Taipei Night Markets

The street food night markets of Taiwan are a fabulous way to eat. Grazing your way around a lively, friendly, food festival is a great way to spend an evening. In Taipei, we were able to visit five different venues but there are many more located all over the city. Visiting at 6pm means you won’t need to queue too long but some stalls will only just be setting up. Our Taiwanese Airbnb-mates would usually go at 10.30pm.

Shilin night market (Jiantan or Shilin metro line 2) – this was the first night market we visited and we loved the vibrancy. There are many shops as well as food stalls so a good place to spend an evening. We were told that Shilin is for tourists and luckily my entry visa states that I am one! There was also a market next door where teenagers played fairground games and queued for giant battered chicken pieces. Its good for people watching. We tried octopus balls, chicken popcorn, and pork buns baked in a tandoor.

Raohe night market  (either Yongchun metro line 5 / Songshan metro line 3) – I believe this is the oldest night market and is a pedestrianised lane. Some of the stalls have small tables and stools where you can perch. There was a great variety of food choices and we tried pork buns, fried dumplings, okonomyaki, and spicy sausage wrapped greens. A special mention needs to be made about the xiaolongbao stall where we watched three young guys make the delicious dumplings before we tried them. We like xiaolongbao a lot and so we have tried them a lot. These were very, very good. For the combination of food variety and fun, this was our favourite market.

Wuxing Street (Taipei 101 metro line 2) – different to Shilin and Raohe as its mainly a street with many cafes and restaurants which also has a few street stalls. It’s not pedestrianised, so don’t wander down the middle of the road! We ate really good fried pork dumplings which were really juicy. We went here late and some of the cafes were closing.

Ningxia night market (Zhongshan metro line 2/3) – small but diverse, with a row of stalls on a pedestrianised street. We tried Bitter tea (kucha), exploding chicken roll, sweet potato balls which seem to be available everywhere and vermicelli with oysters. I got the feeling this was a very “authentic” market.

Liaoning night market (SongJiang Nanjing metro line 4) – similar to Wuxing street as it is mainly restaurants with a few stalls but it’s a whole road of eateries which includes very good fish restaurants.

We love eating good food and loved our experience exploring the vibrant street food markets of Taipei.

Taiwan – why we fell in love

  • People are really, really friendly

Many times we have been looking at The Book and people have asked us if we are lost and helped us, or just chatted to us when we crossed the road and given us great advice. Our Taipei host, Fiona, made us so welcome, checked our itinerary each night and advised us what to do, how to get around, even gave us a lift to the port when we were leaving.

  • Coffee is cheap and tasty

Chains and non chains of coffee vendor are everywhere and they are all really affordable and blooming great! We have now gotten to be coffee snobs, with a penchant for mandheling coffee. Drip coffee and single origin is very popular and isn’t just a new thing, coffee shops have been around since the 1950’s. 

  • Tea is expensive but worth it

We saw tea being grown, then tasted it, learning how to make a proper brew it wasn’t as intricate as a Japanese tea ceremony, but we could taste the difference in the teas and styles. We are now tea snobs as well.

  • Taiwan is compact and bijoux with excellent infrastructure.

It is simple to travel around due to its size but also because of helpful signage and announcements in English, and stations having good maps of the local area. There is also the Ezy card,  which acts as an Oyster card,  being able to be used on all transport in Taipei, but you can also use it all over the country, brilliant and saves you money.

    • Excellent food

    Taiwan is reputed to have the best Japanese restaurants outside of Japan which is some compliment as the Japanese are so particular about their food. The seafood we had at Aquatic Addiction was some of the freshest we have seen outside of Japan, and that experience was one of the highlights of our trip so far. We have also eaten middle eastern food and Indian curries, and seen Mexican and Greek restaurants. Sadly no Georgian restaurants have opened yet. Also, night markets – see below

    • Night markets

    The reason we first got interested in Taiwan was for the night markets, and they are amazing. All so different, some just for walking and snacking, some with cafes, restaurants, all with an amazing variety of foods.

