Sunday, February 25, 2018

Taichung Street Food Part 1: Local Breakfast

“Nei Rong Wai Dai?” (For here or to go?) is the phrase I heard most often as I was wandering through the morning markets in Taichung looking for something to eat. A quick 15-minute walk from my hotel I reached The Second Market, one of the traditional wet markets in the city famous for its cooked food stalls.

The market – with the current structure dating back to the 1930s during the Japanese colonial era - was surrounded by an unique hexagonal concrete building with a courtyard and an old temple in the middle. Rows of shops selling everything from vegetables and produce, meat and seafood to everyday household goods were lined in the alleys “radiate” from the center like a spider web.

Breakfast scene is alive and well in this part of town with a good number of stalls opening since daybreak with people lining up, ordering their dishes then either dining in at the folding tables and chairs just outside the storefront, or taking away on the way to office.

At any market like this I always picked the shop to visit depending on the length of the crowd – popularity is usually a reliable indication of how good the place is. And this morning my choice is Wang’s Chai Tao Kway (王記菜頭粿) right by the entrance of one of the gates. The signature dish was Chai Tao Kway (that’s菜頭粿 or radish cake in hokkian) and the sticky rice sausage. And for breakfast, most people ordered the combo with both plus a fried egg on top. Everything is cooked at the sizzling plate in the open kitchen, and they also offered soup with a choice of different ingredients (tofu, fishballs, fried fish cake, blood curd or pork intestines). The radish cake has a firm and bouncy texture and fried with a slightly charred and crispy crust, and topped with an egg cooked over-easy with the runny yolk and a splash of chili sauce. One couldn’t go wrong with that combination but what I liked more was definitely their sausages, stuffed with marinated sticky rice inside and pan-fried for the rich and smoky taste. That’s the true breakfast of champions.

Not far away from the Taichung train station and my hotel there’s another popular breakfast restaurant called “San Chia Tsao Tian” (三佳早點) which only opens a few hours in the morning. It’s located in a quiet alley and when I arrived there on the second day at around 8am, the line has already stretched half a block all the way to the main street.

The set-up of the place was simple: on the right one lady was handling all baked items – the stall is famous for its shaobing (crispy dough), or buns with meat and green onions made fresh from the oven behind her, and one could also pick up a bowl of soymilk or egg omelet on the other side of the stall and bring the dishes to the dining area right behind to eat.

Their shaobing was steaming hot when it was handed over to me in a paper bag and was crispy with good aroma from the toasted sesame on top and a hint of burnt flavor, their soymilk was not the sweetest type but with rich soybean flavor, and particularly hearty in this kind of cold weather. For Taiwanese street-style breakfast, there’s nothing more classic than a freshly-baked shaobing and a bowl of hot sweet soymilk, and the one at San Chia Tsao Tian was impressive.

The entire Taichung travel series:

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