Taipei: some notes on night markets and restaurants
I found some very useful information on this board when I visited Taipei earlier this year, and am finally getting to posting some brief notes which I hope will be helpful to other visitors.
First, some general comments on practical issues:
Transport: Tapei has an excellent, reasonably-priced metro system (the MRT). One can purchase a day-pass or a refillable fare card which avoids one having to purchase tickets for each individual trip. Almost all of the the places I mention here are accessible via the MRT, together with a short to medium distance walk. Since some of the places mentioned here can be difficult to find, I have created a google map (see
) giving their locations.
Language: While many English speakers get by without speaking any Mandarin (the Taiwanese are usually very helpful and accommodating to foreign visitors), there are some contexts (e.g. communicating with vendors at a night market) in which speaking even a little is helpful. Since many restaurants have signs in Chinese script only, it can be helpful to make a note of the Chinese name before setting off to find it. Some restaurants do not have menus in Roman script, which can make ordering a little difficult.
I visited three night markets, and while the food was certainly good, I don't think it was quite up to the standards of Singapore or Thailand. I suspect the night markets could be a substantially more rewarding experience of one is able to visit with a Taiwanese, though, since much of the food was difficult to identify if one is not familiar with it, and unable to read the Chinese signs.
On to night markets:
Keelung Miaokou Night Market: The general consensus of numerous postings here seems to be that (i) from Taipei, the only way to get to this market is by car or taxi, and (ii) the food selection is the best in the Taipei area. It is, in fact, quite easy to get to Keelung by train, either from the central Taipei Railway Station (which is connected to the MRT) or Nangang Train Station (a short walk from Nangang MRT station), and the night market is a short walk from the Keelung station. The train is much cheaper than a taxi, but one has to be careful to make a note of the departure times of the train returning to Taipei, as the last train is not very late, and one would want to arrive at the station in Taipei before the MRT shuts down for the night. In my experience, Keelung Miaokou had a very large selection of food, but it didn't really seem to justify the extra effort in getting there compared with Shilin, for example.
Shilin Night Market: This is the most easily accessible (close by MRT Jian Tan station) night market, and surely the best choice for a first-time visitor. Arriving by MRT, one might think that the market consists solely of the main food store building, but it's worth pointing out that one should explore beyond the main building, as there are many more food vendors on the adjoining streets.
RaoHe Street Night Market: This night market is a reasonable walk from the Houshan Pi MRT station. I was not very impressed with the food selection at this market, but this could be because I visited on a weekend evening, when it was packed with so many people that it was very difficult to move around and explore the options properly.
Finally, on to restaurants. Some of these restaurants have been recommended on this board, and some were recommendations from a Taipei resident:
Ding-Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) at 194 Xinyi Road Sec. 2: This is the original branch (some people claim the food is better than at the newer branches) of what is now an international chain. The dumplings are excellent, and this restaurant is certainly worth a visit, but I'm not sure I'd agree with its inclusion in a list of the best 10 restaurants in the world. Note that Ding-Tai Fung is very popular, so it's advisable to arrive early to avoid a long queue for lunch.
Parent's Restaurant (朝桂餐廳) at 200 Dunhua S. Rd., Sec. 1: This dim sum restaurant has been recommended on this board. The system of ordering from a menu is a bit strange if one is used to display carts being pushed around the restaurant, but the food I tried (Oolong tea smoked goose, and chicken legs) was excellent.
Hizen-Ya (肥前屋) at 13 Lane 121, Zhongshan North Rd. Sec. 1: This Japanese restaurant (also called Fei Chien Ou, the Mandarin reading of the Kanji name) is well known locally for its excellent unagi (see http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/y7wqt5...
). It's difficult to find (this photo might help http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/y7wqt5...
), there is no English menu, and no English is spoken, but one can get by with very little Mandarin or Japanese, and it's well worth the effort.
Mitsui Japanese Cuisine (三井日本料理) at 34, Nong-an St., 1F: This upscale Japanese restaurant is expensive by Taiwanese standards, but very reasonably priced if one is used to US prices for Japanese food. The set menu was very enjoyable, and particularly good value.
Thank you for the report, I'm glad my yelp list was of some use!
Can you elaborate what you tried at Keelung, I'm curious what you had that you thought did not justify the trip.
RaoHe to me wasn't terribly impressive either, but the stall near the back entrance gate that sells the Fuzhou style pork pepper roasted buns are fantastic (the flagship location is at RaoHe with one other location at Shihlin and maybe around downtown Taipei).
Din Tai Fung is cool to visit for a first time, but right around the corner on Yong Kang street, there are a lot of cool places to eat. Not sure exactly how far down YK street, but there are two great beef noodle places I've yet to try, YK beef noodle and Lao Zhang that have been around 30 to 50 years.
While I have not had much in the way of Hong Kong/Cantonese food in Taipei, my impression so far is that it is not very good. You can find pretty much any kind of major international city's cuisine in Taipei (other than good Mexican or CaliMex/TexMex I suppose).
Glad you made it to Hizen Ya. Nothing beats fresh unagi prepped from scratch. US$8 for a large unaju is a steal, considering something similar may run upwards of 5x in Tokyo. Their side dishes are also excellent, and unfortunately they usually don't have grilled unagi liver by dinner time (it sells out around lunch). What some locals do if the wait is super crazy is that within 4 mins walk away, there is a competitor, Kyoto-Ya Unagi Ryori, that basically serves the same kind of fare (unagi set dinners, with the eels also prepped from scratch and grilled to order). It's on Tianjin Street #41, website: http://my.so-net.net.tw/binhooeel/. Anyways that district is where most of the Japanese expats work, so the concentration of authentic Japanese restaurants of all sorts, is very high (and good quality).
A friend recommended Mitsui, I've yet to try that place.
re: K K
The things I tried at Keelung were good (I'm afraid I don't recall what they were); my comment was based on the difficulty of identifying the available food (a good fraction were of the type something-in-liquid) in order to decide what to try. I'm prepared to believe that the trip to Keelung is worthwhile if one has appropriate advice on what to try, or is accompanied by a local person. As an outsider, though, I found it slightly easier to identify and select food at Shilin, which is also much easier to get to.
I would agree with you that navigating Keelung is a lot easier with a seasoned local. But even with that said, on the main strip, the stalls are outfitted with signs in Japanese, English, and Chinese to make it a bit easier to find and try things.
Here's a site that casually mentions a few must haves. http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/m1.aspx?sNo=...
If and when I have time I'll put together something that summarizes the good stuff (the best information is on the Chinese websites, and even they are scattered).
Glad that you still made it there.