Published in HK Magazine, March 10, 2011
Sure, we might have our Tsui Wahs and our Ebeneezers, but if you are looking for some real round-the-clock dining action, head to Taipei. Don’t be fooled by Taipei’s laid-back and relaxed vibe. Here you can find night markets, cafes, bookstores and even optical shops open ‘til midnight and beyond. First off, head to Cashbox 錢櫃(Branches citywide, including Section 4, 22 Zhongxiao East Rd., 886 (2) 2771-5000, open 24 hours) the city’s best-known KTV (karaoke) empire. After a few tunes, commence your late-night snacking binge, because believe it or not, Cashbox is known to whip up some of the best beef noodles in town.
If you are looking for a more authentic beef noodle experience, however, head to Bade Road for another local favorite, Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles 林東芳牛肉麵 (Section 2, 274 Bade Rd, open 11am-6:30am). Here you will find a queue of varying sizes at any time of day outside its rundown shack, a testimony to its exceptional food—beef soup with a dash of Chinese herbs, noodles cooked to perfection. Don’t forget to add the chili-satay-butter for an added umami kick.
Another local after-party destination is Chen’s Cold Noodles 陳家涼麵 (Lane 123, Section 5, 29 Nanjing East Rd., 886 (2) 2766-0171, open 24 hours). On a Friday night, this section of Nanjing Road is jam-packed with cars fighting to squeeze inside this small alley for food. “Unlike most other noodle shops, which simply rinse the noodles with cold water, we air it with a fan, which is much more time-consuming but produces noodles with much better texture. This is why our customers keep coming back!” says proud proprietor Ms. Chen. Indeed, the 30-year-old establishment’s noodles are exceptionally chewy, and its perfectly mixed sauce of vinegar, garlic, chili and sesame paste is so fragrant it can certainly wake up a few drunken souls.
On a night when you feel like stretching your feet in the comfort of a clean, serviced restaurant, Ding Wang Hotpot 鼎王 (89 Guangfu North Rd., 886 (2) 2742-1166, open 11am-3am) is your best option. Here the traditional Taiwanese “mala” (numbingly hot) hotpot is given a modern twist with smaller, more delicate portions, fresh quality food, swanky décor and waitresses who bow down to you at a 90-degree angle every time they leave your table. The only catch is that the wait can be long, so reserve in advance and expect an allocated eating time of 90 minutes—they will unceremoniously kick you out after your allotted time.
For something lighter on the palate, Fuxing South Road offers a vast selection of “light congee small dishes” restaurants and even a shaobing youtiao (fried dough and flatcakes) shop for you to choose from. At Xiao Li Zi 小李子 (Section 2, Fuxing West Road [between Xinyi Road and Heping East Road], 886 (2) 2709-2849, open 5pm-6am), for example, row upon row of little dishes are stacked across the length of the dining area and are served at lightning speed by the ever-efficient waitresses—it is almost lethal to stall and be indecisive.
When you are hungry (but not drunk), Taipei night markets are the best places to venture into, with their wild array of food snacks, little knickknacks, fortune-tellers and even beauty parlors. There are numerous street markets in Taipei, but Raohe 饒河街夜市 (Section 4, between Bade Road and Fuyuan Street, open 5pm-midnight) is a good starting point with its smaller and more navigable streets. Xia Gang Peng’s 下港彭 stinky tofu, Jin Lin’s 金林 medicinal braised pork ribs and lamb, and Orange Elephant’s 橘象 Thai-style fried pancakes are all must-eats here.
AND…. If all fails, even if you are dressed in pajamas at home at 4am in the morning, there is always 7-11 downstairs. 7-11?! You say? Yes, but the 7-11 in Taiwan is unlike any other. You can do most anything here, including sending and collecting deliveries of all imaginable sorts. But that is beside the point. The point is, at 4am in the morning you will find at 7-11 fresh coffee, oden, steamed buns, and even half-boiled tea-smoked eggs.