Travel guides"and the occasional visiting journalist"tout Taiwan as a night market paradise. Meat skewers, hot pepper buns, and plates of stinky tofu are served in open-air bazaars until late into the evening.
Indeed, the night market scene here is one of the major selling points, but it's not quite what it used to be. The mom-and-pop vendors who once served no-frills classics have given way to trendy foods that err toward gimmicky than substantial.
Amid all the Instagram hype, the Raohe Street Night Market in Taipei is one of the few that have stayed consistent in quality.
Like many night markets in Taiwan, Raohe was established near a temple, where worshippers would congregate.
Back in the day, people would come from the countryside and sell their food outside a temple dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu. That was how the Raohe Street Night Market was born.
Today, the market is filled with vendors that specialize in one or two main dishes.
Taiwanese food tends to be sweet, but there's also plenty else to find at the Raohe Street Night Market. Here are our five favorites.
Black pepper bun 胡椒饼
Like many Taiwanese dishes, this one actually comes from the city of Fuzhou, just across the water in mainland China.
It's a bundle of pork, scallions, and black pepper packed in a fresh cloth of wheat. The whole thing is baked in an oven and served piping hot. (Pro tip: The black pepper bun vendor located at the tail end of the market is well worth the hype.)
Some of the strongest influences on Taiwanese street food come from Fujian and Guangdong, the southeastern provinces where a majority of Taiwan people claim ancestry.
Aiyu jelly 爱玉冰
This jelly is made with seeds from a fig that's native to Taiwan.
Called the awkeotsang creeping fig, it grows in subtropical parts of East Asia, including Singapore and Malaysia. As a result, it's rare to find aiyu jelly outside of these places.
The seeds contain a gelling agent called pectin, which turns the seeds into jelly when mixed with water.
The jelly is usually served in lime sugar water and garnished with halved limes.
Big sausage in little sausage 大肠包细肠
Sausage is prevalent in Taiwanese cuisine, and at night markets, you'll find them in this overstuffed form.
The outside is a sticky rice sausage, and the inside is a pork sausage cooked with a hint of sweetness.
The whole thing is garnished with cilantro and laced with a sweet chili sauce.
Ice cream wrap 花生冰淇淋
This dish originated in Yilan, a county in Taiwan's northeast, and along with aiyu jelly, it's a popular summertime treat.
Flakes of caramelized peanuts are wrapped in a wheat crepe with ice cream and a bit of cilantro.
It's sweet, savory, and very compact.
Stinky tofu 臭豆腐
Stinky tofu gets its signature odor from being soaked in brine.
Some have compared it to the smell of gym socks, but others think it's not really that bad. The taste is like that of a strong Camembert, with a robust savory bite.
The night market variation is deep-fried, and usually served with a side of pickled vegetables.
If you liked this list, we have another one about Dadaocheng, one of Taipei's oldest districts, where you can still sample traditional Taiwanese fare on the street. Check it out here.
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