    • Environmental Diversity 

    Whatever you want to see you can get it within a short train or bus ride. We have experienced clear beaches, sulphurous thermal spas, volcanos, stunning mountains, blue lakes, with opportunities for hiking, cycling, or scootering! Just travelling around you see a lush, green landscape full of wildlife which is unique to this small and perfectly formed beautiful isle . 

    • Taiwan beer, mango beer and Best whisky 2015.

    These are just a few of the great alcoholic drinks we have had here, it is not a drinking culture, we rarely saw anyone drinking, but did manage to try enough beers and whisky to convince ourselves we liked it.

    • South and North Asia mix.

    There is the Asian living life on the street, but with an efficient infrastructure which makes this country a fabulous mix of cultures. It is cheaper to eat out than cook, so you see kids having food on their own which would seem strange at home, but is perfectly normal here. There are are street stalls everywhere, each having their own speciality, which we often don’t know due to the language barrier, but we have still enjoyed delicious food all over the country. 

    • Cultural diversity

    In a marked difference to other countries we have recently visited there is a refreshing vitality about the people, their fashion and sense of self. They all have individual style and are happy to be different to the next person having dyed hair, tattoos, and diverse fashion sense! There is also a refreshing sense of equality here, women are just as likely to be in positions of power in business and not just meant for the home (our views are from advertising and reading). It is also clear there is more sexual equality here, gay pride and gay rights are the most progressive in Asia and we saw gay couples being openly affectionate.

    • Train station food court

    At home a train station food shop is to be avoided at all costs, here it is somewhere to go on a Saturday night for dinner. The one at Taipei main station is the best we saw, it had sections for beef noodle soup, Taiwanese and curry. There were also many  Japanese restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops, with queues outside the popular places.  

    • Love of animals

    You see many strollers here and don’t know if they contain babies or pets. The Taiwanese love their pets, especially dogs who are often carried down the street as if they were little china ornaments.

    • Respect for elderly

    You are likely to see youngsters accompanying their grandparents on a stroll,  especially at the weekend. It’s the Asian respect for the older generation which we are finding more and more appealing.

    In the interests of balance (you know, like the BBC) the only criticism of Taiwan is there are not enough rubbish bins. That is it. Everything else is just peachy.

    So I think we can safely say that this is one of the best countries we have visited, and we are planning on visiting again.

        18.12.16 Bye Bye Taiwan

        Today we leave Taipei and Taiwan which saddens us both. We are heading back to China.

        We pack and our fabulous host, Fiona drives us to the port town of Keelung, 30 minutes away. (Fiona, if you read this, thank you for everything, it felt like being at home staying in your apartment!)

        Lockers are full at the station and the baggage room is unmanned so the lady in the ticket office lets us leave our bags in there. This demonstrates exactly why we love it in Taiwan.

        We have a coffee and blog. 

        On days when you have overnight travel planned and you have checked out, you feel at a loose end. You never want to stray too far and always have one eye on the clock. We wander about and eat fried pork and leek dumplings. 

        We sit by the port and watch hawks rise on the thermals. It is a very hot, sunny day. Craving some shade we go to the eastern port terminal. We’re impressed by the coffee shops, small supermarket with ferry essentials such as noodles, beer and antibacterial hand wipes. The toilets are spotless and there is a manned information desk with helpful, uniformed staff. On the second floor there is even free WiFi. However, we are travellers on a budget so we are leaving from the western port terminal.

        We walk past the rubble to the side entry of the western terminal building. A guy covered in dust walks out of the main entrance with a wheelbarrow. “Looks like its under renovation” I say to Al. The lyrics “if I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor” float around my head. At the desk there are three tickets with western names which are offered to us. We choose our own. We are then asked to pay NT$480 tax, about £13. I wave a card as we have used up our money but am told its cash only so I have to go back into town to the cashpoint.

