This is the fourth of eleven posts on Taiwan. Check out our other posts here:
- Time for Taiwan: An Introduction
- 5 Nights at the Haunted Grand Hyatt Taipei
- Sweating to Taipei’s National Sites
- Taking it to the Streets: Taipei’s Night Markets
- Hiking Elephant Mountain
- Taipei’s Cheap Eats: Savory Edition
- Taipei’s Cheap Eats: Sweets Edition
- Heading to Green Island
- Green Island’s Sites
- Hiking Taroko Gorge, Part 1
- Hiking Taroko Gorge, Part 2
I’ve heard a lot of city food scenes described as high end, middle ranged, or low-end. One of the reasons Mrs. Selfish and I love to travel is for the food. Unfortunately, my tastes are rooted firmly in the low-end to mid-range side of the food spectrum, so cities are often hit or miss.
Paris, as great as it is, doesn’t do a lot for me food wise. Most of the best options are Michelin starred type deals, with $40+ entrees and a dress code to match. The first time Mrs. Selfish and I traveled there we largely got by on Paninis, crepes, baguettes, and croissants.
So I was very excited to come to Taipei, home of the humble night market. While we marked more than 6 night markets on our map, we only hit up two of them due to time constraints.
Tong Hua Night Market
Just a 10 minute walk from the Grand Hyatt Taipei and Taipei 101, Tong Hua Night Market is a small, intimate night market specializing mostly in food stands.
The eats here are seriously cheap, and start for as little as $20 TWD (~$.66 USD). You can literally find a delicious, hot meal for 2 people for less than $6 USD. Plus, it’s good. Really good.
The first thing we tried was a “chicken cheese roll.”
A delicious concoction, the chicken cheese roll consisted of grilled chicken rolled in a thin, chewy outside layer of fried cheese. Serve on top of thinly sliced lettuce, and top with aioli, kernels of corn, and a mixture of spices and seaweed flavoring. It’s equal parts chewy, crunchy, sweet, spicy, and savory – an utter delight.
Next, we wandered over to a sausage stand, in search of the elusive “Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang,” or “Small Sausage in Big Sausage.”
Unfortunately, this did not appear to be the place. Instead, I got a sweet Taiwanese sausage filled with cilantro and lightly grilled. Delicious, but not exactly what we were looking for.
Undeterred and still hungry, Mrs. Selfish and I moved on to the scallion pancake stand, cuz I love me some savory pancakes.
We opted for the ham and egg scallion pancake. If you’ve never had one of these bad boys before it has the textural consistency of roti, or an Indian paratha. It’s flaky, savory, and slightly chewy.
The ham and egg totally beefed this one up, and by the time we had finished it I was starting to get pretty stuffed. Nearly finished, we decided to close the night out with some pan-fried buns.
The bread portion of the bun was similar to a steamed bao, which is then pan fried until it has a crunchy exterior. The inside was stuffed with meat and was utterly delicious.
Definitely a good way to close out the evening.
Shilin Night Market
Probably the largest market in Taipei proper (the winner in the area from what we heard is Keelung Night Market, but we couldn’t make the 45 minute+ trek out of town), Shilin market is mixture of food stalls and permanent shops selling cheap clothes and tourist tchotchkes.
They have just about everything you could ever want and then some. Knockoff Hello Kitty merchandise? Check. Cheap Korean clothes? Check. Chinglish t-shirts with semi-offensive sayings? Double check.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), this sort of atmosphere seems to be conducive to cheap, delicious food carts and man, do they have it all!
Mrs. Selfish and I came right before sunset, and we came hungry. First up, scallions wrapped in chicken.
While the signs for “Carbon BBQ” inspired little confidence, the product itself ended up being quite delicious. Large slices of scallions are wrapped in chicken and dosed in a sweet/salty marinade before being thrown on a fiery grill. Slightly chewy, but very refreshing with a sweet, meaty aftertaste.
Moving on we stumbled into an open area with a temple right in the middle of the market. It was here that we finally found the “Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang.”
The “big sausage” is actually a big lie! It’s not an actual sausage, but is instead glutinous rice that is molded into a sausage bun. The inside sausage is the traditional Taiwanese sausage, which is in itself quite delicious. Not quite what I was hoping for, but tasty and filling nonetheless.
Moving on we finally made it to the show-stopper, the mammoth deep fried chicken breast cutlet.
This chicken cutlet is pounded very thin, before it is breaded and deep fried. The cutlet is then hit with a special salt and pepper powder and (optionally) topped with hot chili powder, which adds a satisfying burn that slowly builds over the course of the meal.
It is epic. It is filling. It is artery-clogging, deep fried delight.
From there we headed to our one misstep at Shilin Night Market, the noodle burrito (real name, unknown).
Where the chicken cutlet blew me away, the noddle burrito was an utter disappointment. Texturally there wasn’t anything exciting going on. The noodles were a little too sweet, and the rice wrap was severely lacking in flavor. Utterly disappointing. After a few bites we ended up throwing it out (something that rarely happens in the Selfish household).
To wash away the disappointment, we turned to our final sampling of the evening: the deep fried potato coil.
I’ve seen these potato coils in night markets all over the world, but have never been man enough to try one. From the looks of it they use a machine to slice a potato into one long potato-coil, before deep frying this bad boy. You’re given a choice of seasoning, and in this case I opted for seaweed (c’mon, you’re in Asia!) and paprika.
Still warm and crunchy, it was fat-filled savory delight on a stick. Man I wish they had these in the States!
And that’s it for Night Markets. Join us tomorrow when I’ll talk about our walk to Taipei’s iconic Elephant Mountain.