taiwan 2019: four — chiayi

all the night market things! ::::

My first three posts on our Taiwan trip are in Taipei, Kaohsiung, Part 1 (highlighting the Fo Guang Shan monastery, my favorite place on the trip), and Kaohsiung, Part 2.

Day 8: Our last morning in Kaohsiung, we arose in the damp and gloomy light to these colors: mochi in the morning with so many flavors. We tried green tea, black sesame, taro, red bean, and peanut filled mochi.

This was a red bean mochi with a green tea filling:

This wife cake (or sweetheart) pastry (laupo bing; 老婆饼 or 老婆餅) is a smaller version (less pastry crust) of the sun cake (taiyang bing; 太陽餅 or 太阳饼), filled with a sweet maltose-sweetened paste with wintermelon, almond, and sesame, then wrapped in a flaky, messy crust. The crust, like many similar pastries here, are made with an oil dough and a water dough. I’ve tried my hand at making my own oil and water doughs with pandan spiral mooncakes in the past. Sun cakes were first made in Taichung, Taiwan and are available everywhere. The wife cake variant apparently originated in the Guangdong-Hong Kong area of China.

Off to the High Speed Rail Zuoying train station again! Where to next?

Eat has spent hours on You Tube looking at food travelogs from Chopstick Travel, where Canadians Luke Martin and Sabrina Davidson film and write about the culture of food of Taiwan (mostly). Chiayi (嘉義) was one of the places mentioned with a night market worth visiting. It’s not that Taiwan is deficient of night markets, they’re everywhere, but Chiayi caught my eye too, with its landlocked location, plains, promise of green, and its famous turkey rice dish (火雞肉飯). Alishan (阿里山國家風景區) lies just east, a great expanse of mountains and scenic area with the most curlicue train track I’ve ever seen.

Sitting in southwestern Taiwan, Chiayi is an entry point for these mountains that rise in the vertical length of Taiwan, creating the country’s spine and belly of green and rock. Tourists often hunker down in Chiayi before taking a bus to Alishan’s subsequent forest railway line. The Hoanya aborigines first inhabited Chiayi, the settlement first called Zhu Luoshan — this is either a Dutch transliteration the Hoanya village name Tirosen or a phrase meaning “row,” describing the mountain ridges to the east.

Chiayi is also one of the sites of White Terror massacres that occurred during martial law. More on that later — you know how I love history when traveling. On to the train first….

There are always great restaurants in train stations, many accommodating travelers with convenient packaging and dainty serving ware. We bought these garlicky clams at a kiosk, so good that we bought another round.

The broth was soooooo good. I wanted some bread or rice to soak it up instead of slurping it from the plastic box like I hadn’t had food in days.

En route, we saw lots of farms. The first stop going north to Chiayi was Tainan (臺南市), one of Taiwan’s oldest cities still bustling today. It was actually started by Dutch colonizers as a trading company in the 1600s. Zheng Chenggong (also known as Zheng Sen and Koxinga) came to Taiwan from the Fujian Province of China in 1661, banning and killing the Dutch colonial assholes and establishing the first Chinese government in Chiayi. Tainan remained capital of the Tungning Kingdom until 1683, then of the Taiwan Prefecture until 1887 when it was moved to Taipei. Han Chinese immigrants followed Koxinga to Chiayi and its name morphed to Tsulo, a shortened version of Tirosen. Chiayi’s territory borders gave it a peach (桃子) shape initially, giving it the nickname of “Peach City.” Indigenous to China, peaches symbolize immortality.

After misunderstanding the AirBnB host’s instructions on where to get off at the local transit station from the High Speed Rail shuttle, we ended up on the bus for 40 minutes, crowded, sweaty, and not close to the meeting point (we should have alighted sooner and instead ended up in a memorial park). We were all grumpy and hot. As we crossed the street to get to the bus stop that would take us back the other direction, two ladies swooped in and immediately offered the five of us a ride in their car. It was a 10 minute drive and much appreciated with tired kids. We found many people in Chiayi were like this, just nice to be nice, without strings attached.

