There are plenty of night markets in Taiwan, but there is something special about Dongdamen, in the coastal city of Hualien, that you won’t get anywhere else.
Dongdamen, literally meaning “Big East Gate”, is Hualien County’s largest night market with over 400 stalls and is actually the result of four separate night markets falling under one roof, each serving different food – Taiwanese, Taiwanese aborigines , and Mainland China food (the fourth was the original night market selling a mix). The cool thing about Dongdamen is the setting; a lot of open space, a large grass area to take your food and eat, and the best thing – street musicians taking up every large space, playing a surprisingly decent mix of Chinese and Western music to small crowds. It makes for a unique night market vibe you won’t find in Taipei. Here are 9 things to eat at Dongdamen night market.
1 – BLACK RICE STICK
This is something I haven’t seen anywhere else in Taiwan so I had to try it. It’s basically condensed sticky rice, coated in some kind of soy sauce (just the tiniest bit sweet), then coated again in peanut powder and coriander leaves.
It’s really delicious and a great snack, but quite filling; so beware if this is the first place you stop at – it might fill you up.
2 – OYSTER OMELETTE
You can get oyster omelette anywhere in Taiwan, especially Taipei, but Hualien is a coastal town well known for it’s seafood, and the quality of the oysters here in my opinion are far better than the capital. This was light, the oysters fluffy and fresh, and the sauce not too sweet. A solid version of a popular dish.
3 – TOFU FRIES
Deep fried tofu sticks topped with pickled cabbage. Sounds a bit weird but tastes pretty good. Definitely one of the better versions of this dish I’ve had in Taiwan. The tofu is nice and crispy and the pickled veg sweet and sour.
4 – GRILLED CORN
Another popular street dish in Taiwan is available here in Hualien – corn on the cob, coated in all manner of salty powders (best not enquire as to what they might be), and grilled to perfection. Well, often overdone actually, but here they’re done pretty well.
6 – GRILLED SEAFOOD
Being a coastal city, Hualien is known for it’s seafood, and you’ll find plenty on offer here. Oysters, prawns, squid, scallops, not to mention a number of sea-dwelling creatures I couldn’t identify. The quality is generally pretty good, and the price much better than in Taipei.
7 – STUFFED CHICKEN WINGS
How they manage to get sticky rice, chilli, scallions, and a load of herbs and spices into a deep fried chicken wing is beyond me. But who cares when they taste this good. This was one of my top dishes at Dongdamen – crispy on the outside, with tender chicken, soft, flavoured sticky rice, pickled chilli adding spice and sweetness, and some fragrance and additional crunch from the scallions. Seriously tasty.
8 – SCALLION PIE
The “scallion pie” was my shock fave dish of Dongdamen. It’s a deep fried flat bread (I think), squished in half, with a runny egg chucked in the middle. How simple can you get? My God does it taste good. Super crispy pancake, perfectly runny egg, and not bland in any way. It’s a heart attack in your hand, but it’s worth it.
9 – GRILLED QUAIL
To be honest, I never would have gone for this – it looked dry, and the lady at the counter, watching Korean drama on her phone, looked like she hadn’t sold anything in weeks. But my girlfriend Huong (being a better person than I), took pity and insisted we give them so trade, and it turned out to be surprisingly tasty. Crispy skin, fairly tender meat, and overall a great taste.
10 – ICE CREAM
The cutest ice cream in Taiwan happens to live in Hualien. Justice Ice Cream started out in 1948, and sells some of the best Taiwanese ice cream you’re likely to eat. I make a point of saying “Taiwanese” here because it is different to the usual – less creamy, less sweet, and while that might not sound all that great to some people, actually it’s a welcome respite from the usual over-sweetened drinks, snacks and pretty much everything else that you’ll find in this country. A great way to end a night at Dongdamen night market.
If you’re stopping off in Taipei, check out my posts on Things To Do and Things To Eat, and if you’re in Hualien to hike Taroko, read my post on things to do in Taroko National Park. If you’re heading West, read my post about Things To Do In Taichung, and if you have time and love hiking, take a trip to Hehuanshan. You won’t regret it!
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