Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Shida Night Market Eats, Taipei, Part II (師大路夜市, Picture heavy!)

Really struggling to put up these last Taipei food posts here...

Lantern Soy Sauce Braised (燈籠滷味) is one of the more well known and popular stands at Shida Night Market.  We actually stumbled onto it prior to reading the CNN 40 Taiwanese Food article and went in head first, not knowing what to expect. There was always a giant crowd gathering around the stand, and given there were several similar food stands at Shida Night Market that were often deserted, our curiosity couldn't resist the consistent stream of business this particular stand got and so we got in line ourselves ^.^

Basically, this is a Taiwanese version of the Japanese oden. Mind you, this is not to say "who came first". I honestly don't know and I don't give a rat's ass. I just know I love oden, and when I saw this I must have it, because I miss oden very much T.T Of course it's not identical to oden, but it's very similar in terms of ingredients: eggs (quail, versus chicken in oden), a wide variety of fish cakes, konnyaku, tofu,  mochi, a variety of vegetables (daikon, shiitake, enoki, green leafy greens, etc.), with added extras of noodles (cellophane noodles 冬粉, ramen, etc.), even meats, seafood, and intestines (a Taiwanese favorite!). 

Now don't freak out like hubby did LOL! When it comes to these oden-like food stands, with the exception of the vegetables and the noodles everything else is already precooked (boiled). By the time the food reaches your mouth, they all will have been boiled a second time, and thoroughly, in a cauldron so furiously gushing nothing will survive even if it somehow found itself a home. So in my humble opinion, even though the ingredients have been on display in open air, in the end they're still quite safe to eat. And while I can't guarantee any food safety, I can tell you that the food from this Lantern stand was nothing but delicious and satisfying, to us at least.

So this is how it works (refer to pictures above):
1. Grab a plastic basket and a pair of tongs.
2. Pick whatever ingredients you like from the display stand. And take it easy, because after things are chopped up, you'll end up with enough food for 2-3 people. So unless you want leftovers, don't go crazy and fill up the basket.
3. Walk past the guy manning boiling cauldron and hand your basket(s) to one of the aunties, who will chop up the ingredients, weigh them, and tell you how much you owe.
4. You pay her and she lines your basket(s) up to be cooked.
5. Comes your turn, the guy pours your nicely chopped ingredients into a section of boiling cauldron, stirs and mixes them until he thinks they're well flavored.
6. Then he asks if you want to dine in or take out. If you dine in, he'll pour your food out onto a plate (below left). If you take out, he'll pour your food into a steel funnel.
7. Now your food is ready to be dressed and seasoned, and the guy asks you if you want it spicy. If I were you, I would scream, YES, yes please!!! But of course, not everyone is crazy about spicy food like I am. In my opinion, it was only a zing and wasn't spicy at all, but hubby thought it was spicy. So proceed at your own risk.
8. As a final step, the guy adds some pickled radishes (god, I love that stuff!), dresses the dish up some more with a few ladles of the broth, and either hands you your dine in plate, or funnel your food into a plastic bag, Asian style, whereupon you take it home, serve it own your own plate (below right), and chow down.

Damn, just looking at these pictures makes me drool...

Note that everything moves extremely fast and the steps I described above may take anywhere from 5-10 minutes, depends on how long the line is. So don't walk off somewhere, don't start chatting or texting on the phone, and pay attention to the whereabouts of your basket(s) or risk clogging up the whole assembly line!

Anyway, my sister was there visiting and so we thought it was best to dine in that time. However, the dine in situation confused the hell out of us.  Right behind the Lantern stand, there was a sit-down place that looked like it was run by the same people who ran the stand. It was *not*, and they were two separate businesses. However, the sit-down place will allow you to eat your Lantern braised food there, and will even provide you with chopsticks and paper bowls, if you order a drink and spend a minimum of NT$100 per person.

