What to during on a 10 hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan? Why, eat, of course! I recently returned from a two week Southeast Asia trip with a group of friends from the Bay Area. Our trip started off with a 10 hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan. We arrived to Taoyuan Airport at approximately 10:30pm. As a group consensus, we decided to step out of the confines of the airport to explore Taipei's night life. The night life scene in Taiwan is known to be very vibrant and lively with a multitude of street vendors, night clubs, bars, and karaoke bars to choose from - I knew I was in for a treat.
After a 30 minute wait at customs, we headed straight to the bathroom to freshen up. Although some of us were able to sleep soundly on the 12 hour flight, we wanted to make sure we didn't look haggard or jet lagged. Shortly after, we stepped out of the airport and hired a six-seater taxi to take us from Taoyuan airport to Shida Night Market. We were recommended to Shida over Shihlin Night Market because it was less frequented by tourists with just about the same variety of street vendors.
When we first arrived to Shida, I noticed that the streets were dark and empty. Apparently, the night markets in Taipei close around 12:00am on weekdays. Shida, which sits adjacent to Taipei University, closes a little earlier than Shiling. Since it was a Monday night, we were only greeted with a select few of local shops that were still open.
Our first stop was a hot stew stall which served an array of ingredients such as mushrooms, tofu, leafy greens, innards, pig’s blood cake, intestines, and noodles. I wasn't particularly interested in trying anything foreign so early on in the trip, so I decided to stay safe by ordering only known vegetables and noodles. To order, you are supposed to take a basket and select the desired ingredients with a tong. After the basket is filled, you're supposed to hand it over to the staff so they could count the ingredients and collect payment. The staff then chops up the ingredients, dumps them in boiling hot flavored stew, and braise them with their secret sauce.
The five of us shared two of these delicious braised plates. This meal satisfied my palate and filled my empty stomach. My favorites were the sauce soaked tofu, enoki mushrooms, and rice noodles. I thought the heat and the sauce really brought out the flavor of the vegetables and noodles. The dish reminded of the clay pot stews that I order from the Chinese restaurants at home, only better. The portions were too huge for our appetite that we had some leftovers at the end of our feast. We complimented our food with milk tea boba drinks from the shop that shared the same storefront. I thought the milk tea was pretty decent but the boba lacked the chewy texture that I like.
Our next stop was Shi Yun, which was just down the corner from our first spot. Here I had one of the best fried food I've ever tasted. You can choose from an assortment of ingredients to deep fry such as potatoes, chicken, gizzards, bean curd, and squid. My favorite was the popcorn chicken. It was definitely a lot better than the ones I have ever ordered at Quickly's back in the States. The popcorn chicken at Shi Yun had just the right amount of pepper and salt!
At this point, we decided to rest our stomachs and our feet by sitting down in an open table at a quiet, small park near the otherwise bustling street market. To my surprise, there were a ton of low standing tables and sitting areas throughout the park. It was nice area to absorb the scenery and the environment around us. Taipei is normally quiet on weeknights, especially on Mondays (we found out later). After our nice break, we decided to make the most out of our night by heading to the local 7 Eleven store to pick up some Taiwan beer. I didn't think the beer was particularly interesting or special than any other beer that I've tasted back home. However, I thought it was worth the try.
At approximately 3:00am, we headed to our third food spot for some early morning breakfast food. We placed two orders of xiao long baos. They were steamed to perfection! The baos had just the right amount juice that oozed out of the skin, which wasn't too thick or thin. The meat was very tender and flavorful. The vinegar and garlic dipping sauce heightened the flavor.
We also ordered sticky rice roll, onion beef roll, steamed baos, turnip cake, and soy milk. Although I didn't find these items to be particularly stand out dishes, I appreciated the much less frequented meal as they could not be easily found in San Francisco.
After our long eating and walking marathon, we decided to pamper ourselves by visiting a 24 hour massage parlor to have our shoulders and feet rubbed. I must say that these Taiwanese masseurs and masseuses mean business. To my surprise, I walked out of the shop with my shoulders and feet in relief and in pain.
After our massage, we decided to head back to the airport to catch our next flight to Hanoi. The taxi back was slightly more than what we paid going to the city. Our driver asked us for more money after forcing him to drive over to the EVA Airlines terminal, instead of the first terminal that he mistakenly dropped us off at (probably purposely). My recommendation is to verify the exact drop-off location with the driver before getting into the cab. Once we arrived to the terminal, we hurried to the small food court for our last feast in Taipei. I ordered a spicy beef noodle soup with vegetable tempura on the side. Although Taiwan is known for its beef noodle soup, I was unimpressed by this bowl. The broth wasn't as flavorful as I imagined. Also, I though the soup base was a little oily. The vegetable tempura also tasted a little soapy to me, but it may be because the batter they used. Although this meal was a little lacking for me, I was entertained by the neat presentation of their dishes.
I was a little disappointed that I wasn't able to do some night shopping or try a bunch of street food. Perhaps, Shihlin would have been a better choice. Although I was looking forward to exploring more of Taipei's culture, I felt like we did make the most out of our 10 hour layover.
Stay tuned to read about my next stop - Hanoi, Vietnam!