2018 Fall External Programs Taiwan Temple Exchange Thomas Kuklinski

My Neighborhood Night Market

So like, I got pretty lucky with my apartment. I had no clue what my neighborhood was going to be like when I was looking at places. I had 3 qualifications in mind: 1) close to my university, 2) close to the metro, and 3) cheap. I found a place on AirBnb that met those qualifications, and without a second look, signed a year lease.

What I didn’t realize when I found my apartment was how much I’d love the neighborhood. There are two universities on either side, National Taiwan University台大(Táidà) and National Taiwan Normal University師大(Shīdà) — but it doesn’t feel like a college neighborhood. It’s a rather solid mix of people, locals and foreigners, families, and students. There are nice cafes, book stores, grocery stores. But by far the best part is the Shida Night Market 師大夜市 (Shīdà Yèshì).

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One of the main intersections in the night market, from above.

As soon as the sun sets, my relatively quiet neighborhood completely changes. The night market opens.  The narrow alleyways become flooded with people. Graffiti coated garage doors reveal cramped storefronts glowing with LEDs. There are toy shops, clothing stores, arcades, bubble tea, but most importantly, food.

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Most people go to night markets just to eat. You wander around, hit up a few street vendors, talk, and people watch. While Shida Night Market isn’t too big (only about 6 blocks square), it took me a good bit of time to figure out my favorite vendors. I mean….at least my favorite vendors so far.

When I first went to the night market, the first place I visited was called 點心屋 (diǎnxīn wū) which literally translates to Snack House. I had no clue what they were selling. I just saw this guy making these cool little snacks.

I talked to him, they’re called 脆餅 (cuì bǐng) or brittle cakes. The outside is more or less the consistency of an ice cream cone but the inside can be all different kinds of fillings: egg and cheese, mushroom, red bean, hot dog, anything. They’re all handmade in this oversized waffle iron by 洪伯琪 (hóng bóqí).

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洪伯琪is from 高雄 (gāoxióng) in southern Taiwan originally, but has used this same set up, in the same alley, for 17 years. I asked him if he wanted to open up a larger restaurant, and he said no, he likes working by himself in this little stand. He likes the atmosphere of the night market too, there are  the regular locals, but also tourists and students — people who would never try his food if he ran a traditional restaurant.

There’s another stand I’ve fallen in love with in my two weeks here, calledツエイ ヅー (Hsu-ji) 生煎包 (shēng jiān bāo). I don’t know why the name is Japanese, but I do know that they sell incredible fried pork dumplings. I’ve had something similar in America, but nowhere near as good as these. You can get a box of 5 for a dollar, and they’re one of my favorite foods.

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And clearly, they’re one of the favorite foods of the night market. The line wasn’t long, but the workers were working double time. I wanted to interview the shop keepers like I did at 點心屋, but I didn’t even try — they were too busy. They had a dumpling assembly line that just didn’t stop. They definitely didn’t have time to deal with a foreigner bumbling through questions in broken Chinese.

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But anyway, I’m real thankful for my neighborhood and its quaint night market. It’s more fun than just going to one restaurant, and definitely tastes better than anything I could cook. And if you go, just, uh, stay away from the stinky tofu 臭豆腐 (chòu dòufu)  unless you have a strong stomach. You can thank me later.

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