There was buzz about me I was experiencing a heady cocktail of anticipation and trepidation. I felt like a culinary Captain Cook about to go forth and discover the huge kitchen that is the Shilin Night Market.
Shilin was the last of a series of gourmet discoveries I made in Taipei. Some of these had been outstanding like the egg roll stall near the KJwang Hwa computer and components market. Egg rolls are pastries that are made by dropping a dollop of batter on a flat plate that is pressed against another plate on top akin to an industrial press for just a second or two. The intense heat bakes or fries the batter, when is then rolled into a tube before it hardens. The end product is light and sweet, and available in a variety of flavours including ham and vanilla.
Then there is moiji, a sweet meat that you simply have to taste. It has a chewy, marshmallow- like outer covering with a sweet, red bean paste within. The paste tastes like the chana dal filling inside a puran poli. The dish is incredibly tasty as a whole.
In the countries of the Orient where any creature on earth, the sky and under the ocean is fair game on the dining table, an interpreter is an essential gastronomic GPS. Words lost in translation can lead to nasty culinary surprises: you could relish a bowl of thick soup only to find at the bottom of the bowl, something that would warrant the pest control service back home.
Lost in translation
My co-traveller, for instance, gushed over a red-coloured, garlicky fish dish that he chewed on and relished until he saw a ghastly looking cousin of the creature lazing in a tank at the aquarium. "See, see" pointed the interpreter, "that is what you just ate."
I have never seen a person go so rapidly from bright and talkative to green and where can I barf please.
So, I kept all channels of interpretation open sight, smell and speech to avoid any such mishap. Then I set forth to enjoy the culinary delights that Taipei offers, from fine dining restaurants to a unique eating house called 'Modern Toilet' where customers sit on WCs and food is served to them in miniature WCs. There has to be a rationale behind this idea, but I just didn't understand it.
But the headiest of all Taipei gastronomic experiences can undoubtedly be found in the Shilin night market. Let's be honest, you have to be a meat eater to enjoy it. If you're the kind who will avoid Mahim Causeway for the slight whiff of fish in the air, then you'd better take a few washing line clips along with you to Shilin. Here, you can choose what you don't want to eat and even avert your gaze from unappetising foods on display, but you simply cannot escape the omnipresent olfactory aura. Some smells are pleasant enough to make you drool, while others are so sharp that they make your eyes water.
But this sensory overload should by no means dissuade anyone (except, maybe vegetarians) from visiting the Shilin night market. It is a fascinating place to visit. There is plenty of tasty and normal (namely chicken, beef and pork) food on offer too. If you're in Taipei, this is one taste you mustn't miss out on.
Rishad is a travel writer who is happiest behind the wheel of a car in a new country.