Culinary Discoveries in Taipei Day Markets
TEXT / HAN CHEUNG
PHOTOS / RAY CHANG, POWEI CHEN
Undergoing tasteful facelifts with updated offerings that cater to a more diverse crowd, many of Taiwan’s traditional day markets have transformed from worn-down, musty spaces into sparkling clean, well-designed hotspots. A major draw is the multitude of food stalls, the prepared items on offer ranging from sushi to beef noodles to sweet cakes, which many locals are willing to wake up early and queue up for.
“Lin He Fa Oily Rice”
Expect long queues at the soon-to-be 130-year-old “Lin He Fa Oily Rice” operation, which serves up a unique version of Taiwan’s classic oily rice, which is often consumed during one-month celebrations for newborns. Instead of the heavier sticky rice normally found, this shop uses top-grade fragrant short-grain rice seasoned with sesame oil, adding in mushroom, lean pork, and dried shrimp. Hungry customers can add a fried chicken leg and soy sauce-braised egg to make it a complete meal. The shop’s taro cake is also a favorite, often selling out well before the shop’s noon closing time.
“Lin He Fa Oily Rice”
Tel: (02) 2559-2888
Add: No. 21, Sec. 1, Dihua St., Datong District, Taipei City [Yongle Market Stall No. 1430]
“Lin Liang Bing”
Watch the owners churn out thin wraps at a rapid pace at this beloved stall serving up runbing, which are often described as large spring rolls (fresh, not fried) stuffed with all sorts of goodies. Many visitors come just to buy the wraps, which are only available until noon. The runbing at “Lin Liang Bing” contain bean curd, bean sprouts, sweet peanut flour, crispy red vinasse pork, cilantro, and cabbage. The complex sweet and savory taste can be further enhanced by choosing the curry, seaweed, chili, or mustard varieties. This morsel is especially popular among locals during Tomb Sweeping Day and end-of-year company parties.
“Lin Liang Bing”
Tel: (02) 2559-2888
Add: No. 21, Sec. 1, Dihua St., Datong District, Taipei City [Yongle Market Stall No. 1506]
(台北市大同區迪化街一段21號) [永樂市場第1506 攤位]
Ever crave sashimi for breakfast? Apparently many locals do, as this joint is usually teeming with hungry patrons by 8am. “Wanlong Sushi” was born when a fish vendor in Yongle Market decided to join forces with a retired hotel chef after the revitalization of heritage-rich Dihua Street as a tourist spot, serving up affordable and generous raw-fish slices using catch delivered straight from the harbor. The jumbo-sized, flavorful sushi rolls are also worth trying. Those who spend more than NT$250, which isn’t that difficult, get to enjoy bottomless miso soup that’s packed with tofu, seafood balls, and pieces of fish.
Tel: (02) 2351-5378
Add: No. 21, Sec. 1, Dihua St., Datong District, Taipei City [Yongle Market Stall No. 1418]
Yao de Herb
Redesigned in a fusion style while retaining its traditional Chinese medicine shop furnishings, 70-plus-year-old Yao de Herb serves up soothing herbal tea drinks that cool patrons down on hot summer days. The aroma of the multifarious herbs is immediately evident, wafting from the sacks that sit on steel-pipe shelves. This place started out as a simple herbal-remedy shop, but its business suffered prior to transitioning due to the advent of Western medicine. Besides the classic herbal tea, it also offers perotis, honey aloe vera, and bitter herb options, and those who want to try them all can opt for a sampler set.
“Yongle Scallion Pancake”
While the scallion pancakes here are the star attraction, this vintage-chic food cart also offers other classic fried favorites such as sesame balls, horse-hoof cakes, donuts, and taro cakes, all at very affordable prices. This Dihua Street mainstay has recently undergone a makeover, glowing up from a run-of-the-mill metal cart with plastic signage to a charming wood-and-tile stall with the food items visible in display cases. The hefty pancakes, which can be consumed with or without egg, are rolled and fried on the spot and can be seasoned with sweet soy sauce paste and chili sauce. Crispy and chewy at the same time, they’re surprisingly not too greasy.
Dongsanshui Street Market
Da Fond Fishball
Da Fond Fishball offers a variety of preservative-free, hand-made seafood and meat-paste products, including its signature swordfish balls and award-winning cuttlefish balls. Many come to buy ingredients for their hotpot repasts at home, but those looking to eat on the spot can also sample the wide range of fried fare. The burdock root is a favorite, as well as the shrimp rolls, braised eel, taro balls, and crispy spare ribs. If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of options, the owners will gladly make recommendations based on your expressed taste preferences. The breading falls on the classic Taiwanese side, slightly sweet with salt and pepper.
