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Nose to tail eating in Taipei's street food markets

Nose to tail eating in Taipei's street food markets
making noodles
I NEVER was a tourist in Taipei – and I’m glad.

If there is one thing better than visiting one of those places that makes you want to stay for months, it is visiting one of those places and staying there for months.

My year or so living in San Chong, a suburb of Taipei, taught me that if you give a place some time, it reveals itself so much more. Of course, the majority of us can’t have holidays that last for months and city breaks that last for weeks, but perhaps one of the things my time in Taipei has taught me is that in a time when everybody is desperate to see as much of the world as possible, so they can check it off their list, it’s sometimes equally rewarding to add an extra few nights, weeks or months to your stay to make sure you see the real character of a destination.

Food makes up a crucial part of a region’s character – and Taipei is no exception. It is a city where everybody is food-mad, but hardly anyone is obese.

I worked as a teacher, and along with Harry Potter, food was the subject that my students and I could find some real common ground. I would pull faces while they would tell me about what a rewarding snack tea eggs were and how stinky, fermented tofu really brought some stir-fried cabbage to life. I could always trump them with Stilton. Apart from those plastic slices which grace a Big Mac, cheese is still a fairly alien concept to Asians. But they just couldn’t understand why we would purposefully allow a cheese to go mouldy… then eat it.

My diet fell foul of the language barrier more than once in Taipei. In Europe most of us can stumble through a menu, even if we don’t know the language. Boeuf, jamon or formaggio all ring bells at the back of our minds, but it’s a different story when faced with a grid of symbols and words which at first, all sound the same.

One afternoon in the busy, trendy area of
Nose to tail eating in Taipei's street food markets
danzei noodles
Shilin, I caught a glimpse of a takeaway food shop spilling out with customers on to the street. Always a good sign, so I queued patiently for my blind date meal. It came in a big, plastic bowl. Soup noodles, sweet, meaty broth and little chewy chunks of what tasted like pork. Refreshed but intrigued, I took a picture to show my Taiwanese colleagues and went home.

A knowing smile greeted me when I asked my friends at work what it was. “The meat is an organ,” said one, before diving into a dictionary to clarify which organ in particular I had wanted seconds of. It turns out I had eaten my first intestine soup.

But it wasn’t my last in Taipei.

You could spend a month walking through the night markets in Taiwan’s capital – enjoying something different every time. It is a case of trial and error – you soon learn that the unsavoury man chewing betel nut on the stall by the traffic lights actually does really good oyster and spring onion omelettes but the barbecued octopus on little sticks a few stalls down isn’t half as good as you can get elsewhere.

One particular night market I only visited once was Snake Alley near the Longshan Temple – some tourists love it, but I found it seedy and a bit gross. Here you’ll find entertainers handling live snakes, skinning live snakes and cooking live snakes. You can have a shot of snake blood to kick-start a night on the tiles or munch on a chewy, tasteless bit of snake meat.

My favourite fast food on the streets of Taipei was Shabu Shabu – back in England I miss it all of the time. You get your own big pot of steaming stock into which you submerge fresh meat, fish and vegetables before transferring them to your own dream team dipping sauce – a combination of the likes of sweet sesame paste, soy, ginger, garlic, oil and chilli. Shabu Shabu is everywhere in Taiwan.

As always, look for the busiest restaurants and if possible try and find one that gives you both normal and spicy stock. Those with deep pockets and little adventure eat at the mall at the foot of Taiwan’s most famous landmark, Taipei 101. The world’s tallest building is certainly worth a visit, but look down to the street to find the real charm of the city’s food.
 
For more information: The Taiwan Tourism Bureau (www.taiwan.net.tw) 0207 928 1600
1 Comments | Add a comment

COMMENTS

Amy Waddell
Liberia
1
Great article, Will - makes me long for something similar to Shabu Shabu that I tasted in North Vietnam. Fresh food with a DIY twist

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