Photo by Lacy Colley Yamaoka
All photos by Lacy Colley Yamaoka
Ningxia Night Market in Taipei.
An overnight layover is plenty of time to gorge yourself on buns, soups, and other delights at Taipei's famous night markets.
“Hello, have you eaten yet?” These were my driver’s first words as I slid into his taxi after a lengthy flight into Taipei's Taoyuan Airport. Amusingly, this is the standard Taiwanese greeting you'll get when visiting the culinary mecca. The locals live and breathe the philosophy of “eat well and eat often.” Hungry for a food adventure, I was determined to experience the iconic night markets in the heart of the gastronomic island during my 10-hour layover. Thirty minutes in a cab got me to downtown Taipei, and I met my friend Tina Fong of Taipei Eats at the decades-old Ningxia Night Market. This open-air market had an energetic vibe that sent my senses into overdrive—and this was only the beginning of my epic night of Taiwanese street food. Here's what I ate.
2. "Frog Eggs"
We washed the delicious omelet down with a refreshing homemade Aiyu Jelly drink. You can find the stalls that sell it marked by a frog sign, as the drink is commonly referred to as “frog eggs.” Don't worry, though: It's not actually frog eggs. The jelly is made from figs and served with tapioca pearls, sugar water, and lemon juice.
4. Thick Soup
Soup is an Asian staple and most Taiwanese soups get their flavor from hours of stewing. The soup we tried, called fried mackerel thick soup, is complexly sweet, sour and salty and topped with vinegar. Think fish and chips, but a soup.
6. Tofu Pudding
On the way to the next night market, Tina suggested sharing one of her personal favorites, tofu pudding, at a random street stall. In Taiwan, tofu pudding is served with boiled peanuts and taro root—both grown in southern Taiwan.
8. Shaved Ice
Anything with watermelon and lychee fruit grabs my attention, like the supremely fluffy Taiwanese shaved ice. The shaving technique creates an airy texture similar to cotton candy. The locals prefer shaved ice with copious toppings such as condensed milk, fruit, and red beans. It’s divinely refreshing after the spicy night market bites.
10. More soup!
Finally, few things are as soothing for digestion to the locals as Four Spirit Soup or Shishen Soup—“shi” meaning four and “shen” meaning spirit. During the Qing dynasty, four of the emperor’s became ill and a doctor concocted a four ingredient, medicinal soup consisting of gorgon, lotus seeds, Chinese yam, and barley. An excellent dish to top off your night market adventure.
After all is said and tasted, end the night in a local bar with a Taiwanese whiskey on the rocks. If your layover allows—and if your pants still button—hit up Din Tai Fung for its globally acclaimed Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumplings. The commitment to their craft will have you popping one after the other, even after a night of eating.
>>Next: One Perfect Week in Taiwan
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