Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Shilin Night Market (士林夜市): Taipei, Taiwan

Date:  mardi 1 mai 2012
Location:  Shilin Ye Shi (Shilin Night Market) - the taxi driver will know!

I always make a stop through the famous Shilin Night Market whenever I visit Taipei.  No Taiwan trip would be culturally replete without it.  Upon visiting last night, my friend and I were pondering if there was any other place like Shilin in the world.  We couldn't conjure anything up. 

The night market is exactly as it sounds - a kitchy bazaar comprised of over 500+ small food stalls exhibiting traditional Taiwenese street foods and many more small shops selling all kinds of inexpensive crooks and curios from clothing items, to kitchen items, to beauty items, to electric fly swatters in the shape of tennis rackets with zapping metal strings (my personal favorite!).  Hours are daily 4pm-2am, catering to the first wave of students out of school, and then into the evening and late night for wanderers looking to laze some time away in search of a good bargain.  Always be sure to bargain! 

I guess the best way to relate the experience of walking through the night market is to describe the feeling and smells one will definitely encounter.  First of all, it's extremely humid.  Taiwan is a tropical island, and Taipei is a city on this island, surrounded by valley mountains.  Steamy hot!  Secondly, traditional Taiwanese street foods consist of many small plate items.  Oyster omelettes, oyster noodles, shaved ice with fruit, grass jelly, red bean, green bean, and condensed milk toppings. 

Most popular Taiwan street foods are the deep-fried or pan-fried items.  Imagine the oil particles wafting through the air and onto your skin mixed in with the steam of the night.  Just lovely.  Fried chicken, fried beef meat balls, fried fish balls, fried intestines, and one of my must tries - the infamous deep-fried fermented (preserved) tofu. 

You can smell the unmistakable sour, stench of the "stinky tofu" from many feet away.  It lures you via a game of "follow your nose" to the little fried fermented tofu food stall that is bustling around the large wok of boiling oil.  As rancid as this may sound (or smell), this is a traditional Taiwanese snack that must be experienced!  On the contrary it actually tastes quite good as opposed to its rank, foul odor.  The texture is a chewy, fried puff of tofu skin with a sparse bit of doughy, custard-like tofu inside, with hints of seared garlic oil.  Usually it is served with a side of pickled cabbage and drizzled with black vinegar.  You can add chili sauce on the side too as we usually do.         

Yumm!  Fermented Stinky Fried Tofu!  Locals love this dish every now and then.

View of the Stinky Tofu food stall from the side, where we sat and enjoyed our stinky little bite sized goodies.  

So, imagine yourself wading through the night market street stalls smelling of fried foods, oil in the air, feeling the natural Taiwan sticky steam on your face and skin, seeing the many random knick knacks the small shops are selling, and hearing the shop keepers sometimes advertising the sale of their goods through a megaphone, as if at an auction.  It is a bustling and thrilling experience indeed, and all of your sense will be tantalized.  This is a unique experience to Taipei and I love it!

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