        We go through security, then passport control and then duty free and, as the building is under renovation, back through the waiting area and out of the side entrance onto a bus where we have a police escort to the ferry. We feel special, like celebrities or prisoners. Al waves out of the bus window like the Queen. We are dropped on the quayside and walk up the car ramp, smugly watching trolley case armageddon as people’s cases bounce off the ridged ramp.

        Many things contribute to a persons impression of a country. Some people salivate over great food, some people work up a sweat over a beautiful landscape offering hiking, cycling and surfing, but for me, the people have made my experience here memorable. I’ve been to a few countries and can’t say I’ve met friendlier, kinder, more helpful people anywhere.

        Comfort zones shrink a lot easier than they are pushed out. Time to stretch again.

        17.12.2016 Another Taipei mountain 

        We had wanted to go to Yangminshan National Park on our last Taipei visit but the weather was crap so we kept waiting for that good day, today is that day! Forcast was for 26 degrees and sunshine all day.  We took warm clothes though, in (the frankly unlikely) case the weather situation changed to cloudy and cold.

        First stop was Taipei main station to send postcards home, and for Guy to get accosted by a couple of Jehovoh’s witnesses. They started the conversation by asking him what makes for a happy marriage, when he started to tell them they shoved a leaflet into his hands and changed the subject.

        Bus 260 took us to the start of the mountain trail, it was a 30 min journey. Imagine that, a 30 min bus journey from London, Birmingham or Manchester and you are in a stunning, thermally active national park. 

        Photo below is me looking forward to the hike up the mountain in the distance!

        We stocked up on almond snickers to accompany our dried Irwin mangos and water supplies and set off on a 800m elevation, 2.4km climb to the summit. It was a bit tough going at times on our aging limbs, but we made it. We kept seeing a Taiwanese chap who was in training for EBC (Everest Base Camp to the uninitiated) for his 50th birthday present to himself in 2 years time! We did it in a similar time to him, albeit slightly more sweaty and red faced.

        We were welcomed by cloud and cold at the top of the mountain, thank goodness for our extra clothes! By the time I had queued 15 mins for the obligatory photo the sky had started to clear and we had a birds eye view of Taipei, including rivers and surrounding coastlines. It really was worth the sweat and red faces.

        The track down the other side of the mountain passed through thermal pools, pockets of steaming white, blue and green rocks and blackened grass. The smell of sulphur was constant, reminding me of the inevitable byproduct of Christmas stuffing, something I will not miss this year.

        Transport was seamless on the way back, tourist shuttle bus back to the bus terminal where the 260 bus was waiting to be crammed full of people to be taken back to Taipei. We were agonising over our last meal here, and decided to have a bit of everything in Breeze gourmet station cafe.  The words gourmet and station are incompatible in the UK but here they all fit together seemlessly. We had skipped lunch, snickers and mango doesn’t count, so after doing 2 laps of the food court floor we had pork on rice, crispy fried fish and tofu pockets to share.

        In the next food court we had chinese curry, pork cutlet, rice and pickles and miso for one meal and butter chicken, nan, rice, pickles and miso for the other meal. Yes, we did slightly over eat but it was delicious.

        If that wasn’t enough we got distracted in a bakery with bread goods and Papa Beard for cream patisserie filled buns. Anyone would think we were going to a country that had no food culture! 

        The evening was spent watching The Expendables 2 and making the most of the excellent wifi and skyping home.

        16.12.16 Taipei – Beitou & Xiangshan

        Taipei is such a fabulous city that today we plan to bathe in thermal springs and see the sunset from a mountain.

        We MRT to Beitou, then catch a spur line to Xinbeitou and as we leave the carriage the smell of sulphur assaults our nostrils. On the way to the thermal pool we visit an aboriginal cultural centre which is very informative. There are examples of different indigenous costumes, historical artefacts and artworks with explanations in English.