[Just an aside for travel logistics: The Taiwan High Speed Rail in Chiayi has a free shuttle to the Chiayi City Transit Station (Bus line 7211 or 7212). Make sure you show the driver your HSR ticket and get off at the Transit Station. It may say “Bus Station” on the drop off side, though the city (local) rail is in the same complex. From here, you can walk less than a mile to the Wenhua Night Market street. Then, to get the free shuttle tickets FROM the Transit Station BACK to the HSR station, you must show your upcoming HSR ticket. In other words, if you book reserved seats for the HSR in and out of Chiayi, you must have these tickets in hand as your “free ride” on the shuttle. We normally just picked up the HSR tickets just before we were going to board. This scenario taught us to remember to pick up both ticket directions in order to get the free ride.]

Our apartment was nice (excellent AC!) and modern. The hostess meeting us spoke some English then broke out into a river of Taiwanese when it was clear Eat spoke it fluently. Apparently, the hosts speak enough English to host, but not quite enough to know that the inspirational poster in one bedroom “get shit done” maybe isn’t the right bedroom décor for families with young children.

You know what happens after learning lots of history? Hunger. Wenhua Night Market, here we come! It was about five minutes away from our apartment, winding through narrow streets with motor scooters whizzing by.

Yay! Squid! When squid is around, this is my usual battle cry (cf. Japan trip 2017). See those tentacles? They’re waving!

This duck skin wrap was Eat’s favorite food that night (and the next). It contained crispy duck skin, chili bean sauce, pickled greens, and cucumbers. I’m not a huge duck fan, but I’d order this over and over.

So much grilled and fried meat in 90+ degree weather! It’s like an American state fair without the pig races and fried butter….and much better food.

Just like in Japan, we had chicken butt. We ordered regular skewered chicken and lamb, too. When we ordered the butt, the woman cashier (not pictured here; I think this was her husband) asked us a couple times to make sure we knew what we were ordering. I believe she clarified with the word “ass”, and may have vaguely pointed to hers or Eat confirmed by pointing to his.

Takoyaki is a Japanese octopus dumpling (see my post from Kyoto when I extoll the flavors of my favorite takoyaki on that trip). The Taiwanese style one here had corn in it. I also wasn’t sure to trust the mayo sauce in such hot weather. Not my favorite. Boo!

Here are the typical takoyaki pans that cook large numbers of takoyaki at once. SO MUCH CORN. AN ABOMINATION.

This stand sold my favorite dessert tonight. The lady stuffed the heated bell-shaped mold with rice flour and sugar and added a peanut or black sesame filling. We could not figure out the name of it. (A detailed Google search has been little help, too.)

They were sold in boxes of eight, very hot and fresh. The rice flour wasn’t dense and smooth like mochi skin; it had little bubbles in it to give it a texture like white, chewy bread.

We ordered the peanut filling and the black sesame filling. I dreamed about these after eating them, they were so divine. (The next night we went back to the market to buy more and we couldn’t find the stall!)

Yay! More squid! Except this squid looks like rolled up lace.

We ordered one of these for Grub: a pressed, dried squid roll was unrolled, grilled, and brushed with sauce. He liked it but it wasn’t his favorite. I also suspect it was a little difficult to eat with braces on his teeth. It tasted sweet and salty and had the texture of chewy jerky.

So we headed to the fairy tale hot dog options. These are meat-on-a-stick choices you’d see in a Disney movie. We ordered the one with the fried ramen. Again, just okay. The sun had set, the night was still at least 90 degrees F, and the streets were hopping with activity. Odors of fried means and seafood, sugary syrups, star anise and soy, vinegar and sesame wafted and hung in the humidity. Our bellies were as full as the air felt.

We waddled home for the requisite nightly showers and good night’s sleep, ready to explore daytime food options the next morning.


