Cycle 5 – Item 111
26 (Sat) April 2014
at Raohe Street Night Market
-Songshan, Taipei, Republic of China (Taiwan)-
The Taiwan Diet (Day 2)
In Taipei to grab a bite. Many bites. Along the lines of my food odyssey to Singapore last year, the plan is to try as many items as I can find, from as many venues as I can hit, improvising for the most part, no scheduled meals, just stuffing my face throughout the day and into the night, whenever I’m no longer feeling stuffed from before. 54 hours on the ground. Let’s do it.
Jin Feng is a Taiwanese restaurant. Specializes in dishes involving slow-cooked pork, such pork rib soup and braised pork, either with noodles or rice. By many accounts, the braised pork rice here (“Braised Ground Pork Rice”) is the best in the city. The throngs of customers day and night would seem to support that claim.
Lu Rou Fan is a Taiwanese dish. Consists of pork, typically belly or other fatty cut, braised for hours in soy sauce, along with various spices and aromatics, chopped into small pieces, served with steamed rice. Often referred to in English as “braised pork rice.”
The lu rou fan was good. The pork was very tender, further emphasized by all the fat. Generally not a big fan of pork fat – the first thing that crossed my mind was that Filipinos would love this. The seasoning/sauce was nicely balanced between the salty and sweet, with a delicate touch of spices that I couldn’t quite place (five spice?) – what it was, it tasted Chinese. Don’t know if I’d stand in line for it, but I can see why the dish would be popular among locals as a quick/cheap/convenient/tasty meal.
I was seated at a table with some random guy, who was already eating lu rou fan and other items that looked promising. So long as we were on a date, I ordered the exact same thing.
Best meal in town so far.
For the sightseeing segment of the day’s program, I visited the National Palace Museum.
To illustrate how important food is in Taiwan, the two most prized pieces in the institution are a chunk of stone that resembles a small piece of cooked pork belly (only about 5-cm tall) and a jade ornament carved into a napa cabbage (only about 15-cm tall). The mobs surrounding the exhibits would dwarf the little gatherings in front of the Mona Lisa.
I would’ve taken my own photos, but photography was strictly prohibited, diligently enforced by guards everywhere, especially around the popular displays, most likely so that visitors will buy souvenirs instead, like this postcard.
Raohe Street Night Market is a night market. One the oldest and most famous/popular in Taipei. Runs 600 meters from one gate to the other, in a straight line, with stores on either side and two rows of carts through the middle, in effect making two parallel alleys.
As I walked through the market, down one row, then back the other way, I took quick snapshots of every last food stall/cart. I present most of them here, except the ones that offered the same items as another stall/cart, not that there were many such repeats. The visuals speak for themselves. Even if I had the time/energy to provide comments, I wouldn’t know what to write; most of it was entirely alien to me – literally, I felt like I was on a different planet.
After an initial loop, I couldn’t decide. I took another loop before settling on something easy. I’d read that Taiwanese sausages are great.
The sausages were grilled over a light flame, served with a choice of 6 sauces.
The first thing that crossed my mind was that the sausage would go perfectly with Filipino spaghetti. Funny that I’m now beginning to use my experiences in the Philippines as frames of reference.
On the 3rd loop, I went with potstickers.
Seemingly another safe option, but I had no idea what was in them, so it was a gamble.
The potstickers were first simmered in some kind of broth (pork bone?) (see featured photo), then pan-fried on the griddle.
The best item of the Taiwan Diet, the first item that I wanted more of, but I resisted.
What amazed me was the diversity of options, each stall striving to outdo the next, to offer something different, something new, something exciting, something yum. By contrast, street food carts in Korea all offer exactly the same thing (see for example 5.069 Ddeokbokki), stall to stall, market to market, city to city.
I was getting tired, in need of a seat.
Even if the establishment was brick and mortar, the service was street food modality, everything laid out in the open, ready to plate.
Like a buffet, I’m realizing that street food is quite amenable to tourists, foreigners, novices to a cuisine, because everything can be seen in advance, and ordered by pointing. Only pays off if the food turns out to be high quality, clean, and tasty (see for comparison 3.243 Seafood Platter + Pancit Bihon + Ihaw Pusit).
And so ended my second trip to a Taiwanese night market. I don’t know when/if I’ll ever be back in Taipei, but next time I’d definitely do more advance research on what types of foods to look for, so that I could maximize the potential for satisfaction.
This restaurant, located a few buildings away from the hotel, always filled with customers, I’d been curious to try it.
On my way back from the market, I dropped by for a snack.
Many restaurants here offer small side dishes, often pickles of some sort, prepared and laid out for display, sold at a small price. Essentially banchan, which should make Korean visitors very happy.
TWD 25 each here.
Having walked all day, I got a foot massage at an establishment next door to the hotel.
After the massage, I was refreshed. And hungry again.
Lucky Star Restaurant is a Cantonese restaurant.
Although Manila does offer Cantonese, but only in a nominal sense, so I had to take advantage of the opportunity here.
I am confident that this post will forever hold the GMTD record for most photos.
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN TAIWAN)