We landed into a thick wall of humidity. We were in Taiwan. Over the years we were living in New York, we had somehow accumulated quite a few Taiwanese friends, and we were finally going to explore their motherland and eat our way through it.
We made our way to my college friend Chienya’s apartment in Donghu via bus and subway, which was super easy because the service people here are helpful and friendly. Chienya busted out some wax apples and pineapple, which was my first wax apple experience and the beginning of our foray into the various tropical fruits of Taiwan. Then, we were off to dinner… At Mitsukoshi. I felt like I was still in Tokyo.
I couldn’t help but immediately start comparing Taipei to Tokyo, because they’re both alike in many ways. First off, there is Japanese writing everywhere, so you can pretty much get by without any problems if you speak only Japanese. Besides the familiar shops and Japanese products they sell here, the culture is similar in many ways. I feel like we’re easing into our Southeast Asia trip, which is different from our Europe trip when we started in Russia.
Our first full day in Taipei was all about food. That morning, we had a traditional Taiwanese breakfast at a typical shop here in Taiwan, which means it’s open to the outside, has a counter with some busy ladies preparing and serving food and it’s a little less than ideal in restaurant hygiene. But I’m going to have to get used to that, because the food was awesome. We went to a local market and picked up some more fruit before heading home to digest in preparation for dinner.
Now our friends have been talking up the night markets for years and I don’t like to get my hopes up too high when it comes to food, but you should always trust your good friends. Luckily, our local friends warned us about Shilin Night Market, which is the biggest and therefore most well-known of the bunch, but also the most expensive with crappy food. We opted for the Raohe Night Market, and shuffled along with the hordes of locals to ogle all of the food stall offerings and the people happily stuffing their faces at the outdoor tables.
Chienya knows us so well she even knows what we want to eat. We started with a Taiwanese-style tempura, which is like a fried something tossed with sauce and eaten with sliced fresh cucumbers.
Then we sat down for what all Taiwanese love, and love to subject foreigners to: Stinky Tofu. I remember having it once (with Chienya) in New York’s Chinatown, and I thought it was one of the vilest things I’ve ever eaten. I hadn’t gone near it since, but one has to try it when one is in Taiwan so I sucked it up and ate it. And it was actually kind of good. There was a nice sauce on it, and a pickled cabbage and fresh cilantro on top, and the combination of the flavors worked perfectly. I had a couple more pieces after that and I honestly wouldn’t mind trying it again, even though I still can’t stand the smell (it smells like feet).
We also had oyster omelet and noodles, but we weren’t quite finished yet. We shuffled along, got a sweet ginger tea to sip on, found ourselves at a grilled seafood stall, ate a plate of oysters, played a pinball-like game where Chienya and I each won one piece of candy (woohoo), had a passionfruit jelly pop, shuffled all around the other side of the market to a shaved ice shop and stuffed our faces again. At least Chienya and Annie did, while I had a dohua (tofu in a hot sweet broth) and Chienya said I was like an old man with my warm beverages and food. It was just like old times, sitting in this bustling night market with my old friend from school.
With all of this good food, I’m beginning to feel like Taipei might be one of the most underrated foodie destinations in Asia.
For more photos of food, check out our Flickr album.