        We continue up to the pool, which is just some warm water with steam coming off, but is, for some reason, entrancing. The colour is beautiful and people armed with selfie sticks snap away. There is a man beating a drum and chanting which adds to the atmosphere.

        We then head to a thermal spa where its cheaper to hire a private room for an hour than pay for two people to have unlimited time. We opt for a room which also has a cold pool and having experienced onsens in Japan, we know the drill. Strip, shower and dive in. We are thankful for the cold pool. We relax and before you can say ‘it ain’t half hot mum’ the phone rings and our hour is over. We emerge red faced and sweating.

        After some ordinary noodles we travel the red MRT line to its eastern terminus at Xiangshan. There are English signs for elephant mountain which we follow and begin climbing the stone steps to the summit. Its the second time today we are red faced and sweating. Near the top we come across loads of teenagers photographing each other on top of a boulder. We carry on upwards until we find a quiet viewing spot. Weary legs are rested and we watch the sky turn orange and the sun fade to red. In front of us Taipei looks wonderful. Initially misty in the orange glow, as dusk settles it slowly lights up, until a modern metropolis sparkles. We’re hypnotized by the artificial beauty and I think of the cityscapes in the movie Blade Runner.

        Liaoning night market provides us with the dumplings we crave and the layout is a bit different to Shilin and Raohe night markets where small stalls provide food. Here its restaurants.

        We spend the evening writing Xmas postcards to everyone in blighty. They’re on their way folks!

        15.12.2016 Taipei food tourism

        It was a day of food tourism today. Started off with coffee and cake, at Drop Coffee Room, the coffee was single origin (!!) and we enthused over the aromas (after reading the posters on the wall telling us what to smell and taste). The cake was Boston cream pie and Banana chocolate cake, delicious start to the day.

        We then wandered around the university area, it was wall to wall cafes, restaurants and food stalls, each one looking and smelling better than the last. We were looking for the best Taiwanese pork bun stall, it was noticeable by the queue, we joined and asked for full fat bun. It was a steamed white bun filled with juicy pork fat, cooked till tender, with pickled greens and some sprinkle on top, maybe peanut? In the interest of balance, we also had a full meat bun, which was ok, but missing the fatty juiciness of the first bun. 

        Falafel next, yes, falafel in Taipei, this city just gets better and better. It was delicious, tasting middle eastern, full of cumin, coriander and familiar spices. 

        We were full now so needed to walk off our calories, through markets that were closing, down back streets and past an urban garden with shopping trollies full of plants and an old aunty watering the plot.

        We then walked through a gentrified area full of middle class coffee and tea shops, gourmet patisseries and hand made clothes. The local clientèle had their designer dogs in prams. (Gez – Christmas  pressie idea?)

        We came across the best cafe/bar in the world (according to Guy), Cafe Libero. It has an impressive selection of whisky, many Japanese, and the wooden panelled walls, comfy chairs, warm heating made it feel very much like home.  We treated ourselves to a hot chocolate with whisky, oh yes, it was the best ever. The music was bluesy, ambient and chilled, the guy then put on David Bowie. Life doesn’t get better than these moments, so we relaxed and had to remind ourselves we were in Asia when we emerged blinking into the sunlight.

        Next we were off to Mango King, a chain of shaved snowflake milk ice shops which the Taiwanese love. The portions are huge, we went for the smallest, a Mango Emporer, it was more than enough for us the mango was delicious, but I wasn’t keen on the shaved milk ice. 

        Brains frozen we headed off to a german bakery,  which was next on our food gourmet tour. We chose the walnut rye bread and stopped at Sogo food court for a small, expensive block of cheddar to accompany our bread. 

        The evening was spent writing postcards and eating cheese sandwiches.

        14.12.16 Maokong

        Food is important to us and we love cooking but we haven’t cooked anything for three months (I don’t count pouring boiling water onto a pot noodle)

        In Fiona’s Airbnb apartment there is a kitchen and down the road is a wonderful local market which we described in a recent post here – locals market

        So tonight we aim to take advantage of these opportunities and cook a meal. Sadly, we are very excited about it.

