After a listless two hours on the transit bus from Taoyuan airport, my family and I shuffled off our weekend bags and headed straight for our first night market for some of Taipei’s famed street food.
After years of listening to friends (Taiwanese and otherwise) rave about Taipei’s gastronomical wonderland, and several failed attempts to make it over from the mainland, I had finally arrived, with self-destructive appetite in tow and lustful eyes for all the food stalls the city could throw at me.
On our first night, we went to Raohe market, near the Songshan train station. In terms of aesthetics and general experience, there isn’t much that distinguishes one night market from another, certainly not the popular ones: narrow lanes the length of several street blocks, lined with carts, stalls, rickety tables, modest sit-down establishments, sharing the same sprinkling of garish signs of bold-faced, fluorescent bulbs, plastic stools. The slow crawl of the elbow-to-elbow crowd isn’t quite as daunting as the soft panic of having to ration stomach-space for an invariably limited selection of snacks from each nigh market’s bountiful offering.
If you’ve somehow missed something along the way, good luck moving backwards against the slow push of the crowd.
My first stop was for a sausage-in-a-sausage (大肠包小肠) that my friend Winston had highly recommended; the larger sausage is made of sticky rice in a sausage casing, and the smaller is a traditional Taiwanese sausage. Both are grilled, then the rice sausage split open and lined with cabbage, raw garlic, and chili sauce, with the meat sausage on top of all that. It’s bit of a challenge to eat neatly, and with the two casings, a bit chewy, but those were really the only complaints, especially if you love the sweet, crisp-skinned, smoky, chunky Taiwanese sausages like I do.
Other delicious treats we tried included fresh sugarcane juice (an old favorite – reminds of me early childhood days spent munching fresh sugarcane from my grandfather’s farm), fresh mango smoothie, Taiwanese fried chicken (which has a uniquely sweet and garlicky seasoning), sweet potato fries, and a refreshing dessert of tofu pudding (with simple syrup and chocolate syrup). Part of the allure of these kinds of street food, I think, is how freshly and quickly everything is assembled in front of you. The sausages and fried chicken were basically too hot and greasy to immediately devour; the mangoes were peeled & chopped & blended and the tofu pudding scooped & syrup’d to order. There’s something great in that kind of immediacy, in a similar way to hungrily opening your cupboard to find a treasure trove of delicious snacks – everything at your fingertips, and a negligible handful of change for each. Gloriously conducive to impulse eating.
And I couldn’t help but throw in a few gratuitous shots of delicious-looking things we did not save enough room for:
Raohe Night Market
10567, Taiwan, 台北市松山區饒河街