One must-see stop on our trip to Taiwan is Shilin Night Market in Taipei. Everyone that we talked to before our trip mentioned it once they found out we were visiting Taiwan. The main part is a large building with dozens of small food vendors under one roof, but walk a block or two and you’ll find yourself faced with huge street of shopping and more food stands. I’d guess that it’s usually a madhouse, but luckily we arrived after the school children rush and it wasn’t a weekend.
Food is the main attraction at Shilin, so I made sure to arrive with an appetite. Unfortunately, being in a crowded, enclosed area where all sorts of food is being fried does something to stifle my appetite. I ended up getting only a handful of things to eat.
First and foremost was the stinky tofu. I couldn’t risk getting too full to eat this, so I had one right away. It was freshly fried so that it was crispy on the outside and custardy inside with that mildly sour fermented tastes. Since it’s almost impossible to get the real deal in LA, I savored each bite.
On to dish number two, oyster omelette — one of the more famous dishes of the night market. It’s tastes about what you’d expect from the name. The cook threw a handful of small oysters onto a griddle, some batter made up of eggs and potato starch, and chopped cabbage. Once the omelette is ready, the cook puts it on a dish, squirts some sweet chili sauce on top, and it’s time to dig in. Like a regular omelette, it tastes strongly eggy, but also very umami thanks to the oysters. The potato starch gives the whole thing a kind of strange, sticky, chewy consistency.
To combat all the fried foods, there are also bittermelon shake stands littered throughout the area. The melon they use is a white, milder bittermelon, which makes the shake infinitely more palatable. The shake is sweetened with either honey or pineapple, but I forgot which. Bittermelon is such a wonder-food that I after I drank a full glass of it, I felt that the healthiness of bittermelon balanced out all the junk food I was eating that night.
I felt so good after the bittermelon shake that I grabbed a sausage on a stick on the way out. This natural casing sausage (you can tell by the texture and bite) was stuffed with sticky rice and savory bits of meat. It was tasty, but I felt a bit of unease walking around with a sharpened stick so close to my mouth on the street. Any stray jostle and I could have an unwanted piercing.
In addition to all the fried foods, there are also fruit carts near the night market. The girl running this particular one kept handing me free samples of all the strange fruit I hadn’t had before. She was a pretty good salesperson because we left about $3 USD lighter, but with a bag of fruit to munch on. There were cherry tomatoes stuffed with sweet perserved olives (it’s a weird Chinese thing, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it), green mangoes, sour plums, and something between a pear and an apple (no, not an apple-pear) that I wish we had in LA.
Yes, Shilin Night Market is touristy, and yes it can be a zoo, but it’s worth visiting. It’s convenient to get to on the MRT line. Just make sure to get off at Danshui station, not Shilin station which is kind of confusing. Once at the station, it’s right across the street — hard to miss thanks to the throngs of people streaming in and out of it. After grabbing a few dishes of food to eat, there was also a shopping district a block or so away that’s open late to walk off the food at.