This article was first published in Sethlui.com on October 2017.
Any trip to Taiwan without gracing her iconic night markets will be deemed incomplete. It’s also difficult to deny that much of Taiwan’s culinary identity comes from these thriving crowded markets.
Open only on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, Da Dong Night Market (大东夜市) in Tainan City holds a dilapidated charm that attracts a merry crowd of foodies and carnival enthusiasts amid the fluorescent glow from the various food stalls, joint together with their various and distinct aromas.
We ploughed through the crowded market to bring a list of recommendations on what to feast there.
1. Stinky Tofu (臭豆腐)
Stinky Tofu is a kind of fermented Tofu that emanates a foul, pungent smell that is easily detectable when one steps into the crowded bazaar.
Some people love it, while others steer clear; which camp are you on?
My preference? The smellier, the better.
The dish is commonly deep-fried and served with pickled cabbage and spicy sauce. Overcoming the smell is one thing, but the first bite is almost guaranteed to be a messy one.
But what comes after is a complex blend of flavours and textures: crispy and chewy, paired with a hint of sweetness from the garlic sauce, sourness from the pickled vegetables and a nice spicy kick from the chilli.
Expected Damage: NT$50 (S$2.30)
2. Deep Fried Sweet Potato Balls (地瓜球)
Located beside the motorcycle parking lot, we spotted a queue at this stall that sells nothing but sweet potato balls. Being the typical Singaporean that blindly allow the queues to determine what we put into our stomachs, we joined shortly after, and we weren’t disappointed.
At NT$20 a packet, the crispy sweet potato balls contain a mellow sweetness albeit a little starchy. This is perfect as a light snack before your true feasting as you plough through the night market.
Expected Damage: One packet costs NT$20 (S$0.90), three packets cost NT$50 (S$2.30)
3. Oyster Mee Sua (蚵仔面线)
While the food in the Taiwan’s night markets is often unfailingly scrumptious, I’d say Oyster Mee Sua easily tops the list. It’s almost a staple there.
As its name suggests, the dish features oyster meat paired with wheat flour vermicelli in rich stock. The dish is then completed with a splash of vinegar, pepper and garnished with coriander.
While the oysters were not very plump, the broth was pleasantly thick and fragrant, which coated well with the fine vermicelli. Each spoonful, a balanced mixture of noodle, soup and vinegar, had us longing for more.
Before we knew it, we finished slurping up two bowls.
Expected Damage: Small serving costs NT$45 (S$2.00), Big serving costs NT$55 (S$2.50)
4. Oyster Omelette (蚵仔煎)
Quite commonly known as “Orh-Lua” in Singapore, the oyster omelette is a mouth-watering delicacy that features pan-fried omelette that has been mixed with starch and fresh oysters.
We can name several outstanding contenders in Singapore, but the oyster omelette in Taiwan, or “Oh-Ah-Jian” as the Taiwanese locals say it, is entirely different — more starchy, less crispy and more ingredients.
I particularly love the crunch from the juicy bean sprouts and the greens. The chilli sauce was a mix of sweet and spicy, which elevated the overall flavour profile of the plump oysters and omelette.
Expected Damage: NT$60 (S$2.75)
5. Taiwanese Grilled Spring Rolls (烧春卷)
Taiwanese Spring Rolls are different from the typical ones you’d expect in Singapore. Instead of deep-frying till golden brown, they are often wrapped in paper-like crepes (for easier referencing, ‘popiah skin’) made from wheat flour and warmed over a grill.
Packed within, you’d expect a large range of ingredients such as garlic, sliced roasted duck meat, egg crisps, sliced Taiwanese sausages and more.
What you get is a mouth-bursting goodness that will leave with longing for more.
Expected Damage: NT$35 (S$1.60)
6. Deep Fried Cuttlefish (炸鱿鱼)
Fried cuttlefish is a common sight in almost any night markets in Taiwan. With Tainan City situating near the port, you’d tend to get the best of the yield.
The fried cuttlefish is then sliced and served with the seasoning of your choice. You can choose from a wide range such as sweet plum, seaweed, chilli and more.
Expected Damage: NT$120 (S$5.50)
7. Wild Boar Sausage (山猪肉香肠)
While we are largely familiar with the traditional Taiwan sausages sold in supermarkets and Pasar Malams, you’d be intrigued by its lesser-known counterpart, Wild Boar Sausages.
Skewered and barbequed on charcoal, the wild boar sausage explodes in your mouth in chewy, sweet juiciness. The wild boar meat gave it a unique, gamy taste. The only downside is that it is a little expensive.
Expected Damage: NT$50 (S$2.30)
8. Papaya Milk (木瓜牛奶)
We completed the tour around the night market with another of Taiwan’s popular beverages, the Papaya Milk here is good enough to make Chun Cui He step aside. At NT$40 (S$1.80), you get to relish a freshly prepared cup of papaya milk.
Possessing a rich and creamy flavour, the latter coming from the condensed milk, the papaya milk hides a surprise, which is a sweet and subtle papaya fragrance.
Their menu also includes other beverages, such as the watermelon milk or the green bean milk, if papaya isn’t your cup of tea.
Expected Damage: Small NT$40 (S$1.80), Large NT$50 (S$2.30)
There is a never-ending tapestry of food longing to be discovered in the night markets in Taiwan. You may find yourself revisiting an old place only to realise that it has disappeared, or you may find yourself coming face to face with something entirely new.
I daresay each trip is a surprise; the trick is, to eat little and often.
Days and Time: Opens only on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, 6pm – 12 mn
Dadong Night Market: No. 276, Section 1, Linsen Rd, East District, Tainan City, 701 Taiwan
Scoot away in Scoot’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner
We had an incredible (and well rested) journey to Taiwan on board Scoot’s brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. If you are looking for affordable flights to Taiwan, you’d be happy to know Scoot operates weekly flights to Kaoh Siung from S$142.
The eco-friendly and fuel efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliners come with in-seat power, larger lockers and windows, WiFi services, fresher air, more humidity and cool lighting. Take it from us, this is one of the better and more comfortable ways to fly.
Looking for a guide to Kaohsiung and Tainan City? Click here.