We arrived in the Taipei Main Station during rush hour. I didn’t mean to time it like that but it just kind of happened in that way. Taipei Main Station during rush hour is quite the experience and I’m actually really glad we got the timing to work out so perfectly. During rush hour, if you’re not careful you can get lost in the crowds. It is definitely not a place to stand and stare unless you are pressed up against the wall so people won’t run into you. During rush hour, it is a steady stream of people running around and going from point A to point B. Don’t get in their way otherwise you will get run over. Another thing note about the MRT stations during rush hour is that they have volunteers that prevent you from being able to run onto a train the instant the doors start beeping. They try to avoid people bum rushing for the trains or trying to squeeze into the train last minute with the door shutting.
We arrived in the Main Station and decided it would be funny to do a photo op and send one of our friends through the station and try to play “Where’s Jennie” with her. It worked, we actually lost her in the crowd halfway through but she managed to find her way back to us.
After getting our fill of claustrophobia, we left the main station and headed in the direction of our hotel but before going back to rest for a few minutes, we needed to get some food. You see, two of our friends had arrived in Taipei the day before us and had found a hole in the wall beef noodle soup place that he really wanted us to try. He knows that I love beef noodle soup so it was a place we needed to go when I arrived in Taipei. We walked down a dark alley way and arrived at this restaurant. There are 4 tables and it’s filled to the brim with people. I tell the lady that we have 6 and she says give her a few minutes while we stand outside waiting. Standing there, it reminded me of all the other times I’ve been to Taiwan and just how after that wait, the reward of the meal is always so great. The thing about these little restaurants is that they aren’t full of gimmicks. You go for the food and the food only. The decor is essentially non-existent, the menus are only about 6-10 options, the tables are stainless steel with stools you typically see at local stores like Target or the $1 Store in the U.S. The silverware is already on the table standing in containers that get refilled every so often. There is literally nothing there to distract you from the meal you have in front of you.
We got seated at one of the larger tables. Realistically this table fit 4 people but we squeeze 6 people onto three sides since it was pushed up against the wall. The owner walked over and asked what we wanted. Here’s how the conversation went (reminder, this was all in my broken Chinese):
Owner: Do you know what you want?
Me: Could we get 6 beef noodle soups?
Owner: Do you want meat?
Me: Yes (answered slightly confused…)
Owner: Well do you want ____ or _____? (I don’t know the types of meat that she listed which lead to a very interesting experience)
Me: Um… What?
Owner: Looks at me, points to the menu on the wall Do you want ___ or ____
Me: Um.. I can’t read Chinese
Owner: Stares at me
Me: Which one is better?
Owner: _____ is better.
Me: Okay, we’ll take 6 of those.
Owner: walks away looking baffled and potentially laughing at me
My friends all looked at me and asked what I ordered. My response: I don’t really know… but she said it’s good.
A few minutes later, the owner came back with 6 bowls of beef noodle soup filled to the brim with soup and we began our dinner.
If you haven’t had real beef noodle soup, then you’re missing out. The noodles are usually hand made and have a similar consistency and size of Udon noodles. The broth has been created with beef bones and beef, usually consisting of hours upon hours of soaking. The meal is served with beef, noodles, green onions, and soup. When it arrives you can put in little pickled green vegetables (not sure what they are called in English, but in Chinese it directly translates to little vegetables…descriptive right?). Usually beef noodle soup is super flavorful on it’s own so you don’t really need to add additional spices or flavors to it. But if you’re feeling a little spicy, then you can always add hot sauce to it. This beef noodle soup was more like what I grew up with but you’ll find different variations of this soup at other restaurants, usually with some additional spice added to it so there’s more oil that hangs out at the top of it. We devoured our beef noodle soup and then began our journey back to the hotel to get some relaxation time before we met up with the rest of the group.
We met up with the remainder of our friends around 9PM to go to ShiLin Night Market. This is the biggest night market in all of Taipei and it is definitely an experience. It is now more of a tourist attraction because it is so big. The night market has two separate sections, one for food and one for shopping. At most other locations, you’ll see that they keep them fairly well integrated but this one has it’s own separate food court which is two levels, plus there are carnival/fair games that you can play to get prizes.
We arrived at the night market and promptly began our eating journey. There is a bun that you can get there that is cooked by fire and filled with beef and green onions. They sold out right when we arrived so we stood in line for 10 minutes watching them make more so that we could try them.
The process was that they would roll out the dough, then place it over their hand and grab a handful of beef followed by green onions, fold the dough over and make it into a ball. Then there was a giant fire cooker where they would line the sides of the cooker with the fire in the middle and let them cook. When they were done, they would be served to you in a paper sack and it was definitely an experience. The first bite is a delicious burning burst of flavor. The oil from the meat is cooked inside of the bun and the instant you take your first bite, it starts to spill into your mouth and all over you hand. You need to make sure you have napkins and be prepared to burn your mouth if you are not careful. The 10 minute wait for these things was 100% worth it.
We ate our way through the evening and ended up separating with our group. A few of them decided to go out and try out the night life in the city and the rest of us continued to eat our food. We got onto the last MRT of the evening and headed back to the hotel for a nights sleep. It was officially our last night in Taipei and there were no complaints for the adventure that we had.
Next up, Taichung.