Scootering down the streets of Fengyuan, zooming sideways and upways through obstacles with flashing lights hovering above and below me, I reach the majestic experience of the Taiwanese night market. The sights, sounds and smells lure the curious traveler. There are food stands in every which way. Smells a westerner can't even come to comprehend, rough and salted, sulfur and bile, but I find them intensely curious and interesting and smell everything that comes my way. The sounds constantly buzz in my ear, people laughing and playing, a woman talking into a speaker trying to get my attention. "He(y)o, He(y)o". My ear is trying to catch the tones used in the Chinese language as I have been practicing them all day today. Sights of carnival rides and state fair games distract me. Salted eels and fried squid fill the once empty lot. People of all ages come for the market, a definite family affair as well as youthful meeting spot. I see kids winning prizes and riding the dumbo-style ride. Teenagers are awkwardly gawking and flirting. The whole scene culminates to create a perfect scene for the must-experience Taiwanese cultural activity.
The food and company made the experience worth repeating. I came alongside my trusty new friend and roommate, Sunny and the local down to earth secretary of the school, Kelly. We also met up with a former English teacher, Lisa, who is leaving in less than a week to venture into Thailand. All four of us ventured the aisles of the market, veering in and out of the stalls until we saw something that interested us. There were toys and belts, watches and clothes. So many knick-nacks and trinkets. We then decided to head onto the best part of the market, THE FOOD! We started out our eating adventure with a bit of sugar-coated mango, that turned out to be a bit sour, reasons pointing to pre-seasonal premature pickings. We then moved on to the show item of the night, STINKY TOFU! This item has been of constant discussion while venturing into Taiwan. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the delicacy, some love it while others hate it. I've always been an adventurous eater and ready for the ride! Now, this tofu is not a pretty smelling delicacy (as the name implies) rather it smells a bit like horse stable and soiled laundry, but nonetheless the smell was not too overpowering and did also give off a nice bbq smell I felt quite familiar with. As many westerners turn their heads at such a unique smell, I dove right in excepting the smell as part of the experience of it all. Taiwan locals often claim it as their favorite dish. Sunny ordered me a portion (he has tried it twice and is still quite repulsed by it) and on I went to take my first bite. I suckered Lisa into it as well, as she has yet to try it despite living here for six months. In I went, down into the depths of smellville and upon biting....I actually quite enjoyed it. The texture was soft and delicate. It had a hint of the smell in the taste, yet the smokiness of it all fell softly upon the palette, exciting taste buds that have never been exposed to such taste. The sauce alongside was sweet and savory and perfectly complimented the smelly treat. I was quite proud of myself and also quite relieved at what a pleasant experience it all was. I continued walking with my comrades around the market as I dived into the remaining tofu dish now and again, welcoming the taste back into the crevices of my mouth. As the night progressed we continued eating. We tried a thick jelly like hot drink with boba and peanuts that was quite tasty. We finished the night with peppery beef, noodles and fried egg. Delicious. I felt stuffed. I am ready to burst open at the seams. Despite all the new tasting experience, my mind and soul was left thankful for the rollercoaster of a meal I had just endured. The four of us laughed and joked. The food providing a perfect setting for conversation for a great Taiwanese tradition.