Sat, Aug 25, 2001 - Page 11 News List

Back alleys of adventure

Hygiene might not be its strongest point, but Tunghua Night Market offers some of the most authentic Taiwanese snacks and is a favorite spot among the younger crowd


Test the intensely spicy bowl of Korean-style pickled cabbage noodles at Lao Tan.

Although it is called the Tunghua Night Market (通化夜市), most of the action actually takes place on Linchiang Street (臨江街), a narrow alley that cuts from Tunghua Street (通化街) to Keelung Road (基隆路). While it is neither the biggest nor the oldest night market in Taipei, it is tremendously popular, especially with younger people.

First-timers are best off approaching Linchiang Street via Tunghua Street, rather than through the begrimed, asymmetrical arch at the bleak intersection of Keelung Road (基隆路) and Kuangfu South Road (光復南路).

Despite being concentrated along a single, narrow street, Tunghua Night Market defies linear exploration. It spills into back alleys, and sprawls around a purpose-built but under-utilized complex, the ground floor of which was designed to house the stalls.

And there's too much to see in a single walk-through.

Chingtao Soybean Milk (青島豆漿, 73 Tunghua St., tel: 2708-6149) occupying a prime spot beside the western entrance to Linchiang Street, is as good a place to start as any. This unprepossessing but consistently popular business makes and sells every conceivable soybean product, plus you-tiao (donut-like savory sticks), Chinese breads (with or without fillings), oven-baked onion cakes and peanut milk. There's a distinct shortage of seating, but it's worth squeezing inside if only to get a close-up view of the production process. Open 24 hours, seven days a week.

By night, Linchiang Street is packed with stores, eateries and shoppers. The morning meat-and-vegetable market, which takes over just after dawn -- and which conducts business amidst piles of trash leftover from the night market -- seems half-hearted by comparison.

During peak hours, 7pm to midnight, an ever-changing lineup of mobile vendors fills the midstream. Most are guerrilla entrepreneurs -- unlicensed businessmen and women who disappear the moment a policeman is sighted. Some sell food: peanut candies, glazed tomatoes, or sweet potatoes peeled and cooked with sugar. Others, equipped with clothes-racks on wheels or folding tables, hawk trinkets, underwear and socks.

By 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays there's barely room to stand along the main drag. Despite this, the occasional scooter manages to barge its way through.

There's usually a small crowd in front of Shrchia Chinese Burgers (石家割包, 104 Linchiang St, Tel 2738-1773). In business since 1953, and famous for "burgers" which are quite different from -- and even heavier than -- their Western equivalents, Shrchia does a roaring trade in milk tea and passion fruit juice.

A little further east sits the Pohsin Commercial Building (坡心市場商業大樓), which looks like it was designed to be the centerpiece of the night market, but has clearly failed to establish itself as such.

The upper floors are still empty more than two years after completion, but most street-level units have been rented to entrepreneurs who offer such distractions as crude pinball machines, hoop-throwing stands, and places where you can aim darts at water-filled balloons.

There's also a fully legitimate massage joint staffed by young blind men. For NT$200 they will knead the knots out of your shoulders and back; customers remain clothed and seated throughout.

Visitors will encounter a grotesque side to the night market -- grimy beggars lacking in limbs who drag themselves along the tarmac and a blind old man who, rain and cold notwithstanding, takes up position in the middle of Linchiang Street each evening and plucks tunelessly at his lute.

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