Huaxi nightmarket is a choice place in town to take visitors and show off some local flavor. A walk down the alley near Longshan Temple will take in a variety of sex shops, stores selling snake blood, past the man selling dog-fighting videos and the varied souvenir emporiums. Shop assistants sell pixilated porn DVDs over the counter and the hard stuff under it. There are even small bears and pickled animal parts that raise the hackles of animal campaigners.
It's a racy adventure down the two covered alleys of the nightmarket, and it's a good idea to take a break at some point with a bottle of Kirin, some fresh salmon sashimi or sushi, at Ah-zhong's Japanese food house and just watch the flow of human traffic.
Nestling in front of a karaoke parlor, Ah-zhong is a small place with no more than 20 seats, either at the food bar or at the three wooden tables arranged to provide a view of the action. It's like watching a show. The owner, Ah-zhong (王明忠), is a former policeman who learned about the catering trade for 10 years at his father's restaurant in the same alley. He has been running his own business for five years now.
Behind the food counter Ah-zhong keeps himself busy cutting the fish slices, grating vegetables, setting up the barbecue, pouring drinks and being the generous host. There is always plenty of banter among the locals who gather there and a steady stream of visitors, with a smattering of showbiz and media types. They come because it's an honest and unpretentious place to hang out, far away from the designer sophistication of other sashimi joints in the city center which charge a premium for the decoration.
At the moment big-gate crabs are in season and for around NT$300 Ah-zhong will cook one up for you. Though small, it's delicious, with the golden yolk from the eggs spilling out once the shell is cracked. He can also offer hertuan, the skin of a poisonous fish, haidan, "a special sashimi" and our favorite, the giant grilled prawn with sea salt and a wedge of lemon. The miso soup is recommended.
The secret to good cooking, said Ah-zhong, "Is being healthy and happy and using fresh food." As such, most nights he finishes around 1am and after cleaning up will get to the market at 3am so as to order the best fish and crustaceans. He has appeared on various TV shows to introduce sashimi and can explain in great detail the art of raw fish, if you let him have the chance. He is also a great guide to Wanhua and can give you the lowdown on one of the oldest and most titillating areas in town.