My first memory of Taipei as a young girl of 11 back in 1990, was of a noodle stall down the street from my Grandma’s apartment. I was just a kid, so it was cheap. I had a couple of coins in my pocket and was alone with my younger brother, so I had no parents or relatives to fund my meal. This wasn’t my first time visiting Taipei, but it was my first time venturing on the streets alone. I felt excited, empowered and, most of all, hungry.
My plan was to wander up and down the winding alleys, exploring all that Taipei’s street food scene had to offer, but I was stopped cold by the gratifying smell of my favorite childhood noodle dish oamisoir, also known as oyster vermicelli. Twenty cents (USD) bought one steaming hot bowl of this briny, umami bomb.
Oamisoir is a thick and deliciously unctuous dish featuring thin rice noodles, oysters and chopped intestines, if you are lucky. These days, many authentic Taiwanese eateries in San Gabriel Valley, California offer oamisoir, but nothing has ever beat that 20-cent bowl from my childhood.
On my most recent trip to Taipei, I was already planning my menu on my airplane ride, somewhere miles above the Pacific. After all, how often do I get to taste the food of my parents’ homeland? It had been five years since I had returned home.
One might point out that there is plenty of Taiwanese food near where I live in Los Angeles. But I would counter that the boba shops don’t even get the boba right! The boba in the States is quite chewy, even at the top-rated teahouses, while the boba you get in Taiwan is meltingly soft like the softest mochi you’ve ever encountered.
I was ready to stuff myself with shaved ice, Din Tai Fung, Taiwanese breakfast, bubble tea and more. I wanted it all, and my newly exchanged NT was burning a hole through my wallet.
We hit the streets of Shilin Night Market that first night in Taipei. Having just eaten airplane and airport food for the last 20 hours, walking into the din and aromas of the Shilin Night Market was intoxicating.
I was somehow able to scarf down crispy, burning hot stinky tofu, Hot-Star fried chicken the size of my head and a boba milk tea within what seemed like five minutes of stepping into this food heaven. I was ready for more. I had only spent mere pocket change at that point. My fingers glistened with oil, and the essence of popcorn chicken lingered in my mouth. I slurped down an oyster omelet and chomped on tiny soft- shell sea crabs. I was happy.
The Shilin Night Market is one of the most famous street food destinations in the world. It’s been covered on Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover” and features over 500 vendors. It’s by far the largest night market in Taiwan, so you shouldn’t leave the country before spending a night there. Here are just a handful of the street foods that you must try when you visit Shilin Night Market.