This is the second post highlighting my trip to Taiwan and Japan in February 2017. Other posts in this series include A Tour of Top Taiwanese Dishes – Part I: Noodles, Dumplings, and Breakfast.
Night markets are all over Taiwan.
Taiwan night markets are a sight (and smell!) to behold – a collection of food stalls selling everything from popcorn fried chicken, oyster omelets, and fruit to more exotic things like deep fried stinky tofu, fresh durians, and even chicken testicles (!). I think the only way to really experience the heart and soul of Taiwanese food is to visit one of these.
Although Shilin Night Market (士林夜市) is the most famous night market in Taipei, many say that Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市) has the best food. Our local food-obsessed friend took us here to try several bites before jetting off to a couple more locations to try a couple other specialities.
1. Oyster Omelet (or Oyster pancake) from Lai’s Fried Oyster Omelet 賴蚵仔煎
The oyster omelet is one of the most quintessential Taiwanese street dishes, and the one at Lai’s Oyster Omelet in Ningxia Night Market is one of the best. It’s made of eggs, potato starch, leafy greens, and oysters stir fried to order on a searing hot griddle and doused with a gooey, flavorful brown sauce.
It’s fantastic, and I personally loved the version at Lai’s. Be prepared to line up, possibly for 20-30 minutes, but it’s worth it!
Of course, if you can’t make it out to Taiwan, you can always try making it at home. Here’s my recipe: Taiwanese oyster omelet.
I have a super soft spot and nostalgic craving for this flavorful Taiwanese wrap filled with pork, cabbage, carrots, peanuts, cilantro, and preserved turnips. My mom used to make them when I was young, and we all loved it. I love the burst of flavors and textures from the crunchy peanuts, sauteed vegetables, umami-pork, and fresh cilantro. It’s healthy yet super flavorful at the same time.
The Taiwanese version we tried at Ningxia Night Market was delicious and really reminded me of the my mom’s version (unlike the ones I tried in Singapore and Malaysia, which were also delicious but just different).
Here’s footage showing them making it live.
3. Peanut Black Sesame “Mochi” or Rice Balls
These boiled glutinous rice balls sit bobbing in a huge metal pot and can be mixed with your “topping” of choice (either peanut or black sesame powder). We chose a simple peanut powder version, and it was delicious.
Eat these fresh, if you can. They have a lovely soft, chewy texture that’s irresistible.
Since we were sharing amongst 6 of us, we asked her to cut it up into pieces with scissors. Apparently they usually don’t do this, but they were willing to make an exception for us.
And if you’re really ambitious, make this simple microwave version at home with my recipe. 🙂
Stinky Tofu 臭豆腐
Deep fried stinky tofu is another quintessential must-try Taiwanese street snack. Yes, it stinks, but try it together with the hot sauce and you just might like it. Sorry, no photos. It was so dark out that you can’t really make our anything in the one picture I tried to take.
Fried Chicken Steak – Taiwanese Style from Devil Evolution 惡魔雞排
Taiwan is also known for it’s fried chicken, especially the kind where a chicken leg is pounded flat before it is deep fried. Most people will seek out Hot Star Fried Chicken, a super popular stand that has locations all over Taiwan and around the world (e.g., US, Canada, Australia, and all over Asia).
Our friend and local guide dismissed Hot Star, saying that this place, 惡魔雞排 (e mo ji pai) or Devil Evolution, was better. Originally from Taichung, Taiwan, Devil Evolution (or literally translated as Devil Chicken Steak) now has locations all over Taiwan, including at the famous Shilin Night Market in Taipei as well as many other locations throughout the city.
I have only tried Hot Star in Hong Kong, but I can attest that this version in Taipei was superior to the one I tried at Hot Star. The chicken here was super juicy, the exterior was super crunchy, and the seasoning was addictive.
Definitely worth trying!
Liu’s Taro Balls 劉芋仔 “Liu Yu Zi”
A must-visit when at Ningxia Night Market is Liu’s Taro Balls, easily the stand with the longest line in the market (don’t worry, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 10-15 minutes – the line moves quickly). The stand only sells deep fried taro balls, made fresh right in front of you.
I highly recommend trying the one stuffed with shredded dried pork (pork sung) and a salted duck egg yolk, which was a revelation (soooo good! but how can you go wrong with that combo?). Below is a fun video of them making it.
Now leaving Ningxia Night Market for some other snacks . . . . .
Peanut Cilantro Ice Cream Roll
Another fun snack to try is this sweet/savory crepe filled with three flavors of ice cream, peanut sugar powder, and cilantro! The peanut powder is painstakingly shaved off of a huge peanut brittle block. It sounds weird, but it’s delicious!
We went to a stall near Longshan Temple to enjoy this delectable snack.
I thought the refreshing tart ice cream, fragrant cilantro, and crunchy peanut powder come together quite nicely.
Watch the video below to see the full process.
White Bitter Melon Juice
One thing you see all over Taiwan that I don’t see in the US is white bitter melon. It’s much less bitter than the green variety, and sweeter as well. They use it to make fresh juices which actually tastes quite refreshing (reminds me a lot of cucumber juice). I tried one at Ximending 西門町, a bustling neighborhood in Taipei, and it was delicious.
Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken (“yansuji”) 鹽酥雞 (and other similarly seasoned pieces)
This is such a quintessential Taiwanese snack that you have to try it at least once in Taiwan. Small pieces of chicken are breaded and fried with a fragrant set of spices (think 5-spice, tons of white pepper, and basil).
You can find them all over the city. The one my friend recommends as the best is at Popcorn Chicken King (台灣鹽酥雞) address at No. 530, Beian Road, Zhongshan District; 台北市中山區北安路530號.
Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken (“yansuji”) 鹽酥雞 – late night snack!! #sogood #spicy #taiwan #taipei #taiwanese #streetfood #travel #foodpic #friedchicken
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The Tour is Not Over Yet . . .
What’s crazy is that I have only scratched the surface of Taiwanese street food and. There is so much more to explore. I head to Taiwan again this week (July 2017!!) so I am hoping to explore even more Taiwanese food.
All of my eating adventures in Taiwan will most certainly eventually show up on this blog. If you want to get a more “live” coverage, however, head over to my Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter account to see what I’m eating in Taiwan this week.