Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Asian Night Markets

by ShaoLan

Steaming Dim Sum waiting to be bought

Do you, like me, live in a different country to the one you grew up in? People often ask me what I miss most about my hometown. One of the answers is definitely the street night market! One of my fondest memories is the street food in Taipei city. Given the change of my eating habit over the past years (I am now a Paleolithic), I might not touch most of the stuff in the market if I went back to Taipei tomorrow, but I would certainly still have a wander around. 

Asian Night markets are very well known in the Western world. Street markets (not night markets) have been around for ages, but street markets are typically focused on the business of buying and selling goods and usually operate during normal business hours. Night markets, on the other hand, are open exclusively at night, after most of the local population is done with work and students are home from school. While night markets are certainly a large part of the local economy, they have a slower pace than typical street markets and focus on entertainment, leisurely shopping, and, of course, eating.

The delicious food is what really distinguishes night markets from their daytime counterparts. There are several dishes that have become internationally famous after experiencing night market success. I’d like to share a few of them with you, but be warned, do not read further if you are very hungry! Night market dishes are known for being irresistibly delicious.

The first dish i’d like to share with you is called 蚵仔煎 (Oyster Omelette). It originated in Taiwan and has gradually spread to southern parts of China such as Fujian and other nearby countries like Singapore and the Philippines. The 蚵仔煎 (oyster omelette) is essentially an omelette with a filling of small oysters. The egg is mixed with starch to create a different consistency than you’d expect from an omelette. The dish is often served with a flavourful sauce. If you take a look at travel guides or blog posts about Taiwan night markets, you can see how much everyone loves oyster omelettes. As a local and foreigner favorite, you definitely must try one if you have the opportunity! Not planning on traveling to Asia in the near future? Here’s a recipe you can try at home. Let me know if it works well! Oyster Omelette Recipe: http://bit.ly/123cO7E

This dish seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a must-eat if you come across it in a night market. I’m talking about fried chicken steak (雞排). The vendors pound chicken breast with a meat tenderizer and then deep fry it in front of you. There is usually some special seasoning added, and you be asked if you want it spicy! The best place to find this dish is the Shilin Night Market in Taipei City, Taiwan. The Shilin Night Market also happens to be one of the largest and definitely the most well-known night market in the Taiwan. I’ve tasted it for myself and believe me, try this dish and you won’t ever think of fried chicken the same again!

There are so many more dishes to cover, I could write another book about them all. There’s 鹽酥雞 (stalls all over Taiwan where a variety of food is fried), Pearl Tea (a.k.a. bubble tea or boba milk tea), Stinky Tofu, meat skewers, candy-coated fruit, etc. You can expect more posts about these dishes in the future. If you have a favorite or are particularly interested in a Taiwanese or Chinese dish, be sure to let me know so I can write about it for you! 

You may have noticed that this post focuses on night markets in Taiwan. Taiwan is the country that is most famous for its night markets, but similar markets can be found almost anywhere ethnic Chinese have settled as well as the rest of the world, like Morocco. Even some Western cities like San Francisco and Vancouver B.C. with large Asian populations have night markets that take place during summer months. In 2005, the Richmond Night Market in Richmond B.C. had 2 million attendees. The spread of night markets around the world is a good example of how our different cultures are fusing together at an increasing rate. Plus, night markets are a load of fun so it’s nice to see them heading West!

For more about the history of night markets in Taiwan, check out the wiki page here: http://bit.ly/1aCwx5X. There are also plenty of personal blogs out there with great pictures and stories from night markets all over the world.