huaxi

STREET FOOD 101: Taipei’s Mengjia Night Market

I went to Taipei with the goal of hitting up as many night markets as humanly possible. So our first night in the city, we headed off to the closest one to our hotel, Huaxi Night Market (華西街觀光夜市), which was rather sedated the night we went, with a lot of shuttered shops. So we instead spent a fair amount of time traversing Mengjia Night Market (艋舺夜市) instead. Both are anchored by Longshan Temple, a 16th century Buddhist-Taoist temple located in the middle of Taipei’s oldest district, Wanhua.

Looking into the temple courtyard and main shrine in the back.
Looking into the temple courtyard and main shrine in the back.

Before engorging ourselves on street snacks, we paid our respects to Guanyin at the Longshan Temple. It’s a huge complex adorned with traditional Chinese flourishes and beautiful architecture. And completely packed with worshippers. What struck me in particular was the amount of young folks at the temple partaking in these rituals–more so than one would see in Hong Kong.

Entrance to Huaxi Market aka Snake Alley
Entrance to Huaxi Market aka Snake Alley

We took a quick stroll through Huaxi Market, also known as Snake Alley, for its snake meat-selling vendors. Apparently well into the 1990s, Huaxi was a red light district. Since then, the government’s cleaned up this neighborhood’s act and turned it into a rather sterile street. On our stroll through Huaxi Street, we found most of the businesses already closed.

Entrance to Bangkah Night Market
Entrance to Bangkah Night Market

Luckily for us, Bangkah Night Market, which had a much more lively scene, was only a block away from Longshan Temple MRT Station, on Guangzhou Street (廣州街).

Crowds on the Bangkah Night Market side
Crowds on the Bangkah Night Market side

Throngs and throngs of market goers, ranging from students, tourists, Southeast Asian maids, you name it. And vendors of all kinds. I picked up quite a few pairs of socks from stall to stall as souvenirs here.

A stall selling various soup and rice dishes
A stall selling various soup and rice dishes
Braised food vendor
Braised food cart, with ingredients all neatly arranged.
Hot pots ready for a boil.
Hot pots ready for a boil.

And the sheer variety of dishes available here. As this was our first night here, we quite naively decided to go light, thinking that we needed to save our stomachs for some better finds in Ximending. I’ve got to say, writing posts like these makes me want to return!

Purveyors of Japanese AV in plain sight
Purveyors of Japanese AV in plain sight

The market was also an introduction to some Taiwanese quirks. At one open-aired stall, we spotted a bunch of men carefully browsing through a selection of DVDs in full public view. At first, I thought, “My, these folks are sure into movies.” But at a closer glance of the covers, I quickly realized they were Japanese adult videos. It was certainly surprising to me, to see this clash of societal norms, because Taiwanese society is still fairly conservative.

Skewer stall
Skewer stall selling yakitori. And cute lantern.
Yakitori on the grill… Should have gone for it.

№ 1: fried chicken breast 香雞排

Fried. Food.
Fried. Food.

The first stall that caught our attention was near the market entrance, a fried chicken breast spot named Yupin (玉品鷄排).

We ordered a fried chicken breast (香雞排), coated in a crispy batter seasoned with pepper, salt and sugar. I was tempted to sample one from each tray but refrained, perhaps to my disadvantage.

And inside it was stuffed with chives. And oh so juicy! This was quite possibly the best version I would have during my stay in Taipei.

№ 2: Swordfish cakes 東港旗魚黑輪

She's been featured on national TV.
She’s been featured on national TV.
Look at that beaut. And the prints in the back.
Look at that beaut. And the prints in the back.

We also came across a stall selling heilun (黑輪, lit. “black wheels”) on a stick: pulverised swordfish paste shaped and then fried and slathered in a wasabi sauce. Delicious. The main chef, had proudly hung up a screenshot of a TV segment featuring her stall. Cute.

№ 3: Tianbula 甜不辣

We then had even more fish cakes called tianbula (甜不辣), whose literal Chinese name means “sweet not spicy.” Apparently a derivative of southern Japanese tempura, the fish cakes were doused in a sweet ketchup sauce and piping hot when served.

№ 4: Imagawayaki 車輪餅

All. That. Red bean.

We made a pitstop at a stall serving up another Japanese snack, the much beloved red bean cake, variously called imagawayaki in Japanese or simply “wheel cake” (車輪餅, chelunbing) in Chinese. The stall didn’t cut off excess batter, perhaps intentionally. I definitely appreciated how generous they were with the sweetened red bean paste.🙂

№ 5: Black tea 紅茶冰

Last but not least, we stopped by Ah Hao Shen’s Vintage Style Black Iced Tea (丫好嬸 古早味紅茶冰), which flamboyant lanterns reading “best drink” and a logo of a Taiwanese aunty with curled hair. With this level of marketing, who could resist? I certainly couldn’t! Like a lot of places, it’s a chain with tea shops throughout Taiwan..

Even the cup contains her silhouette!
Even the cup contains her silhouette!

We ordered their 1,000 cc cup of iced black milk tea, which was refreshing and not too sweet, keeping us company while we walked up a mile towards Ximending, a well-known shopping district.

All around a great experience. If I could give Mengjia Night Market a Yelp review, I’d definitely give it 5 stars. I came to also realize, after visiting other night markets in Taipei, that Mengjia’s had an old school charm and grittiness not to be found elsewhere.

Huaxi Night Market 華西街觀光夜市
108台灣 台北市萬華區華西街

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