments and is the most crowded part, while the other half is for mostly clothing and shoes. The food part has cooking stalls in the buildings on both sides of the street, plus free-standing ones occupying the center of the street.
Some of the most famous dishes:
No trip to the night market would be complete without a bowl of oyster noodles; fresh oysters are added to noodles and broth thickened with starch, then served with stewed sausage, Chinkiang vinegar, and a special sauce, topped with cilantro. Another very popular item, an oyster omelet, is made from fresh oysters coated in potato or sweet potato starch and fried in a wok or a flat-top grill with eggs and onions, then served with a special sweet and sour sauce. Stinky tofu is fermented tofu squares - the stinkier the better the taste is supposed to be - deep fried and served with pickled cabbage, carrots and chili sauce. Chicken broth with gizzards, chicken livers, and rooster testicles is quite popular, served by itself or with noodles in it. Large squid and cuttlefish, either grilled or deep fried, are also very popular, and thin strips of the grilled mollusks are sold in paper bags, to be consumed while walking around the market.
A Taiwanese popular dessert is pineapple cake, bite-sized morsels in a crumbly shell that contains sweetened, pressed pineapple. Every bakery stall offers its own unique version.
© April 2014 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.