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#1
Posted February 5th 2012, 11:37am
Night Markets in Taiwan

Taipei seems up all night, even on a Sunday night (it's tomorrow here, already).

An hour after landing from 16 hours in the air, I sought out what could be eaten at the night market nearest our hotel ("Go left at the first McDonald's," the man at the desk said, "Then go to the next McDonald's, and take a right." No kidding).

At the market, I picked a stand, watched a local, and followed his lead, monkey see-monkey do: take red basket, fill with skewers, hand to young lady and watch her dip in sauce, gently cook over grill, then snip into pieces.

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I picked skewers of smoky bacon-wraped scallions/enoki mushrooms; green pepper; tofu (not, alas, the stinky kind, which is #1 on my food hit list).

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The takeaway box, adorable.

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No way I was hauling this back to the hotel. I perched on a empty store platform and street-grunted it, mindful of careening motorbikes and taxies.

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Each skewer was dipped in a different sauce, lightly grilled, very fresh tasting with lots of dimension offered by the smoky bacon. It was really good, made more so by the ambiance. Total cost: $100 NT (about three bucks American, box included).

The quest for stinky tofu? On-going.
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“We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
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#2
Posted February 5th 2012, 1:01pm
Hi David--

You are not going to have any trouble finding stinky tofu. You will know immediately if you are within 150 feet of a stand that sells it...

I don't think I have ever encountered a stronger public odor, perhaps other than being downwind of the Seagrams distillery in Montreal.

It was actually the one thing I could not bring myself to eat in Taipei. Everyone told me it doesn't taste anything like it smells, but seeing as I was feeling a little dizzy and delicate from jet lag anyway, I was always driven away by the smell.

Patrick
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#3
Posted February 6th 2012, 5:41pm
Walking into the Lantern Festival event last night in Lugang, Changhua County, it wasn't long before I picked up the undetectable scent of zhou dof.

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This vendor was serving them on a stick (common practice?). Two joined puffs of stinky tofu are held together with a tenuous tofu membrane; fried; grilled and split longitudinally; wiped with what seems a kind of slightly sweet soy and filled with sauerkraut.

I had to steel my gastro-nerves to eat, but I can say this: the taste is immeasurably better than the smell, which is, indeed, ghastly...though the taste of the stuff is undeniably powerful.

There's some Asian paradox here: tofu, notorously absent of smell or taste, is here rendered into one of the most potent smell/taste combos in memory.

The line, long; the price, a buck; the memory, indelible.
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“We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
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#4
Posted February 7th 2012, 8:11am
fantastic first 2 posts Mr. Hammond, I will be follwing this thread for sure.
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#5
Posted February 7th 2012, 9:04am
Instead of going out for street food tonight, I stayed in my room on Sun Moon Lake and tried to figure out my toilet.

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Travelers more worldly than I have no doubt encountered robotic loos, but this was my first time, and I have to say, it gave me pause. The lid opens automatically and New Age music starts playing at a subliminal level, apparently triggered by a motion sensor, but that was just the start of my consternation, surprise, and eventual total buy-in to the concept.
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“We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
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#6
Posted February 7th 2012, 10:37am
Hi David--

You and Homer SImpson are in good company:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IumurVLswvo

I hear those toilets can actually help relieve consternation. :shock:

Patrick
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#7
Posted February 7th 2012, 2:06pm
I've been to night markets in Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong, Shenzen, and Macau, and have pleasant memories of them all.

Spend some time in any of these places during the day, and you will rapidly come to appreciate why the locals would want to do their socializing in the cool, cool, cool of the evening. For a night owl like me, it's a wonderful custom that I wish we had here. In addition to sampling the offerings from the food stalls, we did a lot of good shopping at the night markets.

The downside, in Taipei, at least, is warm (by which I mean outdoor air temperature) beer. I don't recall that being true in Macau, but can't be sure. I do know that as soon as we got back to Hong Kong we drank all the frosty cold beer we could get our hands on.
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#8
Posted February 8th 2012, 5:22pm
Kaohsiung City Night Market is a lot like Maxwell Street Market, except it serves only Asian food, is open every night, and you must walk gingerly through it to avoid being flattened by lawless, insouciant scooter pilots (the sense of danger may heighten appetite).

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It was very crowded on a Wednesday night.

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I just filed an article about blood, and I’d never had pork blood on-a-stick until last night. This version was bland: I was expecting a burst of mineral flavor, but it was just gummy (combo of glutinous grain -- rice or maybe wheat -- and coagulated blood). If it wasn't for the cayenne mixture the vendor sprinkled on top, it would have had no taste at all. I tossed after three bites.

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There was a LOT of food on offer that I could not identify:

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Had to laugh when I walked past a woman scrunching up her face as she took a bite of stinky tofu; I been there. (Earlier, I thought I caught a whiff of this odoriferous snack, only to realize I was merely standing near a sewer; the two smells are alarmingly similar).

