You can smell “stinky tofu” long before you get to the food stall. In fact, you can smell it long after you leave it. My tour guide, Yunyun, tells me that I have to try it. I get a small white cardboard box with a few pieces with soy sauce and pickled vegetables. The odor is overpowering. And then I take a small bite. The tofu is chewy on the outside but, to my surprise, it tastes nothing like its smell. A bit of funk but good flavor. We finished up the box.
That’s not to say that the Raohe Street Night Market doesn’t have some dishes perfect for an American palate: pepper pork buns cooked in a tandoor-style oven, rotisserie corn with a thick coating of spice, pork bone soup, grilled sweet sausages and a refreshing cup of cane juice with either lemon or ginger for kick.
But it seemed that every other booth had something I had never thought of eating before. The most extreme example is pig’s blood cake, a mixture or rice, pig’s blood and spices served on a popsicle stick. (The flavor was fine; the texture was soft and unctuous.) Grilled squid, either butterflied or not, was straight-up with a dusting of powdered spice/pepper on top.
But the crown jewel of the market is the “Fire and Ice” offering; a huge bowl of shaved ice flavored with sweet blossom water topped with a nest of mochi balls filled with either peanut or sesame paste. The mochi are chewy on the outside and served hot; the shaved ice makes the perfect counterpoint. Totally strange but eminently wonderful.
During the next couple of days, we would get a bigger taste of Taipei: scallion pancakes, bubble teas, wheel cakes, tofu pudding with boiled peanuts and ice, and the divine soup dumplings—the truffle ones were to die for. But I left my heart (and perhaps my stomach) at the Raohe Street Night Market. No place like it in my travels; at least so far.