        We hit the market with another one of Fionas guests who is from Hong Kong, so we have a translator! Green vegetables are great and often neglected when you’re eating out a lot, so we buy broccoli, bok choy and spring onions. 

        For flavour, we buy garlic, ginger, Asian chives and limes. 

        For body,  cep mushrooms and black fungus and the star of the show, fresh salmon fillets.

        We also buy a pineapple for breakfast which the stall holder peels for us.

        The market is a great experience and we really enjoy it. The stallholders are so friendly and the produce is so enticing. We drop our bounty back at the flat and take the MRT to Taipei Zoo at the end of line 1 where we ride the Gondola to Maokong, a tea growing region to the south of the city. This is all done using our ‘easy’ card which as well as being an MRT (tube/metro/subway) pass gives us a discount on the gondola.

        The weather is a bit cloudy today, but we can still see Taipei 101 in the distance.

        At Maokong we stop for a snack at one of the stalls around the gondola station then head to the tea promotion centre following the valley road.

        We try a local oolong tea which is really smooth with very little tanin. We walk back enjoying the views down the valley and the well ordered landscape where tea bushes grow in rows on terraces. We stop at a tea house and bag a window table with a view over a cloudy Taipei. We try two different Taiwanese teas and local snacks of dried fruit and biscuits. The teas come in cups which include strainers and saucers in a clever design. The tea leaves can be reused and the teahouse owner keeps topping us up with freshly boiled water. 

        We chat and spend time discussing our trip so far and how we miss everyone, especially at Christmastime. Suddenly, out of the blue, the stereo plays “Please, Please, Please let me get what I want” by The Smiths. It is so out of context and so poignant we are taken aback. A song which meant so much, in what seems like a different lifetime.

        On the way home we stop at Carrefour for wine to go with our meal. 

        In the apartment it takes milliseconds for us to slip into our old roles. I open wine and put on music while Al chops veg. Fully prepped but scared of ruining our only cooking experience, Al hands over to me to cremate the food. The two electric hot plates are new to us so I don’t get the timings quite right but the salmon has a wonderful crispy caramelized side. We are both pleased with our work and the veg tastes wonderful.

        13.12.16 Walking tour of Taipei

        After checkout, MRT, left luggage and MRT we were confronted by dozens of Santa’s helpers, some of which handed us presents!

        Today we are following the Lonely Planet’s Taipei walking tour. Sun is out, smiles are on.

        First up, we go off piste to Fong Da coffee shop which Al has found. It has a working bean roaster in the entrance. With the coffee, we have a side order of toast, ham and eggs. It’s a well frequented, locals cafe which takes coffee seriously and we enjoy it.

        We walk from Ximen to Bopilao, an historic street where modern brides have their photos taken.

        Past some temples to an old burnt down monastery then to the old market which is now a creative quarter where designers sell boutique gear. Al buys a “Do you like my buns” T-shirt.

        Further along, we reach a two storey Japanese colonial building with a mansard roof. It has an exhibition of photos of Tamsui in the 1980s which looks like a different world. They have a roof farm where we’re excited to see rice growing.

        On the route, Al spots a deep, rich, saucepan.

        We stop.

        The texture is soft, melting, braised, pork fat. Mmmmmmm. Its accompanied by pickles and cabbage which soften the richness of the pork. Its good, but still not as good as Qufu.

        We see more colonial architectural sights and the wide boulevards that the Japanese modeled on Paris and we divert off the tour to the botanical gardens. They are lovely. Al is in her element. She spends a long time in the “food” section where garden beds demonstrate crops we eat that people no longer recognize due to convenience food. 

        We go to the ginger garden. Al desperately looks for a sign to photo me in front of but thankfully there isn’t one.

