Just a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, for a work/leisure trip. We had very little time to explore the entire city so we picked places based on their proximity to our hotel. If you expected to find a blog post on the many themed cafes like the crazy toilet and Hello Kitty ones then, my apologies. I’m aware that Taipei is quite well-known for its quirky cafes but we were lusting after real Taiwanese food. Taiwanese share a genetic similarity to their mainland ancestors but that’s where the similarity stops. Though quite similar to Northern Chinese cuisine, the Taiwanese have a different take on Chinese food, particularly street food.
What amazed me most is how innovative the street vendors are in creating so many similar but different types of street food and the many ways they use in getting your attention. At this one particular bubble tea stall (milk tea with chewy tapioca pearls), the tea barista did some ‘acrobatics’ with the batch of tea he was making. I’d captured his ‘dance’ on my instagram feed. At another stall just along the same stretch, the young man ,making flatbread for a sandwich roll, threw the dough very high in the air a few times before he baked it over an upturned wok. It’s for interesting and entertaining sights like these that one should go to Shilin Night Market. Well, the food’s pretty awesome too.
The most famous night market in Taiwan is Shilin Night Market. It is a huge area dedicated to all things young people and foodies like- fashion, trinkets, psychedelic game arcades and all types of street food one can imagine.
There are two Shilin Night markets between Jiantan and Shilin Metro Stations (red line) – one for the tourists and one for the locals. The market meant for tourists is a covered area with specially selected stalls selling food, souvenirs etc. that tourists like. It’s a more ‘docile’ area as the ambiance was not as vivacious as the local outdoor night market area just outside of it.
To get to Shilin Night Market, cross over from Jiantan Metro Station and you’ll immediately see all the stalls along the streets. A tip is to walk on the streets on the perimeter of the night market area before you venture into the very packed streets in the centre. The streets in the centre are not for the faint-hearted as they’re very crowded despite being closed to vehicles! Wear light clothing and good walking shoes and get there by 5.30 pm before the crowds arrive at about 6pm. Both the nights markets open daily from about 4 or 5.30 – 12 p.m. but we did notice the stalls closing at about 11.30 p.m on a Saturday. Go early when there is light and orientate yourselves as it’s a very large area. Then, decide on what you’ll like to do before 7pm. There’s plenty to do – eating, shopping and people watching. Shilin’s also a really fun place for photography. Shilin Night Market area is a must-do for anyone coming to Taipei. Taiwanese love their food and it’s reflected in the variety of food offered in Shilin Night Market and the lengths people will go to to explain to you how your deep-fried ‘coffin bread’ should be eaten or where the best oyster mee sua is. Taiwanese are very friendly and approachable.
These are 2 of our favourite food from Shilin Night Market.
1. Oyster Mee Sua
Oyster Mee Sua is a very Taiwanese invention that should have a warning label on it “Delicious & Very Addictive!” Every Taiwanese has their own favourite oyster mee sua stall and I reckon that if you see locals queuing for it, it must be pretty good. It’s essentially very thin wheat noodles in thick broth. You’ve got to add the extra helping of garlic, vinegar and chilli sauces and you’ll have in your hand a little piece of heaven. Some stalls add some stewed pork belly/ intestines in the broth. Go easy on the chilli sauce if you’re afraid of heat and don’t be afraid to slurp your noodles; it’s a sign of delicious food being eaten. There are some stalls selling Taiwanese Oyster Mee Sua in Singapore but the one we’d tried in Shilin was definitely x52 better.
The one we tried in Shilin was ‘Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodles’. No points for being the most creative stall name but it scores a gazillion points for flavor and no-BS marketing. It is what it says it is and it delivers. They also have their other famous branch in Ximending Night Market. Ay-Chung’s Mee Sua has no oyster but it has a generous helping of pork intestines. There are 2 sizes available. You place your orders, wait your turn, collect your bowl of piping hot noodles, add a generous helping of sauces and make your way to the seats. There are only seats, no tables. You just eat your bowl of deliciousness and get on with it. No BS-marketing at its best. Don’t you just love it when the food speaks for itself without the ‘artisanal’ hipster waiters or designer interiors?
Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodles
Address: 1F., No.24, Lane 101, Wenlin Rd., Shilin District, Taipei City
Opening Hours: 15:30 to 01:30 (Mon – Thu); 15:30 to 02:00 (Fri – Sun)
Tel :02-2883-8058, 2883-8867
2. Hot Star XXL Large Fried Chicken
If you don’t adore fried chicken, then look away. But seriously, what’s wrong with you?! Even my 3-year-old goddaughter lists fried chicken as her favourite food. There’s just something about crispy fried anything that appeals to most mortals. Luckily for us, there’s Hot Star XXL Large Fried Chicken! As if ‘XXL’ was not enough, ‘Large’ is added to its name to give you a very good idea of what you’re going to get.
The chicken cutlet is as large (if not larger) than your face! It’s a ‘flattened’ chicken breast that’s flavoured with white pepper and five spices powder and dredged through sweet potato flour. It’s deep fried very quickly so the breast meat doesn’t dry out.
The result is an ultra moist, crispy and tasty chicken cutlet like no other. You have an option to add an extra spicy powder sprinkled on your cutlet. We had to share one cutlet between us as it was just too large and filling. Opt for a nice cup of freshly squeezed fruit juice right next to the Hot Star stall to wash it all down. Perfect!
There are 2 ‘Hot Star XXL Large Fried Chicken’ outlets- one in the tourist market and one along one of the streets in the local Shilin Market area. Just ask any local and I’m sure they’ll know where it’s located. It’s a very popular street snack so be prepared to queue for a while if you’re headed there during the dinnertime. They do sell other fried chicken items but the XXL chicken cutlet is their most popular item. ‘Hot Star XXL Large Chicken’ has outlets in Singapore, Philippines, Australia etc. but only the stalls in Taipei offer all their other fried chicken items.
Other street food items to try:
3. Anything on a stick
No, this isn’t a name of a snack. It’s just that you can find anything that is grilled, boiled, steamed or fried on a stick. Most come with a huge helping of barbeque-like sauce and others are strictly for the daring food enthusiasts. There are Taiwanese pork sausages that are as long as your forearm that are grilled and skewered or slathered onto a rice bun with unctuous-looking sauces.
Then, there are all types of duck innards and parts – head, feet, heart, tongue etc. that are skewered.
4. Stinky Tofu
I’ve tried this in Shanghai before and I loved it! Yes, it really stinks; you can smell it from a mile away! It’s very fermented tofu that’s either boiled or fried (this is tastier) and dipped in a spicy chilli sauce. The long fermentation process makes the tofu really soft but you have to pinch your nose while putting a piece into your mouth. There are several stalls that sell this treat/horror in Shilin.
5. Bubble Milk Tea
Tapioca balls are boiled for a long time before being added to a variety of very sweet flavoured milk tea. You could ask for the amount of sugar to be reduced. Taiwanese love their tea and it’s no surprise that it turns up everywhere you turn. Some tea stalls sell just plain iced tea which is great for hot night out in Shilin area.
There’s just plenty of street food to try and if you’re really stuffed you could try your hand at the multitude of game stalls and work up an appetite for your next round of street food carnage! One never gets bored in Shilin Night Market.