The Night Market in Tainan, Taiwan
I’m not sure what I expected when I was invited to go to the night market. I think I pictured something exotic with dancing girls, fire breathers and snakes. While I didn’t see dancing girls or fire breathers, I’m told there are snakes at some night markets, just not the one I saw.
We left the apartment about 8pm and walked several blocks through central Tainan. As we approached the night market I saw a parking lot with row after row of scooters. There were literally hundreds of them, maybe even a thousand. I don’t think I’ve ever seen than many scooters in one area; it was amazing. Beyond the scooters were lights and crowds of people–lots of people.
The night market is made up of small vendor stalls with about half of the vendors selling food and the other half selling electronics and clothing much like a flee market. The edge of the market was ringed with long rows of children’s games. Kids ages four and up were throwing darts at balloons while others were rolling balls along ramps trying to get the into holes. It was like a miniature carnival scaled down for both the kids and portability. I was told night markets are popular with two main groups, families looking for a cheap evening out with the kids and singles looking for a cheap date activity. I had three asian young women with me who each made mad rushes from food vendor to food vendor buying single portions of food to try. They would never tell me in advance what I was eating and only say, “Try this, try this! You will like it!” After taking a small taste the would be watching me carefully to see if I liked it. “Do you like?” they would ask. If I liked it, the would promptly shove a bag or plate of it into my hands and rush off searching for some other new food for me to try. The first place we passed reeked something awful. I wanted to run away and puke in the gutter. They laughed at me and told me it was very good and common in the market. They called it “stinky tofu” and stink it did. “See all the people in line for stinky tofu?” Indeed, there was a line of about 10 people waiting to buy the stinky tofu. So, we waited in line for about 10 minutes as people were seated at small tables and served paper plates with fried stinky tofu. Finally we were seated and only a couple minutes later we were served. What they served didn’t stink at all and smelled like typical fried foods. It actually tasted pretty good. I asked why they call it stinky tofu and was told because of the way it is prepared. Basically they let tofu sit out until it goes rotten. Once the mold is growing on it and it reeks to an acceptable level, then they cut it up and fry it for dinner. I found the whole experience very odd but yet amazing. As we progressed around the food vendor area I was fed various other foods in convenient bite sized portions (most of which had a toothpick or sticker). I tried small fried chicken nuggets, chicken feet, fried squid, fish balls, fried yam balls, fried sweet potatoes, various fruits which had been flavored, corned on the cob (plain & with sauce), dark blood cake, water chestnuts (dry), two kinds of sausage and marinated hard boiled eggs. For desert I played a game with a buzzer which gave me a prize of one or two scoops of italian style ice cream. The evening was absolutely delightful and I think I laughed as much at my guides who were delighted by my responses to the various foods they insisted I try.
At the end I was stuffed, but elated that I had tried so many exotic foods. My guides seemed proud of me for trying to many types of food and liking all but a select few. I was thankful for the short walk back to the apartment which gave the food time to settle and look forward to my next opportunity to go to a nigh market in Taipei where I here they have exotic snakes.