KeeLung Temple Entrance dinner (night market)

I always try to hit at least one night market when I come back to Taiwan. Its atmosphere can only be experienced, and is not for the faint hearted. I would not say it is a pleasant experience. Most night markets are packed with crowds with barely enough room to walk. The air is thick with smoke from all kinds of food stalls: grilled squid + buttered crabs + eggy sponge cakes + candied sweet potatoes + fried pork chops, etc. A socks vendor can be situated right next to a oyster pancake cart; a sushi stall neighbors a sandwich shop. Besides the stalls on the two sides of the walkway, vendors with push carts (usually without legal licenses) randomly dot along the path. Occasionally you need to jump out of their ways if the cops decide on an unannounced raid. Pleasant or not, it's a cultural phenomenon not to be missed, especially if you are in the mood for sampling Taiwanese street food.

My friend Joe lives in KeeLung, a city about 20-30 minutes north of Taipei. It's got one of the most famous night market in Taiwan, called "Temple Entrance." This market centers around the city god temple entrance, hence the name. Over the years it was better organized by the city and each vendor now has his/her own stall and proper license. My dinner started with a skewer of cherry tomatoes and dates covered in caramelized sugar. Then we waited for 10 minutes for the famous "nutritional sandwich." The vendor's plague claims it is the true original "nutritional sandwich" shop. The laughable part of the plaque says its sandwiches can benefit your health and extend your life. Let's see what was in my sandwich -- fried doughnut-style bread, with cucumber, tomato, sausage slices, and marinated duck eggs -- mostly egg yolks -- topped with a flavored mayonnaise. Sounds more like a heart attack waiting to happen. It was tasty though. We then sat down for an oyster pancake -- a quintessential Taiwanese street food -- made with small oysters, scrambled eggs, some veggies, and a translucent gooey kind of dough.


Time for a cooling drink. I haven't had "love jade" for a long time. This is supposedly only found in Taiwan. The official name for this plant is called Ficus pumila L. var. awkeotsang(Makino)Corner, a kind of berry bush. The seeds of the fruit are wrapped in a cheesecloth and "washed" in water to release its juices and oils. The resulting liquid spontaneously solidifies into a pale yellow gel with a slight tangy flavor. These days it is diffcult to find true "love jade" because large scale production of this drink is limited by the traditional method. Most commericalized "love jade" is simply some mixture of agar agar, carrageenan, or gelatin with coloring and flavoring.

I also ordered tofu "flower" for dessert. It came with a gingery syrup and seeded boba/pearls. Red beans are planted inside each boba/pearl. Very interesting. We also had sweet potatoes candied in syrup and served with ground peanut. We were really full by now!

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