Updated: Aug 21, 2020
Everyone has to take breaks. See friends. These are the natural rewards of a work week. In Taiwan, this is quite stable. Typically, people start early, and leave the office by five. There is lunch. On weekends we can find people frequenting night markets.
The most bustling night market in Kaohsiung is Rui Feng. It is located downtown and spans less than ten alleys of a lot. For anyone who has not traveled to the East, there are rows of tents with tables beneath selling knickknacks and clothing. The smaller stands sell the street delicacies common to Taiwanese culture.
If one is bold, stands offer an assortment of usually discarded parts of animals seasoned in different ways. For protein, the most unusual dish might be the pig intestine mixed with vermicelli noodles served in a stew. This savory dish has cilantro as a topping, which is a point of contention for individuals. Eating this requires a calculation because if you start here, you could leave little room for the plethora of options.
Another iconic local fare is the stinky tofu dish. It sounds unpleasant. Smell comprises much of our perception of taste. However, the curd is fried until it emerges from the oil with a golden, crispy outer layer. The inside melts when you bite into it, slipping over the tongue as the silken tofu we are familiar with seeing packaged from the grocery store. The tofu is plated with crunchy pickled cabbage and doused in a mildly spicy sauce. As for the term “stinky” it refers to the fermentation of the tofu, which subtly contrasts with the acidity of the cabbage.
For the cartilage enthusiast, the braised chicken feet are displayed in bowls scooped from a large vat of seasoned broth. The claws are instantly recognizable, and also served in dim sum restaurants. Snag a sample of these. Peel the gelatinous skin off with your tongue to separate it from the bones. The cartilage can be chewed, softened from hours of cooking. It is the expectation of eating fatty meat minus the calories, slightly salty like a roast.
Beyond those specialties, the flavors that are concocted for ordinary foods such as ice cream, beverages, and pastries extend to the variety of fruit that is available in a tropical climate. Taro used as filling in desserts is a rediscovered delight. It's a balanced natural sweetener that lacks the gritty feeling of sugar stuck on one's teeth after eating. There are endlessly customizable skewers of mysterious fried balls of ground up seafood and vegetables for selection. Taiwan is vast in textures and tastes, and food experimentation. I could probably dedicate an entire post to one dish- it's origins and the preparation.
As a person who has eaten a similar palate for much of my adult life, this diversity is the thrill of walking around the night market.
It’s a multiple course meal combined with exercise.