Taipei is bursting at the seams with energy, culture and life – especially after dark. So I waited for the lights to go down and headed out for a real taste of Taiwan’s vibrant capital.
Following countless neon signs, I ended up in the main shopping district, Xinyi Commercial Area. It was a hive of activity, filled with hours of free entertainment. An eclectic blend of locals, vendors, performers and travelers filled the streets. Everything from bubble blowers, dancers and puppy salesmen – I struggled to take it all in.
I then ventured down countless rows of shops and started to realize why the country is so well known for its “Made in Taiwan” tag. The prices were reasonable and the quality was better than most East Asian countries. I would definitely recommend packing light for the flight in.
After wandering for a while, my appetite took over, pointing me towards one of the cities famous night markets. The best tip is to sample as much as you can and leave your inhibitions at home.
“My senses were assaulted by exotic smells and bountiful food stalls.”
I was feeling adventurous and decided to test myself with the local’s favorite, stinky tofu. It smells so bad that the council is gradually forcing stalls out of the city. The fermented, deep fried delicacy will test even the strongest palate and is said to be almost unbearable for the uninitiated. I quickly agreed. Putting it in my mouth, my taste buds were overcome by a combination of dirty socks and strong cheese – I nearly heaved. I quickly washed it down with some Taiwan beer. A local friend then pulled me towards my next challenge. A small stall filled with raw innards. Before I could refuse, a piece of stir-fried spinal chord was thrust towards me. The long, thin chord was almost flavorless, until I bit down. It burst in my mouth like a squashed tube of toothpaste.
I pushed the traumatic experiences from my mind and moved onto the smorgasbord of great food offer. Starting with copious amounts of ice-cream burrito, sweet dumplings and fried squid.
I then jumped in a taxi and headed to a large restaurant. Which was home to the unique local pastime, shrimp fishing.
I was thoroughly amused and confused upon walking into the large shed. Where I was led to a small seat on the edge of a wide lap pool. A local then handed me a fishing rod and beer then proceeded to demonstrate the technique. Showing me how to let the line go, tease the water, then yank once I got a nibble. I dropped my line and waited.
Looking around, I realized that to the locals this was much more than just dinner. It was a popular place to gather with friends and family or unwind after a big days work.
I suddenly felt a bite on my rod and snapped into action. Struggling not to spill my beer in the process.
Out came my first catch to a cheer from the locals. After I caught a few more, I was shown to a large wall of industrial barbeques. A man salted and skewered my shrimp, then threw them on the barby. I was slightly disturbed and bewildered at the same time. Side dishes were then ordered and we sat down to dinner. I leaned back in my chair, watching my group dig in and had to laugh – what a weird and wonderful welcome to Taiwan.