Thursday, May 26, 2011

Taiwan Travelogue: The Huaxi Night Market

Located just around the corner from the Mengjia Longshan Temple, on the corner of GuiLin Road 桂林路 and Huaxi Street 華西街, in a bustling and busy part of Taipei is the Huaxi Street Night Market. It’s pretty far from the financial district. It’s a little more on the inner-city side of Taipei and well worth a visit.

Of course, the main thrust of night markets in Taiwan is the food and this night market deals in the more exotic types of food. It is home to the famous “Snake Alley.” These are restaurants that specialize in snake, as you may have guessed by the name. In years gone by, these places did a show where they caught and skinned the snake. But they don’t do those anymore because they anger the animal rights activists and the shopkeepers are forced to defend their practices. The other problem was that foreigners would come to photograph the show but then didn’t stay to eat. So it was a waste of snakes. I’m not much of a snake lover, but I don’t like destroying animals so some foreigner with a camera will have something to show his buddies back home. I did, however have a snake meal, which I will describe in my next post.

There are many other unusual foods that can be found here, some of them may even be considered to be endangered species. There is a restaurant that sells Sea Turtle. There’s a seafood place that also sells Crocodile. The Crocodile was prepared like San Bei Ji 三杯雞 (Three-cup Chicken) but it was Three-cup Croc. In today’s climate of political correctness, I would think that these places are not going to be around much longer, but for today, they survive. My thought was that it would be mostly tourists that would be there to sample forbidden foods. But I was wrong, it seemed that many of the locals would take an evening out with their children to visit the market and sample the exotic foods. In fact, I only saw a few foreigners the whole night and they were looking for the “Snake Shows.”

The Insultor of Foreigners Speaking Chinese
There are a lot of booths with the standard Taiwanese snacks. I saw places with Oyster Omelets, there was Xian Si Ji (Salty Chicken), Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodles), and Beef and Pork Fried Rice. The people were fun and interesting but intent on selling you their wares. I met a woman there selling barbequed, dried Squid. An interesting food, to say the least, but what made it so good was the woman who sold it. She was a character. She complemented my Chinese, telling me, “Oh your Chinese, so good!” It would have been a nice compliment if she didn’t roll her eyes and burst out laughing as she said it. I was charmed enough to buy a bag of Barbecued Dried Squid to snack on but I thought it a bit dry.

It wasn’t only about food, though. They were a number of booths selling artwork. There were booths selling traditional religious icons. There were booths selling knock-off designer clothes, watches and accessories. I was even offered several foot massages and a full body rubdown. The booths catering to the tourist trade had a number of Chinese trinkets for sale. There was even a guy who sold legal weapons. Guns are outlawed in Taiwan, but apparently switchblades and butterfly knives are not. This man had quite a selection for sale. I stumbled across a booth with games for kids and adults. My guess is that some of the games were a form of gambling for adults. Of course, there were also booths that sold pornography in the form of VCDs, and pirated DVDs. You can find just about anything you want at a Taipei Night Market.

You tell me, are these guys gambling?
I bought a hand painted water color, while I was there and the artist, who was also a calligraphy master, wrote 山高水長 (Mountain High Water Long), in calligraphy along with 2011 Taipei, Taiwan and his name.  I think the painting is quite beautiful and he sold it to me for only $1,000 NTD ( about $29.00 USD).  My Taiwanese friend told me, "Make sure to haggle with that guy."  So, haggle I did.  But since we bought a number of things, haggling wasn't really necessary.  He kept saying, "I'll make a good price for you."  I was happy and apparently he was, too.

Part of this particular market was covered, mainly where the restaurants and art shops were, but the rest was open air and quite busy for a Tuesday evening. It’s a good place to visit and fun place for your family.

A fancy restaurant like this is quite a contrast to the usual snack booths at a night market.

This man is selling traditional style Chinese clothing, $390 NTD is equal to about $13.50 USD.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwan Travelogue:  The Taipei 101
Taiwan Travelogue:  Old Ceramics Street
Taiwan Travelogue:  The Traditional Market

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