Anyone who has been to Taiwan can tell you that the Taiwanese take their food very seriously. A stroll through one of Taipei’s night markets is an intoxicating experience loaded with mouthwatering smells of freshly made street food from smoky street carts and cosy eateries.
It’s no wonder The Night Market’s owner, Taiwan native Allen Lin, felt the need to not only fix a bad case of homesickness, but to share a taste of authentic Taiwanese cuisine with Hong Kong. Not only is The Night Market reasonably priced, but it’s also far from pretentious. The staff at The Night Market are lovely and helpful without being overbearing.
The decor fuses neutral wooden tones with splashes of blue and fun Taiwanese night market motifs can be found everywhere. Cute designs by Hong Kong design studio Latitude adorn The Night Market’s custom-made ceramic bowls and plates, as well as their placemats and the restaurant walls, cleverly integrated into wooden panels. Much like the food, The Night Market’s decor is simple, comforting and full of surprises. It’s a place where – in Allen’s words – you can ‘wear shorts or a tuxedo and feel at home’.
To begin, we had the Taiwan Soup Dumplings. Though similar, these are not to be confused with its Shanghai counterpart, Xiao Long Bao, which have a thicker skin and less soup. These delicious bundles of joy were wonderfully balanced; the slight chewiness of the dumpling skin opens up to a juicy ball of steamed pork nestled in a bath of hearty, savoury soup. Bonus points for not being scalding hot, which they often are in most restaurants!
The Night Market does dim sum for lunch, taking it off the menu for dinner but sometimes, if you ask nicely, they’re happy to make an exception during dinner. We managed to score a plate of Three Cup Chicken Mochi Balls, a personal favourite of Lin’s.
The Traditional Taiwanese Pork Chop is cooked in a batter that is thin, light and crispy. I’m told at lunch they offer bento boxes with your choice from a selection of meat dishes (including the pork chop), rice and a trio of veggie sides. Those who work in Central can pick one up at The Night Market’s Stanley Street location.
The Sanbeiji, which translates to ‘three cup chicken’, was served in a beautiful stone pot with a wooden lid, which, once opened, let out a stunning aroma. To make this quintessentially Taiwanese comfort food, roughly diced pieces of tender chicken are tossed in a savoury blend of soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil along with South East Asia-inspired flavours of garlic, basil and chilli. This was easily my favourite dish of the night. It was absurdly moreish – so much so that I took some home with me and happily enjoyed a second fix for lunch the next day.
The baos left a bit to be desired. Perhaps it’s just my lack of enthusiasm for pickled mustard greens – and there was so much of it in these big boys.
Call me a traditionalist but I prefer the good old-fashioned bite-sized Taiwanese gua bao. While the ingredients in The Night Market’s recipe for their Taiwanese Pork Belly Bao were on point, there was simply too much of everything, defeating the purpose of being able to enjoy a medley of warm fluffy bao, melt in your mouth pork belly, cilantro, red sugar and pickled greens in each bite.
Beef noodles are quintessential Taiwan. It’s not exactly a sight for sore eyes with its dark, oily broth, thick slithers of noodle, a generous helping of fatty, tender beef brisket and some steamed bok choy, which we all know is only there as a ‘sorry not sorry’ shot at redemption… worth every delicious calorie.
All in all, The Night Market does its namesake justice. Offering a taste of nostalgia to anyone who’s experienced the culinary mecca that is Taiwan, and a non-intimidating introduction to unsuspecting palates. Best of all – The Night Market keeps it real with a strict ‘No MSG’ philosophy… big thumbs up from us!
The Night Market Shop 1028A, 1/F, 1 Austin Road West, West Kowloon, Hong Kong
Check out more of Coco’s musings on food, style and HK living on her fab blog here!