        We MRT across town and walk through Da’an park to the Wisteria Tea house where we sit on tatami mats and learn to make tea. We order two different Oolongs, both from Taiwan,  Gao shan cha and the lighter Tie Guan Yin. The pot is warmed, leaves washed, then a pot is brewed for 2 minutes before being emptied into aroma cups which are decanted into tasting cups. The leaves can be used 6 times. Its a relaxing, fun hour.

        We return to the first Airbnb we stayed at in eastern Taipei hosted by the fabulous Fiona. It feels like going home. For tea we go to the local night market and have beef sizzlers with peppers sauce. The beef is really tender.

        11.12.16 Taichung to Taipei – An End Has A Start

        So, someone rustled plastic bags at 4.30 and left,  and the cyclist rustled more bags at 6.30am so we didn’t need an alarm.

        As we were making our way back to Taipei we were in a really good mood, despite the lack of sleep!  Guy had a Mos Burger breakfast, my stomach was feeling ok again so I had cheese straws and cake! 

        We swiped our ezy cards and went to our usual platform for our usual train to Taipei. Well, maybe usual is a little strong, but we had done this same trip about 2 weeks earlier so felt like we knew what we were doing! Only the train was heaving, absolutely rammed, we got seats and settled in for a 3 hour journey stopping at every station on the way with a constant flow of people.

        Arriving at Taipei main station the place was full of people and many Muslims, there was a lovely smell of clove cigarettes outside, we had no idea it was a Muslim holiday, but knew about it now. Taipai Main Station is like a familiar old friend, there are enough food vendors there to keep you going for a whole year, and they all look amazing.  A little different to the sad Pumpkin cafes in UK. We had seen a Japanese curry house there previously, Coco curry, and headed there. It was delicious! 

        We eventually found somewhere to leave our bags and went on a fruitless search for a phone in an electronic geeks paradise, Guanghau market, the smell of testosterone was overpowering! 

        Phones were no cheaper than home so we decided I would do a social experiment and do without a mobile phone for a couple of months, no WhatsApp communication for me! I still have email and Facebook if you wish to contact me. 

        We had a rendezvous at 4.30 with our Air Bnb hosts and were taken to a fab little apartment which was our home of a couple of nights.

        It was airy, clean and had a TV with movie channels, we contemplated staying in all night but stomachs were rumbling so we headed out and got shredded chicken on rice with the aid of pointing and lonely planet phrases. Simple and delicious. 

        We got back to our apartment to see the 5th element followed by Guardians of the Galaxy, and slept like babies  (although really babies don’t sleep so that phrase is nonsense).

        1.12.16 Taipei to Hualien

        Heavy rains on the corrugated iron roofs outside meant a bad nights sleep. The advent calendar we brought with us is at the bottom of my rucksack too.

        We are leaving Taipei and would be very sad about it if we didn’t know we were coming back. We buy train tickets for the slow train to Hualien which saves us £2.50 each but adds 1.5 hours onto our journey. Time is something we are rich in.

        The train is quiet with few passengers,  something we never saw in China. We stare at the wet, grey scenery and watch it become hilly, green, wet scenery. We crawl along the east coast where the rough sea is a deep blue flecked with white foam and lush mountains descend sharply. Beaches are strewn with washed up wood and unspoilt. Its a beautiful coastline and we are even treated to blue skies.

        After a bad exit to the wrong side of the tracks we find the hostel and dump bags. The hostel is very stylish, exposed concrete floors and wooden planks, retro distressed furniture and neon signs. We have a double bunk bed! Weird.

        Its a bad time to eat, between lunch and tea when restaurants are tidying up or preparing so we eat onigiri from 7/11.

        After doing our washing and booking the next few days its dark so we go to a nearby dumpling restaurant for fried curry and Korean spicy dumplings and corn chowder and swordfish and octopus soup. The dumplings are very good.

        We head back to the hostel, crash early and read looking forward to a good nights sleep…….