The holidays just ended, and as the weeks go by, so recedes the tide of out-of-town visitors and tourists that seemingly swarm Taipei during the weeks between Christmas and Chinese New Year. I wrote this handy little guide for the next time you’re tasked to “show your cousin around Taipei, come on, he only comes back once every three years, show him the night market”.
This is how I came to invent THE EASY THREE STEP GUIDE TO SHIDA-YONGKANG. It’s a nice way to loop around Heping East Road 和平東路 and take in my favorite part of the city: Shida Night Market and the Yongkang Street. To be PERFECTLY honest, one of the main reasons I always take people here is that I live in the dead-centre of this neighborhood. It’s great: tell them to meet me at my house, take them for dinner, shop around the night market, catch up in a cafe, stuff ’em in a taxi, GOOD NIGHT WORLD.
But it really is my favorite area of Taipei, and I feel lucky every single day that it happens to be where I live. Here’s how I described it when I wrote about it in the LV City Guide (not-so-subtle plug):
“The good news is that the tourist crowd rarely wanders far from Yongkang Street, meaning that the tranquil lanes are left for locals. Here, ultra-modern edifices are interspersed with airy, detached houses preserved from the time of the Japanese occupation. Many of the latter have been converted into small bookstores and showrooms, often centered on the tea arts. The presence of three universities in the area has lent it a distinctly studious feel. In the evenings, students and hip creatives stroll through the narrow lanes of the Shida Night Market for a snack before biking on towards late-nights at an array of ramshackle, book-crammed cafes that dot the neighborhood.
It’s an ideal night-time activity to do with friends; including dinner, it’ll take about four hours and covers good Taiwanese restaurant food, hit up a night market, and then a cafe – or a bar, depending on what they’re into.
STEP ONE: START WITH DINNER ON YONGKANG STREET
I suggest that you make your dinner an early one; before the restaurants are positively swarming with people, starting around 7, 7:30PM like clockwork. I always joke that Americans eat according to what fits their schedule, and Taiwanese fit their schedule around their eating. Actually, that’s not even a joke. It’s true. So show up early, and find a place to eat. Don’t forget to add 30-60 minutes of waiting time to your plan if you’re determined to eat at the original Din Tai Fung. If don’t want to wait so long, nearby Kao Chi (which, ironically, was opened by a Shanghai transplant) offers similar fare, although its their horribly delicious crispy-bottomed buns that deserve the hype. Also, I was once dining at Kao Chi when a RAT RAN THROUGH THE DINING ROOM, scurrying around what seemed to be each individual table s the staff watched in trepidation, doing nothing. Anyway, I don’t prefer to take people to those two places. Instead, I prefer:
MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS ON YONGKANG STREET
• Slack Season Noodle 度小月: Serves Tainan-style noodles and rice topped with braised-meat, ladled from the bubbling cauldrons at the store entrance. They remodelled last year and the results are beautiful. The food won’t set you back more than 400-500NT per person.
• O OLAN 黑輪吧 : This tiny little shop packs a lot of good design into a small space. It focuses on “oolan”, which is Taiwanese for fried fish cakes (in Mandarin Chinese we say tian-bu-la); a popular street food that consists of blended fish mixed with flour and a mixture of spices; dipped in sweet soy sauce or hot sauce. In addition to oolan, diners can opt for add-ins like udon, fried Japanese-style tempura, or even cheese-stuffed fish balls to round out the meal. (Note: seats are VERY limited – as in, I think there are maybe 6 seats – and they stop serving in-shop diners around 8:30PM each night).
After our meal, someone always suggests getting the mango shaved ice that Yongkang Street is supposedly famous for, but the lines are always mind-bogglingly long so I’m usually like fuck that and end up getting a passionfruit or custard fruit popsicle from thus one nostalgic snack along the street store sells both retro Taiwanese snacks.
TWO: STROLL AND SHOP AROUND SHIDA NIGHT MARKET
This bit always tends to be more fun for females, as the majority of shopping at Shida is oriented towards women’s clothing and accessories. It’s also a great place to grab desserts: there’s this place by the JSF stationary store….Butter-Stuffed Buns are my favorite: you’ll notice them by the long, long lines. Anyway, no matter what the hell you end up doing, this is the stop where they can check off “went to night market in Taipei”; which makes it inherently worth it. Check out this very detailed post by star food blogger Roboppy on where what to snack on in Shida). There’s also a Watson’s and a few beauty stores around the JSF stationary store; so here’s my post on shopping for makeup in Taiwan.
THREE: END THE NIGHT WITH CAFE HANGS
Late-night cafe hangs are my favorite thing to do in Taipei; it’s something that I think is fairly unique to the nightlife culture of the city (at least compared to, say, Shanghai or Hong Kong). The main area for this is Qingtian 青田街/Lishui 麗水街 streets, behind National Taiwan Normal University (known colloquially as Shida, from where Shida Night Market derives its name). These days I MUCH prefer hanging out in a cafe with one or two close friends; curling up on a couch and talking all night over a glass of wine – over going to clubs, lounges or even the craft cocktail bars. It has the unpretentious, intimate feel of hanging out at your friends house – if your friend lived in a rickety old apartment furnished with vintage armchairs and had a liquor cabinet fully stocked with whisky:
A LIST OF LATE NIGHT CAFES IN TAIPEI
• Cafe Libero: A Taipei institution that drips with nostalgic charm: dim lighting, vintage furnishings, and an intimate bar that serves up Kavalan whisky. Open until midnight.
• Sugar Man: This place is another Taipei institution. Coffee, wifi, desserts, plenty of seating, and most importantly – open until 4AM.
• Cafe Kuroshio: A quiet joint with a decent outdoor patio space, so you can smoke languidly while you discuss your favorite Murakami book (or the newest!) with your friends. The proprietor is an avid baker and makes homemade treats each week; can see a gallery of all the delicious desserts here.
• Hipster Cat Cafe (Note: NOT actually this cafe’s real name, but it only has a Chinese name, 路邊撿到一隻貓): This cafe smells like mold, is literally falling apart, is packed to the rafters with dusty sofas and even dustier books and the owner probably will hate you. Even so, it is my favorite cafe in the city; I’ve been coming here for late-night cramming sessions since my university days. It’s open past 1AM.
WELL, THERE’S ALSO THIS BAR YOU CAN GO TO:
窖父 HIDEOUT – this little dive bar opened on the corner of Xinsheng and Heping, next to a maternity clinic (HM) and seems to be packed every single day – I’m talking Mondays, Tuesdays, everyday] with [what I would assume to be unemployed] people dressed in black and snap-backs. Drinks are the standard mixed fare, and there’s a limited food menu. The music is, uh, REALLY LOUD.