Day 9:  The next morning we breakfast on mochi we bought last night. The elderly lady making them by hand stood in a very small kiosk at the end of one of the streets of the Wenhua Night Market. Her kiosk smelled sweet and soft in the middle of the ruckus and aerosolized grease of the market, just enough to smell like a grandmother’s house. The brown powder is a toasted soy powder [kinako (黄粉 or きなこ) in Japanese — not sure how to say it in Mandarin].

Our first full day in Chiayi, we decide to venture out for its signature dish: turkey rice (火雞肉飯). It was initially made with turkey but many cooks nowadays use chicken, as turkey meat is not as widely available in Taiwan. The secrets to this rustic comfort food: turkey drippings and fried shallots. The turkey meat is usually boiled in Taiwan for this dish, the addition of fat necessary to carry the flavor of the meat, shallots, and spices.

NOTE TO SELF: This could be a new post-Thanksgiving tradition if turkey congee every gets old. Or do both! [UPDATE: I did it this year (2019) — see my turkey rice post here.]

“Mommy, it’s too hot outside to eat.”

I hear, you Sky-Girl. She looked miserable. We all did. While the turkey rice did not disappoint, the oppressive weather about did us in. It’s hard for kids (and adults) to walk in bright, cloudless skies in 90+ degree heat, heavy ambient humidity, order a steaming stew-like dish (humid food) and sit outside to eat it. I felt extra heat on my left lower leg, too, when I accidentally backed up into a parked motor scooter, searing my skin with hot metal. I ended up with a second degree burn blistering and in need of my wound care skills. (I’ll spare you the photos. Over a month later, I still have a mark.)

Cold drinks, we needed cold drinks. Apple Sidra, fizzy non-alcoholic apple cider, is an obligatory drink in Taiwan. Unless you have diabetes. Then, no.

Eat and I ordered watermelon and honey-kumquat slushies. The ice melted so quickly as we walked home with them. At least we decreased our internal core temperature.

We ordered all sorts of dumplings to take home instead of sitting at these open-air spaces to eat. The air conditioning was the main goal, then secondarily shoving more food into our mouths.

I dubbed the dumplings on the lower right wrinkle dumplings because of their skin texture.

These gummy candies were an impulse buy when we bought the Apple Sidra because I like the highlighting of “QQ.” Q is not a Chinese character but seems to be everywhere here — especially when talking about desserts. It is a common Taiwanese word unit meaning “chewy.” Something extra chewy is designated “QQ.” Some mochi, possibly “QQ.” A baby’s cheek, likely “QQ.” Some really awesome soupy noodles, “QQ” could be the reason.

Eat and I felt comfortable leaving the kids for 30 minutes to walk around the corner from the apartment to this shaved ice place. In English, it is called Our Taiwanese Ice (咱台灣人的冰) at No. 249 Lanjing Street, West District, Chiayi 600. Whenever we had walked by the day before, it was always packed, even wasps and bees hovering over the bowls of sugary choices. We figured it was a good place to try if it was so popular with humans and hymenoptera.

I can’t identify all of these shaved ice add-in choices in the photo below.

Starting from the top left: 16 mung bean mochi, 5 tofu, 4 Eat’s cyclops reflection, 3 mango?, 2 taro mochi, 1 pink/white mochi balls.

Bottom row: 12 grass jelly, 11 something with condensed milk?, 10 something coconut based?, 8 barley, 7 red bean, 6 mung beans.

On the left is a vat of cooking cubed sweet potato; the right, chunks of taro. There was a lady next to us in line who told Eat the sweet potato was the best add-in ingredient. (Most of the people he could speak Taiwanese to on the whole trip were mostly older ladies. The younger generation spoke Mandarin.)

Each order was filled out on a ticket (the lady mentioned above helped us), the numbers in each block representing the number on the add-in bowls above. We also added in the sweet potato on box #6, after her recommendation.

The ice melted so fast, it was quickly a cold sweet soup of mochi, dates, QQ, barley, boba, and sweet potato. So good — the best we had on the trip. We didn’t want to walk home with it, so we stood in an alleyway and small courtyard, scooters occasionally slowing down to park, slurping it down.