Finally, after having some very good noodles and a mushy elote (yes, even here!), I came upon this vendor with a sign documenting the momentous meeting of little fowl and little crustacean:

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This street eat I enjoyed a lot, for its inventiveness (note tiny little chopsticks -- way to pull through a concept) but also for the rich quail egg and salty shrimp, sprinkle of herbs, sharpness of pickles (seemed Japanese type) and squirt of cream. There was a hunk of fresh pineapple in there for sweet-savoriness. The eggs had a slight, thin crispy breading, and there were four half-eggs here for under $2, the deal of the week.

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This last meal of the day almost made me forget the spectacular lunch I had at The Wild Duck in Shuili.

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A little reminiscent of salt and pepper shrimp at Little Three Happiness, these tiny little people were lightly fried and had loads of flavor, complemented by small chilies that packed a lot more heat than I’m used to having in Taiwanese food. I don’t have an address for The Wild Duck, but Shuli is a small town, and this booming neighborhood place is right across from the roadside stand where they sell betel nuts, which made my throat feel weird. But that is another story.
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#9
Posted February 11th 2012, 11:22am
Katie wrote:The downside, in Taipei, at least, is warm (by which I mean outdoor air temperature) beer. I don't recall that being true in Macau, but can't be sure. I do know that as soon as we got back to Hong Kong we drank all the frosty cold beer we could get our hands on.


At the Kaohsiung night market, I stopped for some Taiwan noodle soup and beer (to set up belly for what I thought would be challenging blood cakes):

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When the server asked if I wanted my beer warm or cold, I'm afraid I looked at him with a "Are you kidding me?" glance before I said "Cold, please".

Wonder if cold beer in Hong Kong is reflection of British tradition.

Based on superficial observation, it seems that Taiwan seems not to have a strong booze culture. Bars, which are so plentifiul in our city, seemed rare, and looking out over restaurants, I noticed that almost no one was enjoying wine or other alcoholic beverages. Tea...

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..and betel nuts..

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...however, are a whole 'nother story. In fact, regarding betel nuts, it's amazing that the country can support so many vendors, though I understand that some of these stands may be offering more than just the nuts.

[Note: above tea photo was taken at an Assam tea farm; Assam is a rather unusual tea to have in Taiwan, which is known more for oolongs and green teas, plus Assam is an Indian variety. The cultivation of this tea is owing to decision by Japanese that black tea would have a better market than green tea. Once the market for black tea dried up, they cut down the tea plants and started cultivating Betel trees, which are the big trees in this picture; small bushes are Assam tea plants.]
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“We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
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#10
Posted February 11th 2012, 1:44pm
Hammond, you strike me as a fella with an appreciation for a good gimmick.

Check out this place at the Bellavita - they may even do a ketchup XLB for ya:

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#11
Posted February 11th 2012, 4:41pm
Wow. Joining this thread late but will keep checking in. Glad to see Taiwan getting some love on this board. Are you still there? Kudos on trying chou doufu and treading the night markets. I couldn't abide a second helping of stinky tofu myself though my Taiwanese friends adore it. Have you made the de rigeur pilgramage to Din Tai Fung? Need any recos? How long are you there for? Taiwan must be buzzing with Linsanity.
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#12
Posted February 11th 2012, 6:18pm
titus wong wrote:Wow. Joining this thread late but will keep checking in. Glad to see Taiwan getting some love on this board. Are you still there? Kudos on trying chou doufu and treading the night markets. I couldn't abide a second helping of stinky tofu myself though my Taiwanese friends adore it. Have you made the de rigeur pilgramage to Din Tai Fung? Need any recos? How long are you there for? Taiwan must be buzzing with Linsanity.


Didn't make pilgrimage to Din Tai Fung, though I did make pilgrimages to several monasteries, had an excellent vegetarian meal at one, was informed of my major impediments to Enlightenment by a Zen Master (so I have that going for me), and saw Buddha's tooth (in shot below, it's over my left shoulder, but a little too far to be seen in this photo).

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Yes, Taiwanese are looney for Lin.

I'm home now.
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“We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
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#13
Posted February 12th 2012, 10:58am
My favorite part of the night markets, besides the "fry guys", were the weird English language T-shirts. Some of my favorites were "I like drive", and one that had a picture of that cartoon dog from "dick dastardly" that said "he dirty dog. he laug scurggiously on you!" (too bad all the sizes were really small). They also sell really cool shoes at the markets but the sizes max out at about 6. I had an American friend with size 13 feet who lived in TaiPei. He had to have Taiwanese made shoes sent from America. He would see a style that he liked then have a friend in LA special order them from Taiwan, and ship them back to him. Speaking of fry guys, did you try the fried squid on a stick? They are squids split in half, skewered, then dipped in batter, deep fried and covered in red chili powder. The end result looks like something that popped out of somebody's chest in 'Alien'. If you can't find something that appeals to you in "Snake Alley", Taipei also actually boasts a "Chicago style" restaurant called Dan Ryan's. The massive Saturday Jade and ornamental plant market held beneath the main highway ia also a must see. (just bring lots of wet-wipes, the place is muggy and very dusty)

