Saturday, September 19, 2009

Opposite Land and Shilin Night Market

Last night the three of us made our first trip to a night market here. There are several. They typically are located near the temples that are dedicated to the City gods.
We had heard of the Ke Zai Jian (the oyster omelet) and we went in search of it.
Each night market seems to have a particular focus, some for cheap electronics, some for bloody shows like at the Snake market where they flay snakes alive for the tourists and make people drink their blood. At Shilin most of the stalls were devoted to designer knock-offs, clothes, shoes, sunglasses, handbags. Our first mistake was going on a weekend night. The alleyways, tight enough on their own were further obstructed by individual vendors in the middle of the walkway. There were so many people that walking was effortless, we were simply pulled along by the flesh tide. It was effortless but not easy. Capitalism on crack.
We found the omelet. An ounce of oyster meat, maybe 5 or 6 little bellies, thrown onto a hot round flat-top-a ladle of oil-then a ladle of some white stuff, like a very thin batter-then the scramble egg on top. The egg sets, the cook takes a big spatula and flips it, throws some lettuce on the cooked side. lets it sit a minute. flips it again so the lettuce is directly against the the hot surface. Once it is wilted, it is served with a big splash of an orange colored sweet sauces. Three four bites were delicious, but I could not go any further. Ashley was a champ and finished hers.
Megan then got some corn on the cob. It looked like typical street fair fare. Throw some corn on a stick and put it on the grille. I was surprised at the price of it NT$84. The oyster omelet was itself only NT$50 (about a dollar). It was a surprise this corn. Black on the outside, like a sweet sticky salty soy caramel covering it. And the kernels were hard and starchy, like it was dried for a long time and halfway re-hydrated.
I order a little thing like a hashbrown for NT$15. it was battered with panko and deep fried. The filling was like in a potato pirogi. This was than stabbed with a stick , splashed with a brown sauce that was a little sweet, drizzled with a mustard that was a little hot and topped with two teaspoons of tiny little raw silver fish. Fish so tiny that maybe each spoonful contained 60 or so of them. It was delicious.
We ate sitting on the steps of the temple. Mixed feelings. Was it sacrilegious? Everyone else, young and old were sitting on the steps eating and drinking and chatting, but our ignorance gave us degrees of dis-ease. The chanting from the temple and the break from the massive crowd were calming. We walked into the temple. Many robotic fuzzy little dragons banging on toy cymbals and flashing lights, every color of the rainbow. paper money, ghost money, plastic flowers, paper lanterns and light everywhere. I couldn't help but think it reminded me of Atlantic City. I am in no way trying to diminish the solemnity or importance of this place. I am rather commenting on the way spirituality and seriousness is designated in the place and how opposite it is from my own. Lights and bangles and noise in the West denotes lightness and fun.
On the way to the night market we passed through Chang Kai shek park and we are not sure what was going on but it was clearly some Nationalist event and very political. There were police everywhere and protesters, and Taiwanese pride paraphernalia being hocked and the occasional American flag waving. And very passionate political speeches being made on stage against a back drop of electronic flashing lights of the kind that would be used back home to advertise a girlie bar.

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