The next five posts in my People of the Night series are all going to be from Taipei's popular Raohe Tourist Night Market (饒河夜市.) Raohe Night Market is my personal favourite night market in Taipei. It is a 600 meter long street that has lots of delicious foods and due to the narrow nature of the street, there are a lot more food stalls than there are of other varieties of stalls. It has some of the best food including the famous black pepper buns, lots of seafood choices, Japanese cuisine and one of my favourite dishes - lamb stewed in Chinese herbal medicine. It also has the beautiful Ci-You Temple (慈祐宮) which is one of my favourite temples in Taipei.
With this series, I'm going to split up the posts with different themes which will focus on the various aspects of the night market and the people who set up shop there. The themes will focus on different kinds of foods, fortune tellers, games, and salespeople. I also won't put a cap of five shots per post like I did with the previous series - although I'll try to keep it close.
1. Traditional Desserts (燒仙草/豆花)
When I talked about desserts last time they were hot congee style desserts - This time we have Grass Jelly (燒仙草) and Tofu Pudding (豆花) in hot ginger soup. One thing I learned while living here is that Mandarin is an extremely descriptive language. When you order something you know exactly what it is. I've found myself in western restaurants requesting Chinese menus because they just make more sense to me. Often when you translate things into English, they can sound strange and unappetizing - let me assure you though, a hot bowl of "grass jelly" or "tofu pudding" are great desserts and even the fussiest of western kids would enjoy them! They both come steaming hot in bowls and you have a choice of additional ingredients to add such as tapioca balls, sweet potato cubes, taro balls, sweet barley, etc. These are healthy, cheap desserts and you can find them steaming hot in winter and with ice in summer!
2. Ice Jelly (QQ涼圓)
Ice Jelly Is a popular summer treat. These little balls of goodness come in several different flavours which include red bean, sweet potato and taro and are prepared with a kind of jelly that surrounds them. When you buy a serving, the boss will put some fresh shaved ice in a bag and all the jellies inside (and sometimes adding a flavour for the ice) and you are given a wooden stick to pick the, out. Children love these snacks in the summer and you can always find someone selling them at almost all the night markets throughout Taiwan.
3. Roasted Chestnuts (糖炒栗子)
Roasted chestnuts are a favourite for a lot of Taiwanese people. I'm not particularly a big fan, but they are a healthy snack. In this shot we have a high tech roasting machine pumping out the hot roasted chestnuts while the vendor looks on. Traditionally these chestnuts are roasted in a large wok, mixed with sugar over hot fire and constantly stirred by hand with a meter long spatula. My guess is that due to the popularity of these roasted chestnuts in winter that demand was too much to continue roasting them by hand.
4. Deep Fried Stinky Tofu (炸臭豆腐)
When I arrived in Taiwan and went to the night market for the first time, I was quickly introduced to Stinky Tofu. The smell was almost unbearable at first. Luckily I quickly became immune to the smell and had friends who forced me to try it. Now whenever I smell it, I will have the urge to sit down and eat it. I can empathize with people who just arrived and can't stand it however I highly recommend stinky tofu and I believe that once you try it, you will love it. This particular vendor is selling deep fried stinky tofu with Taiwanese-style Kimchi. I find that the deep fried version is probably the easiest variation to ease foreigners into eating stinky tofu as deep frying kills most of the pungent aroma and makes it seem like a normal deep-fried tofu dish. If you haven't tried stinky tofu yet, stop wasting your time and sit down for a serving!
5. Duck Soup (生炒鴨肉羹)
I'm not really sure how to explain this delicious soup in English, so I'm just going to translate it into pinyin and refer to it that way. "Geng" (羹) is a popular style of soup in Taiwan. The soup is thick, hearty and filled with a lot of ingredients. It somewhat resembles a stew that we would have in the west and is probably one of the easiest kinds of foods for a foreigner to try here. The soup is actually one of the only kinds of soup I like in Taiwan as I'm not really a big fan of the more common chicken or fish soups here.
Geng soup usually comes with stewed lamb, squid, oysters and mushroom flavours for vegetarians however this vendor is selling a duck based version of the soup and it is actually the first time I've seen someone selling this soup with duck in it.
I would love to try it, but I have philosophical issues with eating soup when it is 30 degrees at night. I'll be back when the temperatures cool down a bit.
6. Taking an Order
I can't remember what this vendor was selling, but whatever it was, it was steaming hot. Through the steam you can see the boss taking an order from a customer while cooking at the same time. Working with this much heat, especially in the hot Taiwan summer must be a difficult job. Even though you can't see the vendors face, I quite like this shot, so I've added it as an extra.
I'll be back next week with a post about some of the various kinds of fortune tellers and beauticians at the Rao-He night market in what I think may be the most interesting post of the Rao-He series!
If you have any questions or corrections - send me a comment below!