Hubby ended up ordering a beer, and my sister and I shared this iced green tea with a few candied plums thrown in, which cost a whopping NT$270 (~ USD9!). I loved its combination of fragrant and somewhat bitter green tea and the sweet, tangy, and saltiness of the candied plum. But my sister hated it LOL! It was too chaotic a combination of taste for her and she couldn't stand it xD

Next to Lantern Soy Sauce Braised on its immediate right is another sit down place that serves Japanese-style donburi, a variety of shaved ice desserts, as well as somewhat warm traditional desserts. I actually have no idea what the place is called, only that it shares a wall with the Lantern stand and has a basement of more seatings in addition to the ground floor. 

By the way, when I took these pictures, it was around 4:30PM in the afternoon on a random Tuesday, way too late for lunch and still too early for dinner. At the market, the majority of the shops had yet opened while the few that served all day were pretty much empty. And yet look at the Lantern stand - there were still people hovering it!

Anyway, tried a couple of this place's donburis and found them to be ho-hum, not terrible but not good either. I didn't want to try any of their cold desserts either. By then, Taipei had started raining so often and I wanted to warm up some, not cooling down further. So instead, I tried their hot desserts. I'm glad I did, because, wow, they were delicious!

I had the taro and tapioca in coconut milk and black rice pudding in coconut milk. Both were yummy, but the taro was by far my favorite, and I liked it so much I kept coming back for more ^.^ It was smooth, sweet but not overly so, and overall was just heartwarming and soul soothing.  

When my sister visited, we took her to stroll the Shida Night Market a few times, each time coming into different shops and eating different things. This candy shop has somewhat of a reputation at the night market. I don't know its name either, but you will know as soon as you see it.

The red characters on the upper right says, "Only sold in Taiwan. Once seen, must buy." Nope on the first claim, and nope on the second also, is all I have to say.

I can't believe they would sell that a candy shop LOL! Every time I walk by this shop, there would be loads of kiddies running around and I wonder what a typical parent would say if their kid were to spot the, umm, specialty product and insisted on buying it. It would make an awesome gag gift, just may be not for a kid =.='

Anyways, there was also a hair salon in the same alley as the candy shop (I think) that did a really good job cutting hubby's hair.

Too bad the second time he went, he got a younger stylist who might have been a closeted rabid Justin Bieber fan LOL!!! Needless to say, he hated this second haircut, which made me laughed so hard even though I know I shouldn't have. Poor baby... xD

Another thing I really love about night markets in Taipei in general is fruits! Check out these wax apples (蓮霧)! They looked totally different than the ones I've seen, being more like a cylinder than a typical bell-shape and were a much deeper red. They were freakin' heavy too, being packed juice and so, so sweet!

And these Indian plums (印度棗) were huge, the size of a small apples! All the ones I'd seen were only about a golf ball!

Towards the end of our trip, hubby craved Indian food. So we explored several Indian restaurants in the city, and this was one of them. I actually forgot to snap a picture of its front door with the sign, so I have no idea what it's called. Sorry! But it's across the street from Shida Night Market, which is why I included it in this post. If you were to walk down Shida Road, go past Alisan Green Tea shop (阿里山綠茶) and it's a few doors down in the next alley.

Unfortunately, this was our least favorite of the several Indian places we'd tried in Taipei (our favorite was Calcutta in Ximending, which we found after trying this place...). At the same time, it was the most expensive! Our chais started out okay, but our naans came out and we were immediately disappointed. The butter naan (left) didn't look or tasted like it had any butter, and the garlic naan (right) had a mysterious spread on it that didn't look or tasted like garlic either. It was this yellow, somewhat buttery, lumpy spread :X

Our curries were even more disappointing - they were so runny they might as well be soups! The coloring may look pretty, but they definitely tasted like they were watered down and not the thick, spicy, and hearty concoctions we're used to. The bill was nearly NT$3,000 (~ USD100!). Yep, some expensive watered down curries they were, so I do not recommend this place unless you have some cash to blow. Even then, I recommend blowing it with a huge stuffing feast at Calcutta in Ximending anyway. At the very least, the meal there will be much more satisfying.

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