Monday, March 2, 2015

Taipei Jan'15: 寧夏夜市! Food Trail at Ningxia Night Market

Visiting Taipei's infamous night markets are a must when you go to Taiwan, and even though this was my first time in Taiwan, I'd already heard of various night markets, though not of Ningxia Night Market, the one that I'm about to introduce to you!

If you're talking about just food, and food alone, Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市) is the one that you have to visit, and Ningxia is also the one that's most popularly frequented by the locals. Two of our Taiwanese friends brought us there and they were insistent on Ningxia being the night market where you can find the best 小吃! Our Taiwanese friends also said that many of the other night markets are more commercialised and touristy as compared to Ningxia, which is more authentic. Who are we to argue with the locals, right?

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Ningxia Night Market 寧夏夜市
Ningxia Rd, Datong District (between Nanjing W. Rd. and Minsheng W. Rd.)
Opening Hours :1800-2400

How to get there by train:
1. From ZhongShan MRT Station Exit 1, walk approximately 10 minutes westwards along Nanjing West Road.
2. From Shuanglian MRT Station Exit 2, walk approximately 10 minutes westwards along Minsheng West Road.

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What's awesome about Ningxia is that it's a small and compact street chock full of many many different food stalls. It's not like Shilin or Raohe, which are huge and have lots of other shops where you can also do some shopping for clothes/random stuff. Ningxia is mostly just food so it's perfect for a fast and furious food hunt! Especially cos it's so compact, you don't have to walk far to experience and eat your way through Ningxia from one end to the other.

There is really a lot of food to try at Ningxia, so come prepared with an empty stomach!! If I had more stomach space, I'd definitely try even more food, but we had our limitations, so I'm just gonna share what we did manage to taste. Price-wise, most of these street side snacks are really affordable (Ranging from 40NT to 100 NT?) so I didn't take note of how much they cost. You'd probably be bursting at the seams before you even make a dent in your pocket!

One thing to note about the night markets is that they are generally much more crowded on the weekends, so try to plan your visits to the night markets on a weekday night instead to avoid the crazy weekend crowds. Other than Ningxia, we also visited Raohe Night Market and Keelung's Miaokou Night Market, which I'll cover in other upcoming posts!

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Our very first stop: 環记麻油鸡!

This place is an actual eatery and not a street stall, and it's just along Ningxia Night Market (right beside where the street stalls are). It's mostly patronised by locals so I think it must be pretty authentic!

The 麻油鸡 is very different from Singapore's version, and is much lighter and not as salty compared to our local version. The shop also sells meesua and 腰子 (yo-ji) and it was so much better compared to Singapore's version (aka Seng Kee meesua)! The 腰子 (pig's kidney) was actually palatable and not porky or smelly. It was like firm texture but melt-in-the-mouth! *hard to explain*

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The meesua was really yummy! I like the texture of the noodles, they're a little firmer and tastier than the kind we usually have in Singapore.

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And this chicken somehow almost tasted like pork in its texture and consistency. It's way chewier than the usual tender chicken meat that we're used to. Not too sure if I like it more or less, it's just different.

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The pig kidney that was surprising good! I stay away from 腰子 usually but had a few pieces of this. It was very fragrant and tasty!

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One of the rare photos we posed for before we got really busy with eating and couldn't be bothered to take photos hahaha.

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Devouring our first dinner... of many!

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I think YZ was rather pleased with the sesame oil chicken. It was very satisfying and kept our tummies nice and warm especially in the cool weather at night. Oh please remember to order single portions for sharing first so you can save on stomach space!

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We started exploring the street stalls, and the first stall we saw was this 发发东山鸭头 that looked very busy. 

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Our Taiwanese friends told us to dabao this back to our hotel to snack on with some beer but we ended up not buying any eventually because we were way too full by the time we finished our food expedition at Ningxia!

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One of my FAVOURITE street food has gotta be this: 大肠包小肠, AKA pork sausage sandwiched in a glutinous rice sausage!

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We picked the garlic version which comes with minced garlic, dried radish, egg, sauerkraut, cucumber and ginger. The sign also says "Healthy X New Concept, The more you eat the tastier it gets!"

I have to agree on how tasty this is, but it's definitely not healthy hahaha grilled sausage (unhealthy) enclosed in glutinous rice sausage (also unhealthy)?!

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It looks almost like a hotdog bun but tastes far better! I love glutinous rice snacks like ba zhang and lor mai kai, so maybe I'm biased.

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I've seen this at other night markets too so you should be able to find it else where. You have to try it!

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We didn't have to walk far until we found the next likely target.. "海宝贝"!

