I still salivate when I remember the food we ate on our recent family holiday adventure to Yilan. Although Yilan is not far from Taipei (we live close to the Xinyi tunnel, so we can be in Yilan in under an hour), it feels so different from Taipei. The first thing you notice when you get to the other end of the tunnel are the rice paddies. Once upon a time, there was little much more than rice paddies. But now, interspersed with the rice paddies are ‘farm houses’, many of them elaborate faux-European structures built by Taipei commuters or people looking to set up Bed and Breakfast (minsu). But despite the encroachment of city-slickers, Yilan retains its unique, relaxed rural vibe.
One of the most famous night markets — not just in Yilan but in all of Taiwan — is in the Yilan city of Luodong (羅東夜市). Actually, a colleague of mine travelled from Taipei to Luodong last weekend just to eat at these markets — they really are that good.
The markets surround the Chungshan Park, so it is fun to order good food from the markets and then sit in the park and eat it. Although that said, I found it hard to wait, especially when the snacks (小吃) smelt (and tasted) so good. There is also an excellent Rotary-built English language library for children in the middle of the park. We were so surprised to find that it was even better than our local library in Taipei — our son, Austin, loved playing with the books and we enjoyed the opportunity to have a breather in the air conditioning before heading back out into the summer heat.
Unlike other night markets, the ones at Luodong focus almost exclusively on food and drink. There are a few clothing and accessory shops, but there are virtually no games or other amusements to distract from the important task of eating. There is instead row after row of food stalls. But one street back from the main night market strip, is an exceptionally good stall — Linji Soup Buns (林記湯包).
We originally only planned to order a basket of xiaolongbao (小籠包). But I happened to glance a poster recommended their signature hot and sour soup, so ordered that as well.
The xiaolongbao were freshly made; you could see them being rolled by the two ladies who were serving at the shop. The buns were flatter than most xiaolongbao, and compared to the Din Tai Fung version(the gold-standard for steamed xiaolongbao), the pastry was not nearly as smooth. Actually, they were much more like a mini-steamed bun than the neat chrysanthenum-folded dumplings at Din Tai Fung. Nor did they have nearly as much filling. But they were so good! Made with minced boar meat and local Sanxing shallots, they were soft, sweet, savoury and hit just the right note. I had to restrain Sam from ordering more.
The hot and sour soup (酸辣湯) was Taiwan style, served gluey-thick and with lots of extras like sliced congealed ducks blood, shredded carrot, thinly chopped bamboo and tofu. It was dusted liberally with white pepper and a generous pinch of coriander. I sometimes find Taiwan style hot and sour soup a poor imitation of the Sichuan original. This soup had definite Taiwan characteristics, but just the right combination of flavours to make it work. I was not the only one to go back for seconds. Austin often demands to sample whatever Mummy is eating. Usually, he scrunches up his face and spits it out — especially if it is adult style food. But Austin absolutely loved this soup. Sam didn’t want me to feed him the soup because of all the vinegar and pepper in the it, but Austin kept grabbing the spoon from me to get more. He would have eaten the whole bowl if Sam hadn’t stopped him. And Austin had just eaten dinner, so he wasn’t eating it out of hunger.
So tell me, what is your favourite thing to eat at the Luodong night market?