Tasting Taiwan’s Night Market – Part 2

Sorry for the inexplicable long silence.

Krista Goon
Adele and me when I spoke at the Penang Women Chamber of Commerce CNY lunch

It gets harder and harder to blog when my time is so consumed by a zillion other things – mentoring, for instance (although I have officially completed my 6-month mentoring sessions with Adele and Janice).

gratitude note
A note from my mentee, Adele.

Also, business projects. When I say business projects, most people think it’s doing stuff for clients. Errr. Not exactly. I’m doing stuff for myself. Nic is tweaking his game for entrepreneurs while I’m creating some courses and follow-up products that can help our clients more. We still maintain and manage websites for clients but these days, we’re also focusing on creating more training materials for people who want to learn how to do it on their own.

I’m also working on a book with two other friends along the theme of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and that’s practically driving me up the wall – you wouldn’t believe the rounds of readings and edits and going back and forth with the women we’ve interviewed.

cathedral of holy spirit penang

Plus in between, I get pitched to speak. Nic and I did one for 200 Catholic students at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on 24 June, sharing about a community project Nic and I initiated called TSN Book Adoption Centre.

cathedral of holy spirit penang catholic mission day
The 200 uni students from Sabah and Sarawak.

Before that, I did one for my WomenBizSENSE meeting on 23 June where I taught the 40 ladies how to use time-saving apps and software for business.

catholic students mission day 2017 penang
I call this interfaith. I’m a Buddhist and I get to talk to Catholic students about what it means to serve your community. Start with a small, do-able project. Don’t try to conquer the world.

 

I’ve one coming up on 19 July – it’s one I’ve agreed to do for a new co-working space called Scoopoint along Weld Quay regarding women entrepreneurship. But speaking is something that I like to do as part of my repertoire as each speaking engagement allows me to find new ways to present and improve my ability to present.

Yeah, so those things take up my time. And in between, I want to read my fiction and business books. I want to go home to Banting and see my dad and sister and niece and nephew more.

OK, but today, I decided to make good on my promise. More on my Taiwan travels! (If you missed Part 1, here it is.)

taiwan night market game machine

So the evening we checked into our small but clean boutique hotel, we had a quick shower and went in search of the night market! The famed night markets of Taipei.

The nearest one to us was the Ningxia night market. I was excited because I was thinking of all the tasty snacks and street food awaiting us. It was 20 minutes of walking.

When you’re travelling, every kerb and corner shop looks interesting. We passed a women’s only gym which looked really hip (all that see-through glass makes the gals exercise with more effort as passers-by can see what they’re doing).

Taiwanese night markets often are a combination of entertainment (street magicians), gambling (games of chance for adults and kids!), snacks (grilled beef/squid/chicken, deep-fried everything from stinky tofu to chicken, pastries, fruits, sausages etc.), electronic gadgets and fashion.

taiwan night market game stall
Kitschy 80s game stall that attracts people to try their luck at winning.

 

In a seedier section of another night market that we passed by near Lung Shan Temple, it had shops where you could eat snake (cobra anyone?), drink snake bile, buy lingerie and drink alcohol. All businesses related to the supposed virility circle. I find it strange that we still need to kill hapless snakes just to satisfy some strange tradition (yes, that Chinese tradition that I do not agree with!).

Anyway, Ningxia was an introduction to the Taipei night market scene. Kids were seated in front of stalls playing games of chance. Mostly the machines were China-made. If there were no machine, it was a simple stall set-up with balloons that you had to burst in order to win a prize. Similar to our tikam-tikam. When we were browsing about, a few people were engaged in trying to get themselves a prize (which could be some soft toy). I think humans just like to win. The feeling of success is what we want, not so much the prize (which is why so many ‘Toyland’ shops are popping up in Queensbay Mall – sometimes these toys are so cheap and ugly and yet people still buy lots of tokens to get a chance to win one!).

As we had spent the whole day travelling (our flying schedule had started at 6am that morning but we had been at the Penang airport since 2am and the airport chairs aren’t the best for sleeping!), we took it easy. I was more eager to try some food than gamble to get a soft toy that is (poorly) made in China.

grilled wild boar sausage taiwan night market
Anything grilled is good. Taiwan’s grilled meats are top of the list.

The grilled wild boar sausage was good as it was piping hot and you could slather a few different sauces. The next place we stopped by was a “zhu zhar” stall with typical hawker style seating. They were frying up lots of stuff – beef koay teow, beef slices and soupy mee sua. The Taiwanese love their beefy dishes. We sat down on tiny stools at a metal table and ordered a soup. It was a dismal bowl of beef slices in ginger soup. The beef slices were tender but too miserly. The soup tasted good but maybe I was hungry. We shared the soup and decided we’d call for another dish.

Just then a local couple plopped themselves down in front of us. The table-sharing concept is common in Asian countries since space is limited and personal space isn’t quite as important, unlike Western countries.

They ordered stir fried beef slices. When their dish came, the guy was disgruntled. He started to mumble about how small the portion was. He started grumbling louder and even called the stall owner over to ask “Is this stir fried beef? So few beef slices! We’re not tourists you know. We’re local people.” He was getting pissed as the minutes ticked on. This was uncomfortable as we were like a foot away from him and his girlfriend (she too was mumbling away).

I was so glad to get away once we finished our food and decided to go away in search of other more filling snacks!

famous rice ball stall in taipei

As we strolled along, we saw this long line of people. Whenever you see a long line, you know the food’s good. And the long line of people were mostly locals. Patiently, they stood in line edging themselves nearer to a guy who was packing rice ball snacks. He should be famous going by the various newspaper clippings he had stuck onto his other stall (strangely he operated from a push cart on the road). I didn’t want to wait in line – I wasn’t that desperately hungry then.

famous rice ball stall ning xia night market
Apparently, “ku zhao wei” or tradtional taste is a big thing in Taiwan.

We walked along the shops and realized Taipei is very much Japanese-influenced. Historically, the Japanese came to Taiwan and stayed for 50 years until 1945. But unlike Malaya that was conquered and under Japanese rule, the Taiwanese generally like the Japanese. They are surprisingly positive and fondly open about the Japanese and their memories of Japanese in Taiwan. Hence, we saw lots of local sushi and sashimi shops (though I’m a bit wary of their fish and how fresh the fish is!) where locals would just sit and eat and down some beer.

rice ball snack vendor taipei taiwan
This is the rice ball snack guy. Nonstop business on a week day night.

When we had enough of walking, we headed back to City Suites Beimen. I never really have a fixed itinerary when we travel. We do what we feel like doing which is often the reason for many interesting surprises.

The interesting part is coming up – I didn’t know I had booked us into an artsy enclave and one that was walking distance to the wharf!

traditional chinese herbal tea taiwan
A herbal tea stall at the night market. The seller wasn’t friendly at all. Talk about brusque!

Leave a Comment