Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Random food from 逢甲夜市 (Feng Jia Night Market)

So as a continuation of my orientation trip theme, I'll condense all of 逢甲夜市 (Feng Jia Night Market) into one giant post. Since we stayed in the 台中 (Taichung) area for most of the days, it's only appropriate that we visited Feng Jia at least once. Claimed to be one of the largest in Taiwan, it actually didn't disappoint in terms of size or variety of food, in fact, my only gripe was that the people who planned out the itinerary made it so we only had about an hour to see the entire thing. That is... we had an hour to check out half a kilometer of stores, plus all the branch streets that encompass the night market. Something about that didn't make much sense, especially given the fact that we were allotted something close to 2 or 3 hours for dinner on the first night. Anyway, I really shouldn't complain, I guess getting to go in the first place is something I should be grateful for... I wouldn't have any other reason to go to Taichung in the first place. Completely unrelated side tangent, before we got off the bus, they told us not to eat strange or unclean foods, or anything that might make us sick (bump that... if I'm in a night market I'll never get to return to, I'm eating anything I damn well want to).

Uh, if you know me at all, you realize that I'm a shaved ice addict. There... I said it. I will walk much further than anyone else you know just to have ice and syrup. As stupid as that sounds, it's true. In any case, I made my group members eat shaved ice before splitting up and eating 'normal' food (sorry guys!). Naturally, since I couldn't wait, we stopped at the first shaved ice place we came to that wasn't called Meet Fresh. Called 頂好 or literally translated as 'the top,' it was a small shack of a store, which was run by a singular old lady. You have no clue how happy it made me to see a giant neon sign that said they had shaved ice + 5 toppings for 35 NT ($1). Anyway, inside it was pretty cramped. Only 4 tables, half filled, we actually had to stand around for a while before we could all sit down (there were 10 of us after all). To the left was the counter with an awesome array of toppings, from solid taro, to red bean, to flaked ginger, to tapioca balls, and maybe 10 or so other bins I can't remember. If you had to characterize it as something, it's a standard mom and pop shaved ice place that you don't see as often anymore in Taipei (that is... if you include the requirement of a general level of cleanliness).

I got the 抹茶紅豆冰 (matcha red bean shaved ice) for uh... maybe it was 50 NT ($1.50). Honestly I wasn't really counting, since I was more focused on eating. I was originally going to get the 5 topping thing, but then I realized that I haven't been able to find this in Taipei for that cheap before (it's also a relatively rare flavor combination). Anyway, it's not a traditional shaved ice plate... instead, they take what basically works out to green milk tea and freeze it, proceed to shred it into 雪花冰 (xue hua ice) which is much thinner and sorbet like, then top it with the requisite red beans and condensed milk. The resulting concoction works amazingly well. The slightly sweet yet bitter green tea ice has a really smooth texture, and the flavor contrasts and mellows the overly sweet condensed milk on top. The red beans add a subtle earthy tone, and just a bit of textural difference to the melting ice and creamy milk. The only question is... how can I recommend something that I can't ever have again?! Ha, seriously, go find this store... it's near the entrance of main street.

We did want something salty to eat, so after the dessert, the we (the guys) split up with the rest of the group since we just wanted food. On one of the side streets we found fried mushrooms... of course since we're in Taiwan, they were 木耳 or 'Jew's Ear.' I forget how much they were, but definitely no more than 50 NT ($1.50) for a single serving. They consisted of a cup of the Jew's Ear mushrooms which were breaded and deep fried, topped with two sticks with a different variety of mushroom. I didn't buy these, but my friend Paul did... and he seemed to like them. I did however sample them, since they had people walking around with single mushrooms on toothpicks, and I could see what's so appealing. A crunchy exterior hides a juicy, soft, yet chewy interior. In addition to that, they had a nice mild taste that you could smell after the first bite. So if you find fried mushrooms, you should give that a try. I'm pretty sure where you get it from shouldn't matter too much.

I also ended up getting some takoyaki, or fried octopus balls. I realize that these are really commonplace in Japanese izakayas, but they do them differently in Taiwan. First off, they tend to be more of a street food, and not something associated with alcohol (well... actually, those two aren't mutually exclusive, since public drunkenness is pretty normal at night markets. Anyway, I had been lusting for some octopus balls for the longest time (you know you want them too...), so I went and got them from the only stall I saw selling them. For 50 NT ($1.50... I think everyone agreed on a price here lol), you get 6 balls topped with your choice of 2 flavors. The flavors range from original (soy sauce based), to pork floss, peanut flour, curry, and a few others I can't remember either (I'm sorry! It was a long time ago). I chose original, because you have to have a basis of comparison, and also peanut flour, since I needs mah proteinz! Seriously though, more of the same... which is to say... culinary excellence. Soft, yet still crunchy exterior yields to a soft interior where a layer of fish paste exists. Within that is a mixture of octopus chunks and Chinese style vegetables (cabbage, carrots, radish) which melds into a slightly fishy, but still curiously different taste. It was after I finished that I realized that 'flavor' just meant what condiment they put on. So... the original was salty, and the peanut was slightly sweet, with a hint of peanut. If I make that sound like a bad thing, I don't mean to... these were really good. Even if you can't find this specific stall (I probably couldn't find it again), just try Taiwanese takoyaki, it is vastly different (not superior... just different) from Japanese style takoyaki.

Last thing I bought, is supposedly something that Feng Jia is famous for. Super tall swirl ice cream! I had found this small stall in one of the alleys and ordered up a swirl chocolate/vanilla cone. See the picture next to the machine? It's supposed to have a perfect peak, and be about a foot long. When my vendor person did it, she screwed up the first time... it broke at about 8" and she had to scrap that. Second time, she got it up to the 10" mark, but the tip wasn't straight. Third time's the charm right? Nope, she managed to mess it up again... full 12" without tip... but it still fell at the end. At this point I was kind of getting impatient, so I just told her it was fine... paid my 30 NT ($1... actually less than a dollar) and bailed. You read that correctly, it's a dollar... for something that's more than a foot long of ice cream. Way to rip us off Ben & Jerry. So I left, content with my monstrosity of ice cream, eating as quickly as possible since Taiwan is still about 80 degrees at night. When we turned the corner, I found a more legit place selling the same thing. About 10 different flavors including matcha green tea/chocolate swirl, and for 25 NT (75 cents or so) to boot. I bet they don't screw up the peak either! OTL, life's not always fair is it... so if you go looking for really tall swirl ice cream, go to the 25 NT one on the big main street!

I have to race one of my bosses on the erg for a 2k today, so I meant to keep my run short. Final distance ended up being 6.56 miles... oops! Ha, no I probably subconsciously ran further so I'd have an excuse if I lost horribly. Let's hope I don't shame C150 too badly (he did say he hasn't erged for about 10 years).

distance for the day: 6.56 miles
distance biked for the day: 0.00 miles

distance on the year: 409.40 miles
distance biked on the year: 142.68 miles


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oh snap. I can control the text here?