Buns, Balls, and Crabs (part 2)

… Or how I ate my way through Taipei and lived to tell the tale. Or, how I learned sharing is caring. (Second of multiple parts)

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Crab legs and claws, snails, shrimp and other drool-inducing delicacies at the Keelung Maiokau Night Market

Taiwan is not a good place for dieters. There is just too much delicious food. Our first afternoon alone, in the first three hours in Taipei, we have managed to eat mee sua, which is thin rice flour noodles in a thick broth/gravy with pieces of meat in it and flavored with soy sauce and vinegar. It was mouthwatering. Before that, someone bought a packet of fried chicken nuggets that were out of this world, which our group all sampled. I must say, the Taiwanese really know their street food. And almost anything can be considered street food, as I would later see as we visited the night markets — the first of which, I would be introduced to that first night.

I love traveling by myself and getting lost in a new place. But I must admit, for this first trip to Taipei, I’m glad that I had colleagues who have been here several times and can just guide us as to where to go. I suppose finding the night markets would be easy, for a newcomer. But finding the little stalls and carts that sell the best buns, for instance, is going to be a problem for newbies. There’s also the language problem. More people now speak English, especially among the young university students, but non-Mandarin speakers may still have a hard time getting understood. Still, that’s part of the beauty of travel, isn’t it? On this trip, though, we had a guide who knew her way around. That saved time figuring out how to get to the different places. And of course, the company had hired a van to take us to the more far-flung areas we wanted to go to, which again, saved us valuable time.

We had planned to go to Shida Night Market on our first night. But first, we have to sample some buns. Another rule, we all discovered on this trip: Sharing is caring. We were all tempted, especially us newbies, to each buy a bun (or three) for ourselves, but we were warned that the night was still young and we would no doubt be eating for much of it; to actually gorge on buns this early would ruin your appetite. Suggestion duly noted and followed. So first stop: Yong Fung Sheng on Shida Road. It specializes in sweet or savory bao tzi or steamed buns. Bestsellers including the brown sugar buns, sesame buns and the meat buns. Looking at the steaming containers and the displayed buns, I was overwhelmed! Wanted to try them all, but in the end, I had the meat bun, just because I am not that fond of the sweet kind. But had to say that I had a taste of the brown sugar and it was light and not too sweet, perfect snack for walking around in. It was reasonably priced too, at around 15 – 20 TWD.

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(From top) I know exactly how you’re feeling, kid — too many delicious buns!; these two aunties were veterans at handling the long queue of drooling customers; I was already halfway through my bun before it occurred to me to take a picture of it. Walking on the street, eating and taking a picture of the food — it can’t get any more Asian than that!

Shida Night Market

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Shida Night Market is thronged with young shoppers looking for a good deal

We spent a lot of time in this night market. It’s one of Taipei’s most popular night markets, especially with young people because it’s near the universities and there are many shops and boutiques that sell trendy clothes. Needless to say, most of us ended up shopping in this area.

But first, a bit about Taiwan’s night markets: Night markets are intrinsic to the Taiwanese. They’re part of their everyday lives, so while they may be tourist attractions now, Taiwanese still flock to them as a way of socialization — to eat, certainly; but also, to meet friends, shop and just relax. The night markets start to come alive when the sky darkens and depending on which you go to, will be a hive of activity until the wee hours of the morning. Also, depending on when you go, they can get very crowded. So pay close attention to valuables, wear comfortable clothes and shoes and bring an umbrella or jacket for when it rains. It was the rainy season when we were there, and it wasn’t pleasant to walk through narrow streets and stalls hoping for the rain to stop.

Though I did shop some, I was not really in a full shopping mode that trip. So I contented myself with taking pictures of everything — and sampling the food, of course! And was there a lot to sample!

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(Top two photos) Women making fried xiao long bao (soup-filled dimsum) which were then fried. Needless to say, heavenly!

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I don’t know what the name of this bun is, but each steamed bun is filled with meat (pork and/or beef), vegetables and some crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. Delicious! I still dream of this up to now

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A braised yong tau fu stall. This did not look too promising for me, but had some of a colleague’s bowl and it was delicious. Vegetables, meat, bean curd and different meat substitutes are braised in a soy-based herbal sauce and added to noodles. We bought two takeaway bowls and ate them later in our hotel. Those two bowls were enough to feed seven women!

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Gigantic crepes. Wanted to try this, but it was just too huge!