Although I didn’t see it here, aiyu jelly, also called ice jelly, (愛玉冰) is a popular addition to shaved ice desserts, often chilled in sugar syrup and lemon or lime juice. In Taiwanese it is called ogio (薁蕘). Ice jelly’s name comes from its appearance, like lemony cubes of ice floating in a refreshing drink. It is made from the seeds of the creeping Awkeotsang fig. When its seeds come into contact with cold water, a gel forms.

The rest of the afternoon, we lazed around the apartment, me avidly reading, Eat watching videos on his phone, the kids zoning out on English dubbed cartoons. I figured no one would get much out of wandering in the heat to historical landmarks, so I gave myself a lesson on history — in the apartment. Admittedly, I was wimping out in the heat, too.

Chiayi has a connection to Taiwan’s government uprising in 1947. See my first post on Taiwan for a summary, though it bears repeating. Japan surrendered in 1945 at the end of World War II and Taiwan was handed over to the Republic of China by the Allies. The Kuomintang (KMT — the Nationalist Party of China) corrupted Taiwan, demoralizing its citizens who did not stand in complete support of the nationalist government. February 27, 1947 marked the start of an uprising against the KMT after a Taiwanese widow selling contraband cigarettes was beaten by KMT officials. One of the KMT men shot bullets into the crowd and a man died. By the next day, the military took over and Taiwan’s reign of White Terror (白色恐怖) began (martial law lasted from 1949 to 1987), an exacting period of political dissident suppression. This is known as the start of the February 28 incident or 228 massacre (二二八事件). Not sure of the exact translation, but the use of the word “incident” in some literature I read confounds me. “Incident”? An “incident” is an occurrence, an event, an experience. If the Chinese word does not represent equal meaning with the translated English word, the translation minimizes this time in history. This was the start of a period of massacres. Plural. Thousands of people.

Starting in early March 1947, Chiayi’s local chapter of the KMT became involved with some of the most brutal Taiwanese civilian massacres. Gathered from first-hand accounts from citizens, the Taiwan Gazette ran a 2019 article about the Chiayi March 1947 massacre recounting “the airport and train station were washed with blood.” The first memorial marker in Taiwan of the 228 massacre (二二八事件) is in Chiayi, at the park we stopped by when getting off the bus too late from the High Speed Rail station. Its construction was controversial at first, some citizens wanting to forget, others wanting to remember and not repeat history. It was built in 1989, just two years (TWO YEARS!) after martial law ended. The goings on during martial law were not discussed until after 1987 for fear of retaliation. If someone disagreed with the government, they were kidnapped, sent to work camps, tortured, killed, or often mysteriously disappeared. We’ll revisit this important time in history when we get back to Taipei.

For those of you interested in historical fiction on the subject, I highly recommend Shawna Yang Ryan’s Green Island (excellent historical fiction at that starts that very night of February 27, 1947), Julie Wu’s The Third Son (heartbreaking, lonely, lovely, from a male engineer’s perspective who immigrates to the United States; does not discuss the violence as much as Ryan’s book does), and Jennifer Chow’s novel The 228 Legacy which I have yet to read

We went back to the night market that night a little earlier to see if we could hit some different stands. We started at the other end of the street at this fruit vendor’s stand. We bought loads of magenta dragon fruit (also called pitaya; 火龍果; huǒ lóng guǒ), lychee (荔枝), and lian wu (蓮霧; nahmbu in Taiwanese).

There were a few other fruit stands with candied skewers of fruits, one of the most noticeable sugared cherry tomatoes. The kids were not interested in trying those.

This vendor was frying large, thin pieces of dough. She cracked an egg on the top before folding it over and serving in paper.

It was the last of the carnival-style food I’d eat that night (and it needed salt and hot chili), the unctuous yolk dripping onto my fingers.