“Duo Jia She”
The best way to sample this stall’s offerings is to order the five-colored dumpling combo, as each kind is a unique experience. The plump Chinese-style dumplings are filled up generously with natural, high-grade ingredients that are carefully selected and hand-processed by the owners, each in a unique wrapper. The scallop dumpling comes in a green wrapper infused with freshly squeezed spinach juice, while the shrimp one comes in a carrot juice skin. The cabbage and pork version has a chewy oatmeal wrapper, and the tuna’s is made with red yeast. Last but not least is the “standard” variety with a chive and pork filling, which is still juicy and delicious.
Monga Super Curry
Monga Super Curry is known for its Fuzhou-style pastries, handmade using recipes that have been passed down for generations. Its sweet-and-savory xianguang pastry, made with low-gluten flour and covered with sesame, is an old-school morsel that’s often handed out during temple processions to ensure peace and safety. The pastry is named after Ming Dynasty general Qi Jiguang, who had his soldiers carry them as rations while campaigning against pirates. This was done to avoid cooking, because any smoke might give away their location to the enemy. Another definite favorite is the curry puff, with its crispy, flaky skin and filling that’s just the right amount of juicy.
Dongsanshui Street Market consists simply of a single narrow covered walkway with no place to sit, but patrons can bring their selections to the Japanese-style bar at the adjoining historic Xinfu Market building to enjoy with a drink. Staff there will even put the food on a nice plate for you. This atmospheric U-shaped two-story structure is one of the few Japanese-era public markets that still stands in Taipei, renovated and reopened as a cultural-creative and working space in 2017 after decades of decline. Displays tell the history of the market and local food culture, and the stories of the area’s vendors. Some of the original stalls from the building’s previous life continue to operate in Dongsanshui Market.
The delectable, plus-size wontons are probably what stand out most at “Yueh House.” They come in two varieties, one solely with ground black Iberian pork and the other with pork and a large, juicy whole shrimp. They can be enjoyed with noodles or just in broth – but you’ll get more wontons if you eschew the noodles. The double-sauce noodles are also highly recommended, the sesame- and soybean-paste sauces blending into a layered sensation anchored by the thick and firm noodles. Many come for the limited-supply adzuki bean cakes, which have gained a following with their crispy-chewy pastry exterior and refreshingly sweet filling.
Add: Stall 235, 2F, No. 100, Shidong Rd., Shilin District, Taipei City
“137 Rice Noodle Soup”
Expect to wait a while to get a seat at this popular eatery, which serves up filling bowls of thick rice-noodle soup topped with generous amounts of scallion, celery, fried shallot, and dried shrimp. The sumptuous broth is made with pork bone, its light and pleasant umami flavor blending well with the garnishings. Add a dollop of the shop’s homemade chili sauce if you’re feeling feisty – it packs quite a punch. The noodles can be enjoyed with a side of pork liver, intestine or other offal, as well as succulent fried tofu.
“137 Rice Noodle Soup”
Add: Stall 137, 2F, No. 100, Shidong Rd., Shilin District, Taipei City
“Hehuan Sliced Noodles”
Speaking of long waits, this hand-sliced-noodle shop in the newly renovated Nanmen Market probably takes the cake, with its queues spilling out of the entrance to the market’s food court. And although it technically is open until 6pm, it’s often completely sold out way before that. The smash hit is the tomato beef noodles, which are prepared from scratch on the spot and come in copious portions. The tender, stir-fried pieces of sliced beef pair well with the firm and chewy noodles, and the broth is rich and slightly sour. Also popular are the Chinese cabbage beef noodles, as well as the pork and seafood noodles, the latter laden with shrimp, braised egg, meatballs, and other morsels.
“Hehuan Sliced Noodles”
Tel: (02) 2396-4592
Add: Stall D13, 2F, No. 8, Sec. 1, Roosevelt Rd., Zhongzheng District, Taipei City
With a dizzying array of offerings laid out across a long stall front, Yi-Chang is the Taipei champion of cooked take-out-only food. Many of its selections, such as pickled mustard greens with bean curd and braised smoked fish, originate from the Zhejiang area in China, but it also has other regional specialties, clay pot stews, sliced meats, sticky-rice dumplings, mantou buns, and sweet delicacies such as dates stuffed with glutinous rice cake. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s ideal for busy working people who just want to grab something on the way home, or you can take your purchase to the food court and enjoy it with some fried rice. Don’t forget to try the stuffed green peppers.
Tel: (02) 2393-0383
Add: Stall A55, 1F, No. 8, Sec. 1, Roosevelt Rd., Zhongzheng District, Taipei City
About the author
Han Cheung moved back to his adolescent stomping grounds of Taiwan in 2015 from frigid Wyoming, where he was the editor of the small town Rawlins Daily Times. He has a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Missouri and has reporting experience in the US, Latin America, and Taiwan.