Chillin at Shilin
Night markets: one of my favorite things to do in Taipei. Once again, I’m just gonna say they are the best here. The food, the shopping, the variety. We have it all.
Since this is Avery’s first time in Taipei, this was a must. Hell, even if this was his 80th time here, we would still go. There are three major night markets in Taipei: Raohe Night Market (focused more on shopping), Ning Xia Night Market (focused more on food), and Shilin Night Market offering both, plus it’s the largest. I felt like this was the perfect night market for my boo.
We prepared some cash and made our way to the Taipei Metro for a very quick ride. The subways here are super clean and super easy. The lines are numbered and colored, and there’s only one route per line - none of this A, C, E bullshit. You take the 2 line (red line) going west. Done and done. Unlike NYC, you pay distance-based fares vs. flat rates. I kinda like that - I hate the fact that I have to pay almost $3 just to go 5 stops. Equivalent in Taipei is 75 cents. So, we made our way towards Jiantan station and headed towards the night market, which is conveniently located right by the station.
They open at 4pm but most of the merchants aren’t fully set up until 6pm. We arrived at 6:15pm and it was already pretty damn packed. Granted, it was a Saturday. I did my share of research prior to our arrival via blogs and YouTube videos (Fung Bros, you guys are awesome). I had heard about a chicken fried steak that was supposed to be incredible. Not sure how similar it will be to the dish from the South, but it really is one of my favorite things in general (but with gravy and brown butter beans, mmmmm).
I’ve digressed. So I already had a list of foods I wanted to eat plus I was super excited to do a little shopping. If you know me, you know that I don’t do a lot of shopping. I am extremely picky about clothes (particular dresses) and even pickier about shoes. After running around Bali in my super “crunchy” REI clothes, I was ready to look more feminine and current. This is coming from a girl who loves her black skinny jeans and men’s tee. Despite all of that, I was ready to stuff my face and squeeze into some clothes that aren’t falling apart or covered with bug repellent.
I had zero idea where to go. I mean, this place is huge. Imagine small alleys all combined into one major night market. There also isn’t a map. That’s cool - it’s all part of the adventure. So we started exploring and I noticed a very crowded alley and I thought, “FOOD!” And I was right!!! Not because I care to be right but because I was hungry AF. The alleys are narrow and lined with food vendors and stores on each side. The very first dish we saw was this cubed steak cooked on a grill, followed by a blow torch. Yes, a blow torch. We had different options for seasonings and we chose Rose Salt. (Other options included Teriyaki, Black Pepper, Italian Spices, Xinjiang cumin, and Hungarian Peppers. The other sound appealing but I typically like a simple seasoning on my steak). It was pretty damn good - so good that we went back to get a second round.
The food alley was pretty hot - not just with popularity but the temperature. There was a breeze in the air but you didn’t feel it at all in there. It must be due to all the grills and barbecues - but still, nothing like Bali. As we ventured down the street, I noticed there was a sign with a picture of a squid. It was like the heaven’s opened up - I effing love squid, especially when it’s grilled. I saw online that there are also vendors who fry the whole damn thing for you but that seemed aggressive. I wanted to last!! So I opted for the grilled choice - it was my favorite dish there. I just love how they serve it to you in a little paper waxed-lined bag and a skewer stick. Why can’t America has options like this? Someone, please open one and I will be your best customer.
As we walked further, we noticed the classic grilled skewered stand. Choices of grilled meatballs, chicken yakitori, bacon wrapped scallions, the list just goes on. Classic. Avery could’t help himself but I had my eye on the chicken fried steak (Ji Pai). At this point, I was pretty sweaty and needed to pop into the Nike store for a quick AC stroll. I did see a few small shops that looked appealing. But the clothes are SO small (generally, all size 2s for a 5’3 woman with a short torso). I guess I wasn’t going to be running out of here with shopping bags all up my arms looking like Julie Andrews on the mountain in Sound of Music.
But at least there’s food. Somehow Avery managed to find the only vendor selling beer and we stopped in for a quick break Even when it’s hot, I feel like beer only temporarily quenches my thirst, and then a headache will follow accordingly. So low and behold, my headache began to blossom and it was time for us to leave. We had been there for a few hours already and Avery was starting to look a bit sleepy. I walked past the chicken fried steak vendor, and I kid you not, they were the size of my face. Ending the night with that was probably going to be a bad idea and I knew my stomach was going to suffer as a result. Having a headache and a stomach ache? No thanks. I figured there’s always next time. If not here, then in the South. (Man, I really could use some Publix sweet tea right about now).
After a number of savory snacks, we needed something sweet and cold before heading home. We squeezed through the crowd and made our way to the largest dessert vendor on the street. We drooled over this iced milk mango monstrosity. Essentially, someone takes a block of frozen condensed milk and shaves it onto a bowl, topping it off with ice cold mangos and mango sorbet. After that, I don’t think I’ve ever been that full in my life. (That’s a lie, I get pretty full like every meal). Grand total for all our treats and beverages? $20 - reminder, this included beer and two orders of steak. Boom.
We waddled home and I have to say, I was very pleased with my Saturday night. Avery and I definitely want to check out the other night markets. Apparently Raohe Night Market inspired scenes from the anime film, Spirited Away, with the iconic red lanterns. One of these night markets has grilled xiao long baos where the bottom is extra crispy like traditional Japanese gyoza. I gotta find those.
As I write this, I’m laying in bed next to my handsome fiancé, watching Yes Man for the 10th time. I really, really, really love this movie. I just asked Avery if he knows what a Blockbuster was and luckily, he said yes. Phew. Wedding still on.