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It's a scallop in its shell that's been cut up and mixed with cheesy mentaiko and don't know what else filling before being grilled. The aroma of grilled cheese and mentaiko is incredibly mouth-watering!

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Mmmm, tasty! Especially when it's hot off the grill. Very cheesy and flavourful.

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For a palate refresher, we had some 爱玉冰 from 王记青蛙下蛋! I love ice jelly (the Singapore version) so I loved this too! You can add 粉圆 (tapioca pearls bubble tea style) but I recommend not adding the pearls because they put SO MUCH of those little tapioca balls that I had trouble drinking my aiyu. Every sip was just a mouthful of extremely chewy pearls.

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I swear the pearls filled half my cup! And made me damn full too ;(

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One of the stalls you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY have to try!
Yes, I liked it that much. It's 林记烧麻糬 and it's the most insanely chewy and soft mua chee that I have EVER tasted! There's two versions, one is the traditional hot sticky rice ball in sesame/peanut powder, and the other one is some kind of mua chee ice (which I didn't try!)

There was a queue for this and we waited about 10-15 minutes for our mua chee. Served fresh and piping hot on a plate and we proceeded to devour it at the little roadside tables at the stall.

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IT'S SO GOOD I CAN'T EVEN?? The sesame/peanut powder was SO fragrant and nutty, and the warm mua chee was incredibly soft and sticky.

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Here's the namecard I took a picture of cos I liked it that much.

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Another must-try Taiwanese food has got to be the oyster omelette, 蚵仔煎, "Er-Ah-Jian"!
It's not called Orh Lua or Orh Jian okay. There's more than one shop (it's a proper shop, not stall) selling oyster omelette along Ningxia so we picked the one that looked relatively crowded and had locals patronising it. Called 蚵仔煎大王!

I don't typically eat this in Singapore cos I don't like the raw fishy taste of oysters and I find our local version very oily and jelat.

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But for some reason I couldn't stop eating mouthful after mouthful of this one that we had! I loved the consistency of the egg (it's the slightly undercooked and still jiggly and soft kind) and I don't know what kind of flour they used but it was so QQ and soft. Also, the oysters were really big and fresh! They didn't have that fishy flavour that I dislike too, which surprised me.

Only thing I didn't enjoy was that there was too much sauce on the omelette which overwhelmed the entire dish. But I think you can ask for less sauce!

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Our Taiwanese friends say there are also good and bad "Er-Ah-Jian" in Taiwan, but the one that we had is considered pretty good! So here's the name card again for you to locate this yummy shop.

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Another recommendation by our local friends is something called "知高饭", which is rice with pig trotters!

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It's just a very comforting bowl of rice, toped with a generous portion of braised pork and an egg, plus pickled vegetables! For 75NT (3.2SGD), where to find?

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For the brave-hearted ones, go ahead and try their infamous 臭豆腐 (fermented stinky beancurd) if you dare!! Our Taiwanese friends urged us to try this adventurous dish and so we did! You'll find quite a few stinky tofu stalls at Ningxia too so just pick your poison, hahaha.

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Verdict? It wasn't half as bad as I expected it to be, and in fact I rather liked the hot crispy beancurd dipped in their special chilli sauce! The smell is rather strong, but once you put it in your mouth, it tastes just like normal fried tofu, really. Just abit more fermented? They also serve it with some pickled cabbage which was quite addictive.

Advice from the locals: Go for the fried beancurd instead of the one cooked 酸辣-style (in sour & spicy sauce)! And also, look for a stall that's crowded cos it means that the beancurd will be freshly cooked and served.

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Photo with our 热情的台湾朋友们! Photo-bombed by Mr. Stinky Tofu haha!

You can imagine how absolutely stuffed we were by the end of the night. And there were many more stalls that we didn't even get to try! Next time.. I'll be back at 寧夏夜市 for sure!

Lastly, if you happen to visit Ningxia, look out for this taro ball stall called "刘芋仔" that is reputedly super famous at Ningxia! It sells fried taro/yam balls that are supposed to be orgasmic. The stall wasn't around the night that I visited, but you might get lucky!

Read the rest of my Taiwan travelogues below (to be updated with more!)
TAIPEI JAN'15: 十分放天灯! RELEASING SKY LANTERNS AT SHIFEN

xoxo

Friday, February 27, 2015

Taipei Jan'15: 十分放天灯! Releasing Sky Lanterns at Shifen

Hello everyone!