Peach announced that she wanted to buy some clothes in Chiayi for school. The Eat and Grub headed to get more duck skin wraps and Peach, Sky-Girl, and I headed to a peppy clothing shop tucked behind the food kiosks. Many of these clothing, electronic, handbag, children’s wear, and shoe shops lining the streets are open only during the night market, the weather too hot during the day to expect customers. Even with the sun setting and some relenting heat, we were still blasted with frigid air conditioning in this shop.

While Peach tried on her clothes, I busied myself with examining the shirts with catchy sayings on them.

“Art is a way of survuval. stranter from foreater”



“Midnight in Paris

Wriure and Direcled

by Woody Allen”

I like how the verbs in the sentence don’t give any film credit to Woody Allen. Wriuring and direcling sounds like creepy man stuff to me. “Hey, little girl, do ya want to wriuring with me? We can go direcling too.”

“Bring Eyes

Ever since the night gave me black eyes, the future of those eyes is your alone.”

OMG! Are you ok?? Is she an insomniac or being physically abused??

“Moong Po cowgca zocd omingmegily lood”

“Give you my hear”

Add one letter and it has such a different meaning.

By the end of the night, this quote was apropos:

ate you all

I don’t read Mandarin and this all seems ridiculous. To the people reading this blog post who don’t read Mandarin: This is what our cool, “ethnic” tattoos in Chinese characters can look like to native speakers/readers when we aren’t quite sure what they mean. Just a bunch of gibberish.

We stuffed ourselves again with night market food and headed home at a more reasonable hour. Our dessert before bed was the pitaya (火龍果), lian wu (蓮霧; nahmbu in Taiwanese), and lychee (荔枝).


Day 10: From the apartment, we walked single file on the motor scooter congested narrow roads to the bus station. This hamburger restaurant was on the way, drool like a waterfall. Note the door says “We love your money, so come in.”

Outside the local transit station, looking across the plaza.

As I walked over this bridge at the transit station, as I often do in my morbid, medical mind, I thought of the quote from the Gazette article and the faces I peered at in portions of the book Testimonies of 228 (見證228).

“The airport and train station were washed with blood.” That is a huge statement, a frank one without any hyperbole. It was here where part of the 228 massacre happened, unless there has been a change in the station location since 1947.

I usually refrain from too much blood and guts talk on this blog. Sometimes it’s important to break from that and recognize every person has their own histories we may not understand, as do countries with complicated identities dictating their stories. If we have not lived through it, it is easy to ignore and forget. It’s easier for the younger generation to forget, sadly, but maybe in some ways, able to move forward with more hopefulness.

We took the shuttle (less crowded and sweaty this time) to the High Speed Rail station, passing green hills, fields, and large bright clouds lining the horizon.

The ubiquitous 7-Elevens seem to follow us. This is a small one in the High Speed Rail station where, of course, the kids are looking at the sweets.

Goodbye, Chiayi! Back to Taipei!

Taipei awaits like a curling leaf in the breeze. With the map markers, it looks like a fat white-eyed fish jumping out of the water to greet us.

On to Taipei again!


One year ago: fondue with IPA

Two years ago: corn salad

Three years ago: roti

Four years ago: phở and violet jelly candies

Five years ago: one-eyed chihuahua cocktailalmond celery salad and what to do with a monster zucchini?

Six years ago: apricot compotetomato and halloumi salad with pomegranate drizzleand peach-blueberry pie

Seven years ago: pluots with mascarpone and honey and poached egg with balsamic dressed greens,  spaghetti squash browns and daisy cake

Eight years ago: kaiserschmarrn with peaches and blackberries and matonella con biscotti sablee (chocolate loaf with butter cookies and nuts), korean dried squid (ojingo chae bokkeum) and danube salad.


If you want to visit the posts from our Japan trip in 2017:

One: Tokyo and Mount Fiji

Two: Mount Fuji, Sky-Girl’s 4th birthday, and Nabari/Iga

Three: Hiroshima and Kyoto

Four: Tokyo and home


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