I really loved Taiwan (I worked there for a while). It is probably one of the most overlooked tourist destinations in the world. Most people don't realize that the island has 200 mountains between 9500 and almost 13000 feet high, as well as a city the size of Chicago. From the 5 story flashing neon karaoke palaces to the massive National Museum laden with ancient treasures, the place is a total contrast in cultures. There are monasteries in the wilderness, where the monks are totally silent, to get closer to nature, yet the Taiwanese worship " Ren Nau" , the mass noise and confusion caused by literally millions of families living atop one another. I had a friend who had a house in an idyllic suburb which was like living in the middle of a beautifully sculpted garden. I commented on how gorgeous and peaceful it was, he said he wanted to move back downtown, because the suburbs were a "horrible place to raise children". He missed the competing blasting stereos and the constant popping of fire crackers, quacking of ducks and honking of scooter horns.
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#14
Posted February 13th 2012, 9:01pm
Stinky tofu is usually in 2 forms--the fried version you saw and, my preferred version, stewed in a chili-laced spicy broth.

While night markets are cool, I recommend you find a morning market. This is where Taiwanese moms and grandmas do their daily shopping. You'll see all sorts of wacky fruit and veg vendors, meat vendors, dry goods stores, dumpling vendors, clothing shops AMAZING seafood vendors and, most importantly, fantastic places to eat. The vibe is usually very laid-back and you'll meet tons of locals who are curious about the strange foreign person. The street stalls also offer great value. If you're ever in Taichung, I can direct you to my local market.
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#15
Posted February 13th 2012, 10:49pm
d4v3 wrote:I really loved Taiwan (I worked there for a while). It is probably one of the most overlooked tourist destinations in the world. Most people don't realize that the island has 200 mountains between 9500 and almost 13000 feet high, as well as a city the size of Chicago. From the 5 story flashing neon karaoke palaces to the massive National Museum laden with ancient treasures, the place is a total contrast in cultures.

I could have spent a day at the National Museum (as it was, I had about two hours). Marveled at centuries-old jade sculpture of bok choy and pork belly.

mikeczyz wrote:If you're ever in Taichung, I can direct you to my local market.

Was in Taichung, but just for a night. Next time: day markets.

mikeczyz wrote:Stinky tofu is usually in 2 forms--the fried version you saw and, my preferred version, stewed in a chili-laced spicy broth.


Tonight at Feed, CrazyC showed me a pic of stinky tofu, mottled with black rot. It had been steamed.
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“We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
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#16
Posted February 13th 2012, 11:14pm
David Hammond wrote:Tonight at Feed, CrazyC showed me a pic of stinky tofu, mottled with black rot. It had been steamed.


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Beijing - Stinky Tofu by agashi, on Flickr

Here is the pic. They will fry it to order, but you can also eat it as is with a mantou (steamed bun) or congee! And no, I did not eat this! I prefer the non-moldy fried versions of Hong Kong!
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#17
Posted February 14th 2012, 3:52am
CrazyC wrote:Here is the pic. They will fry it to order, but you can also eat it as is with a mantou (steamed bun) or congee! And no, I did not eat this! I prefer the non-moldy fried versions of Hong Kong!


Quite a few Taiwanese with whom I discussed Stinky Tofu said they didn't like it fried for health reasons (too fattening, and indeed there is an alarming percentage of the svelte on this island), but I believe that as with chitterlings (comparable to Stinky Tofu on olfactory grounds), frying contains the aroma in a way that steaming may not.

It's highly likely that the ST I had was a factory-produced version that went through an accelerated "aging" process; the stuff in CrazyC's pic looks more like the real thing.

To shift discussion toward a food I really liked, and one I believe many people here would enjoy as well, consider tea eggs:

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The eggs are cooked at relatively high heat for what seems a good long time in a wok filled with tea (frequently oolong, the local favorite). I very much liked the way the tea seasons the egg, and I was intrigued by how the flavor penetrated the shell of even those eggs that seemed to have intact shells. I would like to prepare this street treat at home, but am not exactly sure how to do it without overcooking the eggs (the one I had was not overcooked at all). Incidentally, those very black things in the photo above are stones that, for some reason, are frequently seen cooking with the tea eggs (may be to govern heat flow in some way).
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“We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
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#18
Posted February 14th 2012, 8:10am
here's what I usually do...cook the liquid with the aromatics to get it good and flavorful. add the eggs and simmer them for 10 or so minutes. take the eggs out of the pot and crack them. add them back to the liquid and turn off the heat. allow the eggs to steep in the liquid.
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#19
Posted February 15th 2012, 11:10am
had a feeling, per your twatter, you were in Taiwan. Fantastic looking stuff, as always. It's been way, way too long since I've last visited.
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