Saturday, May 10, 2008

Scenes From a Taiwanese Night Market - Part 1

Hualien is a scenic little city in Taiwan which is a top tourist destination for both Taiwanese and foreigners alike. Visitors are drawn to its beautiful scenery and peaceful, idyllic atmosphere. The famous Taroko Gorge, which was named by Virgin Travel Insurance as one of the world's Top Ten Must-See Sights (and served as a backdrop for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), also beckons nearby.

Luckily for me, my wonderful wife hails from this charming city. So it was a natural destination for us during our recent visit to Taiwan. Hualien, just like the rest of Taiwan, is rife with culinary adventures just waiting to happen. And one of the most exciting and dynamic of these is the Night Market, which lies just a few blocks from our home in Hualien.

The Night Market is a collection of myriad little stalls that sell a mind-boggling array of food, beverages, snacks, desserts and more. Its diverse offerings range from noodles and rice plates, to sushi and takoyaki, to steak and sandwiches. The Night Market derives its name from the fact that it is open till the wee hours of the morning and seems to be most alive and abuzz with energy after the sun goes down. Throngs of people descend upon this tiny space night after night, and it gets especially crowded during weekends.

Exotic food choices lurk in every corner. In the photo above, the sign in the middle of the picture (click the photo to enlarge) reads "Medicinal Stew" and refers to this stall's specialty: pork spare ribs boiled in a concoction of Chinese medicinal herbs. The resulting dish is supposed to be very good for health. In the photo below (click to enlarge) the small white sign with red Chinese characters in the middle of the picture advertises "Salty Water Chicken", a boiled chicken dish whose unique feature is that it is made from "eunuch chickens" (that's right, male chickens that had their little jewels snipped off at a young age). The eunuch chicken's meat is sought after because of its texture - tender, but not soft; firm, but not tough.

Tung Shan Duck Head

Some of these little stalls are spectacularly successful and always have long lines of people eagerly waiting to grab their goodies. Like this one whose sign boldy reads "Tung Shan Duck Head" (although it is not visible in this picture below, the people on the left of this photo are actually the beginning of a long queue):

This stall's specialty is - you guessed it - deep fried duck head (from which one eats the brains and eyes). But there's more on the menu than just duck head. Practically every part of the duck is put to some profitable use. In the photo below (click to enlarge), the row of food closest to the masked duo provides a selection of: duck head, head plus neck, or neck only. In the foreground we see (starting from the right) fish cakes, duck blood cakes (those are the brown brick-like things; they are made from sweet rice mixed with duck blood), duck gizzard skewers, tofu, duck heart skewers, duck feet, quail egg skewers, duck wings, and duck intestine skewers:

From the wide variety of offerings available, people pick up their selected items with tongs, drop them into their little red plastic baskets, and then hand them over to the masked lady (on the right side of the picture below), who deep-fries them in a big pot:

I've heard rumors that the owner of this business (the masked man pictured above), owing to the huge popularity and success of this operation, lives in a mansion and drives an expensive luxury car. (I hope the Taiwanese tax collectors aren't reading this ;-)

Barbecue Skewers

Another standout in this raucous sea of food hawkers is this stall that specializes in barbecue skewers:

This stall gets huge amounts of customer traffic and seems very popular with the younger crowd:

Among various types of barbecue skewers available are (click the photo below to enlarge) tofu, pork, chicken, beef, fishballs, hotdogs, and (in the far left of the photo below) squid. The squid skewers are my wife's favorite. If one enlarges the photo below one can see that the squid skewers come in 2 sizes: large and small. My wife astutely pointed out that the large squid are nearly twice as big as the small ones, but they differ in price by only 10 Taiwanese dollars ($70 vs. $60), so one would have to be a real sucker to buy one of the small ones:

(to be continued...)


Anonymous said...

Looks fabulous! This is the way I "Travel" and I enjoyed reading this very much, thank you for sharing!

AsianFoodFanatic said...

Thanks Jackie! I'm glad you liked it. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my foray into the Taiwanese Night Market.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, found your blog at the discussion pool here at blogger. Im a huge fan of asian food as well and I think you are doing the right thing, posting your own stuff so that people like me can see it and comment!
Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love yum Cha and Asian food courts, far better than McDonnals and those crappy food!
Thanks again.

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