Prior to visiting Taiwan, I’ll freely admit to being naïve about the extent and quality of available food. Perhaps due to the success of London’s Bao and the fame of David Chang’s signature dish at Momofuku, I wrongly assumed that it would be all about the gua bao. In short, this was far from the case.
During my week-long trip, I was bowled over by Taipei’s cuisine – testament to this is that despite being there a week, I know I barely scratched the surface of this food obsessed city. As well as the original branch of the world-famous Din Tai Fung, I dined in the three Michelin Starred restaurants currently listed amongst Asia’s 50 Best - Raw, Mume and Ryugin (these warrant separate posts). This post however focuses on the food of the city’s famous night markets, noodle shops and other ‘xiao chi’.
Although culturally the people of Taipei enjoy shopping and eating at night markets, there are of course, excellent daytime markets, such as the popular Dongmen Market and the excellent Nanmen Market, which is one of the oldest traditional markets in the city. With noodle shops, such as the Michelin Bib Gourmand rated Jian Hong Beef Noodles being open 24/7, good food in Taipei is never far away.
Shilin Night Market is the biggest, most famous and supposedly one of the most touristy night markets in Taipei – as such, I avoided it. Instead, I made a bee-line to the food focussed Ningxia Night Market; the vibrant Ximending Night Market and the popular Raohe Street Night Market.
When travelling in SE Asia, I like to follow the old adage “if you see a queue for food, then join it” as it’s bound to be good. I find this system to work even better when the place in question specialises in just one dish. I’ll start with a rundown of my top ten dishes in Taipei:
My Top Ten:
10. Stuffed San Bei Ji (Glutinous rice stuffed chicken wing) @ Ximending Night Market– braised in a cooking liquor based on one cup of dark soy sauce, one cup of rice wine and one cup of dark sesame oil, these chicken wings had been deboned, stuffed with glutinous rice and garlic.
9. Oamisoir (oyster vermicelli) @ Dong Fat Hao (No.94, Raohe St) – serving the same oyster vermicelli dish since 1937, this is another Michelin rated place. The misua (Chinese vermicelli) here is silky smooth and the garlicky broth deeply flavoured – all delightfully punctuated by baby oysters and pigs’ intestines.
8. Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodle Soup) @ Liu Shandong Beef Noodles (Lane 14, Section 1, Kaifeng St) – one of many Michelin Bib Gourmand rated noodle joints. What makes this place special is the fact they use beef breast exclusively without any tendon, as opposed to the more commonly used beef shin. The range of accompaniments available at the table includes fermented black beans with chilli. The setting down a narrow side alley makes the experience all the more memorable.
7. Gua Bao @ Lan Jia (Section 3, Luosifu Rd) – widely lauded as serving the best gua bao in Taiwan, at Lan Jia they serve two types of fillings – lean pork meat or fatty pork – the best option is to have half and half. Garnished with the traditional toppings of pickled mustard greens, sugary peanut powder and fresh coriander, they are sometimes referred to as ‘Taiwanese hamburgers’ or my favourite name ‘Tiger bites pig’.
6. Hu Jiao Bing @ Fuzhou Black Pepper Bun (Raohe Street Night Market) – also boasting a Michelin Bib Gourmand, this place always has the longest queue in Raohe Street Night Market. Served piping hot after being freshly baked on the walls of a tandoor-like oven, these peppery pockets of pork come encased in a thin and crispy pastry.
5. Si Shen Soup (Four Tonic Soup with Chinese Pearl Barley, Pig Intestines & Tripe) @ Lan Jia (Section 3, Luosifu Rd) – Lan Jia may be known for the best gua bao in the city but they also serve an excellent bone warming ‘four tonic soup’ – the four tonics in question being: huai shan (dried Chinese yam), qian shi (fox nut / prickly lotus lily seeds), lian zi (lotus nut) and fu ling (a type of fungus also known as China root). Apparently, the soup acts to “nourish the body, balance the flow of “qi” and invigorate the spirit” – more importantly, it tastes delicious!
4. Mian Xian @Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle (No.8-1 Emei St) – silky-soft rice noodles in a piping hot umami-rich bonito broth with chewy pieces of cured pig intestine, this mee sua joint has been serving bowl after bowl of this delicious dish to huge crowds since 1975.
3. Lu Rou Fan (Braised Pork Rice) @ Jin Feng (Section 1, Roosevelt Rd) – slow-cooked in aromatic soy sauce with five spices and served with a piece of bitter melon, braised pork rice is a favourite comfort food across Taiwan. Widely considered the best in the city, Jin Feng’s version comes with the traditional ground pork or with braised pork side. I opted for the latter – it was so tender that it fell apart with the meekest of prods with a chopstick!
2. Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodle Soup) @ Jian Hong Beef Noodles (7 Xining South Rd) – Michelin Bib Gourmand and open 24-7, this was my favourite of the beef noodle places I visited – so much so that I visited several times! A bowl of deeply flavoured steaming broth, chewy noodles and braised beef tendon and shank make for an excellent cheap, tasty and filling meal at any time of the day or night! As well as a fridge full of different plated appetisers and accompaniments, this place offers a range of chilli options, including their signature chilli butter.
1. Shou Zhua Bing (Flaky Scallion Pancakes) @ Ximending Night Market – intended to be pulled apart by hand, these crispy, chewy and aromatic pancakes are flavoured with Szechuan peppercorns, star anise and a range of other spices unique to each vendor. Each market seemed to have a stall selling these and as such they can be found with a myriad of flavour options. Bacon & Cheese was a winning combination with the Pickled Radish coming in as a close second.
Liu Yu Zi @ Ningxia Night Market – Michelin Bib Gourmand rated taro balls stuffed with salted egg yolk and pork floss.
Yuan Huan Bian Oyster Omelette @ Ningxia Night Market (46 Ningxia Rd) – Michelin rated oyster omelette with their signature hot sauce.
Sparerib Radish Soup @ Yuan Huan Bian Oyster Omelette (46 Ningxia Rd)
Clam & Ginger Soup @ Yuan Huan Bian Oyster Omelette (46 Ningxia Rd)
Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang (Small Sausage in a Big Sausage) @ Ningxia Night Market - pork sausage encased hot-dog-like in a sticky rice ‘bun’.
Xing Bao Gu (King Oyster Mushrooms) @ Ningxia Night Market – sprinkled with dried seaweed
Ling Jiao @ Ningxia Night Market – (Water Caltrop / Buffalo Nut) not related to ones used in UK Chinese cooking, although these are called ‘water chestnuts’ in Taipei, they are actually a ‘water caltrop’, which due to their shape are also known as ‘buffalo nuts’. They had a mild chestnut-like flavour.
Gua Bao @ Ningxia Night Market
Yan Su Ji (Popcorn Fried Chicken) @ Ji Guang Delicious Fried Chicken (also known as J&G Chicken) – now with branches across SE Asia, I joined a queue outside the original branch (since 1973) near the entrance to Ximen Station.
Chou Dou Fu (Stinky Tofu) @ Ximending Night Market – the heady blue-cheese-like stinky tofu is the unmissable national dish of Taiwan.
Pig's Blood Rice Pudding @ Ximending Night Market
Yilan Onion Pie @ Ximending Night Market
Takomaki @ Ximending Night Market
You Fan @ Dong Fat Hao (No.94, Raohe St) – cooked oily glutinous rice is cooked with ginger and dried shrimp and served with a sweet, spicy sauce.
Oily Beancurd &Taiwanese Stewed Egg @ Jin Feng (Roosevelt Rd).
Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodle Soup) @ Lao Shandong Homemade Beef Noodles (B1, 70 Xining South Road) – another Michelin Bib Gourmand rated beef noodle joint with knife-cut ribbon noodles.
Pork Ear @ Lao Shandong Homemade Noodles.
Jiao Zi @ Lao Shandong Homemade Noodles– boiled beef dumplings.
Jiao Zi @ Jian Hong Beef Noodles – boiled beef dumplings.
Kombu Salad @ Jian Hong Beef Noodles
Smashed Cucumber Salad @ Jian Hong Beef Noodles
Hu Jiao Bing @ Fuzhou Ancestor Pepper Cake (Chongqing South Rd)
Gua Bao @ Shi Jia (No 21-1 Tonghua St)
Quail Eggs @ Dongmen Market
Pineapple Cake @ Eighty-Eightea Rinbansyo – whilst Sunny Hills is the en vogue place to go for Taiwanese pineapple cake, with its fine selection of oolongs and historical Japanese style setting, Eighty-Eightea Rinbansyo has to be one of the most beautiful and serene settings to enjoy this popular snack.
Hong Dou Bing @ Crystal Pancake (Section 1, Fuxing South Rd) – known in Taiwan as "car wheel cakes” these come in a range of sweet flavours such as black sesame, peanut and taro and also some savoury fillings like tuna and curry! I tried the traditional red bean (azuki bean) and peanut flavours.
Hong Dou Bing @ Ningxia Night Market – as well as the traditional red bean, this stall in Ningxia Night Market offers flavours as diverse as chocolate, cheese and quail eggs.
Ma Shu Bao Bao @ Raohe Street Night Market – freshly made mochi, dusted generously with peanut powder and sesame.
Light Oolong with bubble & coconut jelly @ 50 Lan
Passion Fruit Tea with Aiyu Jelly @ Chachago – aiyu jelly is made from the seeds of native figs.
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