Hope CNY has been super duper awesome! I had a pretty interesting first CNY with my new family: wrote a little about my CNY on my Dayre in this entry here, if you're keen to read a little more! :D

As you know, I holiday-ed in Taiwan last month (January), together with my best blogger buddy Evonne and our husbands both! It was my first time to Taiwan, and YZ and I enjoyed the trip tremendously. The people in Taiwan are mostly super friendly, and food is very affordable in Taiwan, which is awesome! Oh, and the weather was really nice and cool in January too, with it being around 12-20 deg most of the time. A light wool coat will do to keep you comfortable!

I'll be documenting some of the best parts of my Taiwan trip, and I'm starting with my favourite: 十分放天灯! One of the more touristy but also really fun (and yes, Instagram-worthy!) activity you can do in Taipei is to head over to Shifen, Old Street (十分老街) to release a sky lantern, which is a colourful paper lantern, on which you can write your wishes on, and then send it off into the skies for good luck.

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In main Taipei city, it's mostly just a lot of eating, walking around and shopping, and Shifen is a refreshing change from the urban cityscape. Shifen is a short distance away from Taipei city (roughly 1hr drive), and we saved this activity for the second last day of our trip, as we planned to also stay in Jiufen (九份) for the night, before heading straight to the airport for our flight back to Singapore the following day.

Yangyang (Evonne's husband) booked us a driver which cost us 3500NT (approx 150SGD) for 8 hours, and this driver took us to quite a few places: from Taipei City to Yehliu, Shifen, some sight-seeing around the coast, and lastly to Jiufen where we stayed for the night.

If anyone needs the driver's contact, just lemme know so I can bug Yangyang for it. Hahaha. It made more sense for us to hire a driver because we also had all our luggages with us, but if you're travelling light or you're just making a day trip out, you could consider taking a bus/train/taxi instead.


Getting to Shifen

By Bus:
MRT Muzha Station (捷運木柵站) to No. 15 Taipei Bus (台北客運15路公車) to Shifen (十分)

By Train:
1. Take the train to Ruifang Station (瑞芳站) at the Taipei Railway Station (TRA). It’s where Taipei Main Station is – follow the underground signs to get to TRA. Train schedule: http://twtraffic.tra.gov.tw/twrail/English/e_index.aspx
2. Alight at Ruifang Station and buy tickets for the Pingxi Line (平溪支線). Take the train to Shifen Railway Station (十分火車站). Rides are unlimited on the Pingxi Line.

Taking a Taxi from Ruifang Station:
You can save some time by taking the train to Ruifang Station, and taking a taxi there. The prices are regulated by the authorities and clearly indicated, so the taxi drivers cannot overcharge. Save even more by sharing a taxi with other travelers going the same way.

Single destinations: Jiufen (九份): NT180; Jinguashi (金瓜石); NT240, Shifenliao (十分): NT480; Shuangxi (双溪): NT600

Packaged destinations:
- Package A (NT$1,000)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Nanya Rocks(南雅奇石), Yin Yang Sea (阴阳海), Thirteen Level Refining (十三层遗址), Gold Waterfall (黃金瀑布), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街)
– Package B (NT$2,300)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), Shifen Old Street (十分老街), Taipei (台北)
- Package C (NT$2,000)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Yehliu Geopark (野柳风景区)
– Package D (NT$2,800)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Nanya Rocks(南雅奇石), Yin Yang Sea (阴阳海), Thirteen Level Refining (十三层遗址), Gold Waterfall (黃金瀑
布), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), Shifen Old Street (十分老街), Taipei (台北)

*Prices for reference only. Check the prices when you are there.

***

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Shifen is a nice change from Taipei city, and looks like a quaint little town from olden days!

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放天灯 happens at 十分老街, where there's a railway track/station right in the middle of the street.

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Expect the area to be swamped with tourists from all over, I know I spotted Koreans, Chinese, Singaporeans and Malaysians, there were so many people there!

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By the way, the railway track is still in use, and every once in a while, a train passes through and everyone has to scram off the track. The trains are quite slow so there's no real danger.

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There are shops selling these lanterns, and prices vary depending on which one you get. You have those with single colors, two colors, or the most expensive ones which come in four colors. (I can't remember exactly how much, but it was around 150-200NT)

Each color is supposed to represent something different: 
Red for good fortune, pink for romance, peach-red for decisions and opportunities, orange for money, yellow for success in school or career, white for health, green for growth, blue for hope that something comes true, and purple for idealism.

Though to be honest, I think I picked whichever one I thought was more visually pleasing.. Hahahah. 
有心就好!

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Some people like to do this in the evening or at night, cos you'll be able to see the lights from the lantern more visibly. It's really up to yourself, because I thought that day-time means you can see better and get better photo-taking opportunities too, even though night time may be prettier.

