Over the last few months we have developed a family tradition: going for a walk together to the local ‘wet’ markets on Saturday morning. We usually go to the roadside markets along Linkou St in Xinyi District, but sometimes we go to the markets near the Yongchun MRT station. We love selecting the very freshest local produce, which is often grown with minimal pesticides. What’s on offer varies depending on the season. At the moment the selection includes fat orange persimmons, bowling-ball sized grapefruits, sweet passionfruit and bright green Chinese cabbage (wombok). There are still some wax apples around (a sweet, crunchy fruit popular in Taiwan), and all sorts of root vegetables such as white radish (daikon), mountain yam and taro.
The wet markets are open nearly every day (baring bad weather), but they really come to life on the weekend. Several stallholders only sell their wares on Saturdays and Sunday, so you get a much better selection if you shop on the weekend. In addition to fresh fruit and vegetables, there are stalls selling clothing, handbags, accessories, seafood, meat, flowers and traditional Taiwanese foods such as hundred year eggs (pidan) and sushi (with locally influenced flavours). It is fun wandering around looking at everything for sale, but we have to navigate little Austin’s pram carefully as scooter drivers are often more f0cused on looking at the stalls than pedestrians.
You can haggle at the markets, but most things are usually for sale at set prices. Produce is often sold in pre-determined lots, for example grapefruit might be stacked in small mounds and you must buy the lot. (I have tried on occasion to only buy one or two, and so far have been unsuccessful. I am still using finding creative uses for three large womboks I purchased recently.) If not pre-stacked, produce is usually sold by weight. The most common unit of measure is a “jin” (roughly 600g). Sometimes, stallholders will sell you half a jin (ban jin) if you ask politely. Ivy, who writes a column in the Centered on Taipei magazine, has a list of useful vocabulary and tips to assist with how to buy produce at markets.
We often stop to buy fresh flowers to put on our altar at home: we have a small shrine dedicated to Guanyin Buddha. Many people believe that you will be beautiful in your next life if you regularly give flowers to Guanyin. I am not sure about this, but I love decorating our altar with fresh flowers.
This old lady is making a traditional ‘skin’ for making spring rolls. She makes it with a flour dough, which she forms into a ball before lightly rolling it on the surface of a hotplate. A small amount of the ‘dough ball’ sticks to the hotplate making a thin, lacy spring roll wrapper. A bag containing half a ‘jin’ (around 300g) of the spring roll wrapper costs NTD$50.
After visiting the markets we usually find somewhere local to sit and have breakfast. This place used to be my father-in-law’s regular breakfast stop. There is no street sign to advertising the shop’s name or even what it sells, but it has been in business for many years and is popular with locals. There is often a queue of people lining up to buy breakfast staples such as warm soy milk (dou jiang), rice rolls (fan tuan) and shallot pancakes (dan bing). The shop is tucked away in a little lane off Xinyi Road Section 6, around the corner from the wet market. The shop looks as if it is almost falling down: the walls are covered with silver foil and most of the cooking is done outside on an antiquated cooker. But as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the breakfast food here is amazingly fresh and tasty.