07 July 2008

Travel: Taipei - Night Markets

I intended to seek out some of Taipei’s temples during the weekend, and I decided to start with Longshan Temple, which dated to 1738. It is just off of an MRT stop (named, conveniently, Longshan Temple). When I arrived, my sense of direction failed me, and I ended up spending the dying moments of the day wandering around, looking for the temple (it ended up being in the one direction I hadn't actually looked). This was fine, however, as I got to see a little bit of the local neighborhood. And little did I know that the area transformed into a night market as the sun set. I stumbled upon dozens of street vendors setting up their food stalls, and I was brave enough to taste some of the goodies (on the meat front, I stayed exclusively with chicken, asking for help from the locals; some of what I saw would have taken real guts – pun intended – to stomach). My favorite dish was a Taiwanese version of flatbread, a doughy pancake with vegetables and spices, cooked with an egg and brushed with soy and chilli sauce. You fold it over and eat it like an Asian tortilla. I later found other vendors making the same thing – one deep-fried his, another called it China Pizza. It is my new favorite. And it probably has 2000 calories a serving.

After sampling the food, I realized the temple was right beside the night market, so I made a quick visit. It was buzzing with activity, but the light was fading for some good photos, so I decided to save a longer visit for the next day. I was off in search of another Taiwanese favorite – the beer hall. More on that later.

After a quick break at the hotel, I headed out to try another night market, the large Shilin Market, housed in a huge building in the northern part of the city. It is like a carnival – games of skill/chance, trinket and knick-knack shops, and lots of food stalls. You name it, they were cooking it – all kinds of seafood, massive sausages, a Taiwanese-version of blood pudding, and stews that looked like they contained every part of the unfortunate creatures that served as the base. And the place was packed. Not only inside, but also around the area. It looked like it would go all night.

Again, I stayed safe, having beef and onions, cooked teppanyaki-style on the grill top right in front of me. It was quite tasty, but the cool part was that it continued to cook as I ate it - the meat and veggies were served on a piece of foil right on the grill-top. I guess it gives the diner the choice of how exactly he wants his meat cooked - it just depends on how long he takes to eat it.

I did take an interest in the other foods being served, but my curiosity was limited to questions about ingredients and the snapping of photos. I was too full, and I just wasn't going to make the leap in some cases.

By the time I had finished eating and playing shooting games (I won a deck of cards by shooting 8 out of 10 balloons in a clearly fixed game), it was late, and I was tired. So, back on the MRT and off to the hotel.

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