Keelung Miaokou Night Market

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Deep-fried little crabs and shrimp — choose if you want it spicy or not

Located in Keelung, northern part of Taipei, this night market was brimming with seafood, because Keelung is a port. It’s supposedly one of the smaller night markets in Taiwain. But its maze of alleys, side streets and profusion of stalls made this one big place to me. Aside from, seafood, the market also sells other kinds of goodies, as well as nonfood stuff like dry goods (clothes, toys, etc)… But who cares about those, when the food just about dominates everything?

The night market gets its name from the area and from the temple located near the market entrance. “Miaokou” means “temple’s entrance”. Dianji Temple is reportedly the largest temple in the area and is believed to be the reason why the market grew popular in the first place. People would flock to the temple for religious rites and celebrations and naturally, a market sprang up around it. It was first built around 120 years ago, but was refurbished in 2007.
Despite how crowded it can get, Keelung is very orderly and organized. The market is characterized by the distinctive yellow lanterns running along its main alley, where row upon row of food stalls are located. You can actually sit in one and have a proper meal, as vendors will call out to prospective customers to come and try their dishes. But it’s equally fine if you want to take your food to go. I suggest taking your food to go so you get to see more of the market. Above each stall are signboards in various languages (Chinese, Japanese, English), which is a boon for someone like me, so I actually know what I am eating!

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(Top photo) Dianji Temple at the entrance of the market. Did not get to go in here, which I regret. Oh well, next time! (Second row) Food galore! Dough fritters, grilled meats, seafood barbecue; (third row) sushi, a juice stall (important to find one so you have a drink with you while eating!), fruit on sticks — I love the name of this stall; more grilled meat, the yellow lanterns at the entrance; the crowds of people

Jiufen Old Street

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The main drag of Juifen Old Street

Not exactly a night market, but am including it in this post just for the food and the sheer picturesque-ness alone.

Juifen is an old town up in the mountains by the seaside, some two hours from Taipei. It used to be a sleepy seaside town until gold was discovered there in 1893, which quickly doubled the town due to the gold rush. The Japanese occupied the town around that time and up to now, there are still a very prevalent Japanese influence in the old streets and buildings. Perched on the edge of a hill, Old Street is very picturesque and is lined by tea houses, food shops, and souvenir shops with a fabulous view of the ocean. Of course, it’s very touristy, but I loved it just the same.

Fun fact: Lovers of Japanese anime will know this street as the inspiration for the location of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic, Spirited Away!

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Views near Jiufen

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As you go up the winding street, you’ll pass by many vendors and stalls selling all sorts of delicacies. Up to you to choose which to patronize. The variety can get dizzying. There were varieties of fishballs, meatballs, meat pies, sausages (of all kinds), tofu (all kinds)

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To escape the crowds on the Old Street, I went into this quaint tea house, which was an oasis of calm and quiet from the madness outside. Didn’t sit down for tea, but wandered the place taking photos — the proprietors didn’t seem to mind. Lovely

Writing this, I thought I had forgotten a lot of things about this trip. But the pictures just brought forth a lot of memories and information I didn’t know I retained! Next up: Taipei’s hipster hangouts. Coming soonest!

Addresses, drections and such:

Shida Night Market: Get down at Taipower Building MRT station, and walk down Shida Road. It should take you about 10 minutes to get to the night market. Yong Fung Sheng and other interesting bakeries are along the way.

Keelung Miaokou Night Market: We had a shuttle bus taking us around during the trip, but people say getting to the night market is easy via train. Here’s how: Go to Taipei Main Station and take a train on Taiwan Railways to Keelung Station. Train ticket will be 41 TWD and there’s one train leaving every 15 – 20 minutes all day. At Keelung Railway Station, walk down Zhong 1st Rd and turn right at the intersection of Zhong 1st Rd and Ai 4th Rd.

Jiufen Old Street: http://guidetotaipei.com/visit/jiufen-%E4%B9%9D%E4%BB%BD

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pinxwitch

My name is Terrie. I write for a living and blog for pleasure. Some days, I get up in the morning and know precisely what kind of day it is. At other times, I get knocked over for a loop. People seem to like confiding in me. When I was younger, I thought I knew everything and can tell you what you need to do if you ask me. Now that I'm older, I realize I don't know anything. That's been my motivation for the blog and for writing. To figure out the unknown and unknowable.

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