Tamsui is a smallish seaside town north of Taipei. Only 30 minutes away from Taipei by subway (it’s at the terminus of the Tamsui Line), Tamsui makes a good day trip for travelers with some time to spare in Taipei. Tamsui is known mostly for Dutch and Spanish settlements back in the 1600s.
It’s also home to the Tamsui Old Street, a historic neighborhood filled with shops, which evolves into the charming Old Street Night Market (淡水老街夜市) as the sun sets.
The night market is very conveniently located from the Tamsui MRT station, only a few blocks away by foot. The market is actually flanked by a nice river promenade overlooking the Tamsui River.
Tamsui is just such a pleasant town to take a night’s stroll through. It has all the charm and feel of a rural Taiwanese town, but is so close to the capital. There are a handful of beautiful Taoist temples along the way, as well. You’ve been warned though, there are quite a lot of mopeds that whiz about in small town Taiwan..
№ 1: 阿給 a-geh
If there’s one thing Tamsui is known for, it’s a-geh (阿給), a snack that originates from here. Basically it’s the Taiwanese equivalent of a bread bowl, except in the case of a-geh, a piece of fried tofu stuffed with mung bean noodles and minced pork, and sealed with Japanese fish paste, and served in a bowl of chili sauce.
The a-geh we had was served piping hot and absolutely delicious, a nice introduction into what Tamsui had to offer.
№ 2: stinky tofu 臭豆腐 chhàu-tāu-hū
Next up was a stand selling an unusual take on Taiwanese stinky tofu: coal grilled (碳烤), at $30 NTD per stick. We couldn’t help ourselves so we caved in. And the lady manning the storefront was so friendly, we couldn’t say no.
For the uninitiated, I guess stinky tofu could be considered the Chinese equivalent of blue cheese. I for one, cannot stand the smell of blue cheese because it smells too much like body odor. Basically, in stinky tofu, the tofu is fermented in a brine (consisting of fermented milk, vegetables and protein) for long stretches at a time, to produce a strong smelling snack that’s usually sold in deep fried form at night markets.
It ended up being the most memorable stinky tofu I had because it was so delicious. The pickled cabbage in particular could have held its own–absolutely crisp and tasty. As were cubes of heavenly tofu, with a pungent odor wafting in the air around us.
№ 3: popcorn chicken 鹽酥雞 iâm-so͘-ke
When we turned the corner of the street, Alvin spotted a famous Taiwanese chain, called Ji Guang Delicious Fried Chicken (繼光香香雞), which specializes in popcorn chicken, with the bones left intact. It was sadly a disappointment. The chicken pieces were difficult to chew (with the numerous small bones), dry and skimpy on portions. Not sure why they’re so famous.
№ 4: fried durian 炸榴蓮 chà-liû-liân
Along the way, we spotted another stall selling an interesting fried food: durian (a custard-tasting tropical fruit that I love). Anything durian makes my mouth water, so I opted for a piece of fried taro and fried durian.
Both were major disappointments. I would even call them unfit for human consumption. I guess there’s a reason why durian is not fried. The durian’s custard-like texture had probably soaked in all the frying oil. With each bite I took came out huge drips of cooking oil. Disgusting. The fried taro was similarly unenjoyable. I ended up tossing them both.
№ 5: 肉羹 bah-kiⁿ
Next up, we found a shop (張記 油飯肉羹) selling a very traditional Hokkien dishes called bah-ki (肉羹) and iû-pn̄g (油飯, lit. “oil rice”) on Tamsui’s main drag, Zhongzheng Street (中正路).
We got seated on a rather spartan table, and made the order using a yellow paper menu. WIthin moments, we were greeted with a piping hot bowl of squid paste bah-ki (魷魚肉羹綜合羹, $50 NTD), served in a lovely froyo cup. Bah-ki, also known as rougeng in Mandarin, is a soup thickened with cornstarch. The soup tends to be quite peppery, from the copious amounts of white pepper used to season the soup.
I was honestly expecting more pieces of protein but for $1.50 USD, what can you expect? I loved the punch that the pepper powder gave the soup though. Cleared my nostrils for sure. As it was consistently raining the entire night we were in Tamsui, it was nice to be drinking a bowl of hot soup.
№ 6: 油飯 iû-pn̄g
While at Tiu Ki, we also ordered a bowl of “oil” rice, listed on their menu as 招牌古早味油飯 for $35 NTD. SInce the restaurant’s “oil” rice featured prominently in the shop’s signage, we figured it must be good. Twas alright–small portion size, and nothing realy stood out. Basically the signature gloss from “oil” rice comes from the wetness of the glutinous rice combined with the fatty cuts of pork that are used when cooking this homey dish. The rice is seasoned in soy sauce and served with dried shrimp and mushrooms.
After eating our way around the night market, we crossed the street and spent some time at Meito (名統), a huge megamall with an expansive food court of its own.
We then walked around the winding picturesque streets of Tamsui, passing by local storefronts amid all the fluorescent lights reflecting off the recently rained pavement and making our way back to the Tamsui River promenade, before heading back to Taipei and calling it a night.
Tamsui Old Street Night Market 淡水老街夜市