I am a very active Yelp browser, and is often the first among my family to suggest new places for dining. “Courtesy of the good citizens of Yelp!” I like to say. Even so, it is rare to find an item that tastes exactly as good as it looks and surpasses my expectations. But it happened tonight–a magical and slightly rainy night–at NingXia Night Market.
I started following several Taiwan-related Instagram accounts last semester in Berkeley, and browsed a few places on Yelp Taiwan. But Yelp Taiwan doesn’t have that many entries, so I mainly relied on the Instagram pictures of buildings (TBH mainly Taipei 101), landscapes, and of course food. The one that most captivated me was hot mochi over shaved ice, which I had never, ever, ever in my life heard of. The picture had golden yellow peanut powder over fat white mochi, and I was so fascinated I immediately Googled it to find the store.
That beautiful mochi ice has been on my mind ever since I returned, and once I moved into the dorms I started hunting it down again. Turns out that the original store is quite far from NTU, but there is a branch that’s open at NingXia Night Market. So my friend and I took the MRT to ZhongShan station, officially for dinner, but really it was for the mochi.
We took the MRT to ZhongShan, then walked in the underground passages connecting ZhongShan and ShuangLian. There were a few bookstores that we passed by, but I didn’t stop because I just kept thinking about the mochi. The blogs I researched said it was stall 24, and I wasn’t sure how we were going to find stall 24, but I was determined.
It was a little before 6 when we arrived, and there were already a few stands set up and people milling. We walked down carefully scrutinizing the signs, because there were 2 mochi ice places here, and only one was the OG (at least, that’s what people say) that started the trend.
Soon, we came upon this sign, and I peered at the name of the food stand. 祥記大橋頭純糖麻糬。YES! I pulled my friend excitedly, and we peered at the food. There were some tables set up next to the stand, so we ordered and sat down. Their classic mochi over ice is 40 NTD, and has 1 big mochi cut into small pieces. You can also add additional toppings like red beans or taro, but we wanted the original.
The setup of the food stand was much like other Taiwanese food stands, except instead of soups in the boiling pots there were fat round mochi and also peanut soup. If you order peanut or red bean soup, they will put in Chinese donuts! Interesting.
After you order, they scoop up a mochi and toss it into a shallow tray with peanut and sesame powder. Then they take scissors to cut the mochi into bite-sized pieces, and coat it all over. This is so exciting I cannot.
When they brought the bowl over I was practically bouncing. There was fluffy shaved ice, a drizzle of condensed milk, then the mochi and peanut powder on top. Let’s pause for a full thirty seconds and carefully enjoy this picture. There aren’t others, I didn’t stop to take any once I started.
The first thing that hits your tongue is the ice, then the warmth from the mochi and the nuttiness. A trace of sweetness from condensed milk, and then within seconds it all melts together into happiness. It was so good, and the crunchiness of shaved ice with the chewiness from glutinous rice is a match made in heaven. Seriously, 20/10 highly recommend. Absolutely worth the Instagram stalking and research.
A moment of appreciation for the fine art of hot peanut mochi over ice. Thank you.
Having thus satisfied our cravings, we continued down for real dinner food. By now it was more crowded and harder to move, but you must persevere to get the things you want! We walked down the entire night market once (it’s about two blocks in length for food, and then a block for small games) just to take mental inventory of everything that was available, then doubled back to tackle our choices.
This is a shaokao (or grill) food stand. There’s an assortment of skewered meats and vegetables, and you pick the ones you want and place it into a basket. Then you hand the basket over to the staff, who will calculate the price, and hand you a number after you pay. They fry and grill the foods, and you come pick it up later. When there’s a lot of people, it could take around 5 to 10 minutes, so you just hang on to your number card and wander somewhere else first.
We came to another one of my favorite street foods, runbing. Think of it as a Chinese crepe, except it is wafer thin, usually not made on the spot, and always savory. She wrapped it with cooked cabbage, carrots, cilantro, peanuts, chashao pork, and some other vegetables. Runbing is very, very good when made with fresh ingredients, and I was quite pleased with this one.
Look, you can see the vegetables through the skin! So soft and yummy.
After this we went back to pick up my friend’s shaokao, and then browsed a grocery store nearby. The store looked small in the front but was large along the y-axis, so we had fun traversing all the knick knacks like motorcycle helmets, detergent, makeup tweezers, light bulbs, snacks, and the like. Fun indoor tangents are always appreciated, especially since it was windy and chilly outside.
We went out and crossed the street for a bawan (pork wrapped in glutinous rice). This one was in a store, not a stand, and it was nice to watch the owner cook each one and prepare it for the customers. I’ve always really enjoyed watching chefs who put a lot of heart and focus behind every dish, even the really simple ones.
The dish is drizzled with a savory and sweet sauce, and you cut it into pieces to eat. This one was especially good in comparison to ones I’ve had in the past, because the filling had so much bamboo inside! I love bamboo; and it gave the otherwise soft texture of pork a nice bite. Good stuff.
Afterwards we went back to the mochi place (and you thought I was finished) to get an order for my friend to bring back home to her mom, because: 1. it’s seriously worth it and 2. we need to get it as fresh as possible so it stays chewy. Just seeing this place makes me happy now. We ordered it without ice because we didn’t want it to melt, but if you’re eating it soon you can get it togo with ice too. They will helpfully pack the mochi and ice separately! How considerate. Here’s the stand! Number 24, do you see it? Come and try hot mochi over ice!
On our way back we walked through the underground passage again, and this time I had the heart to stop and browse through some of the bookstores. This passage connecting MRT ZhongShan, ShuangLian, and Taipei Main Station is apparently named the Book Passage, and there really were a ton of bookstores lining the way. Since the Taipei International Book Exhibition just ended, many books were on sale for 21% off.
Side note: In Taiwan, sales are noted by the percentage you pay, not the percentage that is discounted. For example, a sign that says “79% sale means that it’s 21% off.” So look for signs that have low numbers, like 1.
The passage is quite long, and there’s also an area where all the stores were closed, but the gates had colorful graffiti that stayed exactly within the outlines of the gate. Ugh, I love Taipei.