The four of us decided to get one lantern per couple! So one each between two of us to scribble and write on. Calligraphy brushes and ink are provided!
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Here is YZ and his atrocious calligraphy/handwriting skills.

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I take this very seriously! And you should too, because if you're not careful, you might just flick black ink on yourself/your clothes. 要注意哦!

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Yang yang is also very serious, using his phone to double-check that the chinese characters are right.

You DON'T have to write in chinese, you know. It just seems like the cooler thing to do somehow. Hahaha. And for those who are really poor in chinese and you don't know what to write, fear not, because there's a little board on the side of the rack with lots of 成语 for good luck and blessings for you to refer to. 

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After I was done with generic wishes for myself and my family..

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Another "page" dedicated to YZ and I!

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I did have brief calligraphy lessons back in Higher Chinese lessons in secondary school so I tried my best, okay?

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Obviously a posed shot but hehehe :D

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And just because I could. Let's draw on the lantern!

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Hehehe rather pleased with how my doodle turned out! :)

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You get a chance to take a photo with all four sides of your lantern for keepsake!
So here's my wishes and blessings for myself and family..

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YZ's wishes for me -.-

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A wish for both of us..

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And up up into the sky it goes!

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Here's the video I posted on Instagram of us sending our lantern into the skies.


A video posted by Yina Goh (@yinagoh) on
*Annoys me so bad that I can't centralise the Instagram video.. WHYYY? 

Though it did make me wonder where all these lanterns go when their fires burn out :( Our driver told us that the locals collect the fallen lanterns and sell them to be re-cycled, and even make more money out of collecting/selling the fallen lanterns. That's not too bad, I guess.

You can also find random shops/food stalls around Shifen, but most of them are probably rather touristy (read: expensive but not necessarily value-for-money). You can get souvenirs like little sky lantern keychains that light up when you shake it!

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We did try some street food like mini sausages and this ngoh hiang thing above.

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And a chicken wing that was stuffed with glutinous rice! Pretty yummy, this one.

Another popular destination in Shifen is the relatively well-known 十分瀑布, which our driver also brought us to!

The walk from the main road (where the driver dropped us off) into where the actual waterfall is took us about 15-20 minutes and has a series of steps and climbs, so it took some effort to get to the waterfall.

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Which looks like this!

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Entry to this waterfall used to be chargeable but is now free, so expect this area to be full of tourists too. It's sort of a been-there-done-that kind of place to me. Not amazingly spectacular, but since we were in the area, we might as well visit it!

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The area around 十分 is really pretty though because it's near the coastal and mountainous areas.

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We asked our driver to drive us along the coasts but unfortunately it was a gloomy day and everything looked grey :(

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At a special part of the coastline, Nanya Rock Formation (南雅奇岩) where the rocks have eroded to form screw-like looking formations with layers and layers of rock.

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One of the few rare occasions we got someone to take a group portrait for the four of us, thanks to Mr. Driver!

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We went down to Jiufen and Keelung after this, but I'll cover that in another blog post soon!

Oh and a very important thing to mention is that whilst we were in Taiwan, we actually used these nifty wi-fi devices from Global Wifi that can be rented from Changi Airport: 100% connectivity to the internet with 4G/LTE speed almost anywhere we went! (Except for one super ulu part of the coastline when we were trying to find a lighthouse at this place called 鼻頭角, which was so ulu there was no reception at all)

Photo credit to Evonne!
I always prefer using such wifi devices over buying/renting a SIM card just cos it's way more convenient. I can stay connected on my Singapore number in case of urgent calls, and I don't have to trouble myself with the switching of SIM cards. Further more, you can connect multiple devices, even tablets and computers! Also, the battery life on the Global Wifi device we had lasted all day, which made it hassle-free cos we didn't have to worry about the battery charge running low.

It's a flat rate of $12/day for Australasia & USA and $25/day for Europe, so it's a lot cheaper than paying for international roaming with your service provider, especially when one wifi device can have up to 10 devices connected to it! PS. The first day is FOC; and if you are booking for more than 7 days, you can enjoy free Wi-Fi for the first and the last day as well.

You can just pick up these devices together with the provided charger and international adapter from the Changi Recommends counter at the departure hall so it's super convenient. Same for returning them, just pass them back to Changi Recommends! Their Facebook page is here at facebook.com/rentglobalwifi, or visit their website here for more information!

Read the rest of my Taiwan travelogues below (to be updated with more!)
TAIPEI JAN'15: 寧夏夜市! FOOD TRAIL AT NINGXIA NIGHT MARKET

xoxo


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