• A new Taiwan night market in Sydney serves authentic street eats from Taiwan and across Asia. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Wander from stall to stall for a night of flavour-packed grazing at this food market.
Rachel Bartholomeusz

19 Oct 2016 - 2:58 PM  UPDATED 19 Oct 2016 - 4:54 PM

Taiwan is famous for its vibrant night markets that specialise in street food, snacks and fun. Traditionally a way for working class people to eat affordably and quickly after work, they have become one of Taipei’s biggest culinary drawcards.

The Taiwan Night Market in Eastwood, a suburb in Sydney’s north-west, might lack the smell of "stinky tofu", the dish that's so popular at markets in Taiwan, but it does offer foods that are equally authentic. The suburb has a large Asian, predominantly Chinese, population, and it’s to this clientele that the market primarily caters – to everyone else’s benefit. Signs are in both English and Mandarin, and some menus on the website are entirely in Mandarin.

The market’s project manager Ron Ling says that the secret to the success of Taiwan’s markets is that they are for locals. “In Taiwan there are markets in each suburb, and each one is famous for its own specialty foods,” he says. The market launched in July, and most of its customers are from Eastwood, but the Taiwanese community are also travelling across Sydney for a taste of home.

Formerly a vacant lot of land, the space was put out to tender for innovative ideas, and Ling and his colleagues, who are all from Taiwan, came up with concept. There are 22 stalls, half of them permanent, selling food from across Asia, though there is a strong representation from China and Taiwan.

The Taiwanese do markets better, says Ling, and while all the foods aren’t necessarily Taiwanese, the concept of the market is. There are three key factors the organisers look for when selecting stall holders: the food must be affordable, it should be easy to eat on-the-go, and it needs to be authentic and interesting. The idea is that you graze your way through it.

A favourite stall of Ling’s is Griddle King. It serves traditional Taiwanese breakfasts from midday, including bing, or pancakes, the classic version stuffed with fried dough sticks and pork floss, as well as soy milk and Taiwanese tea. In the centre is a temporary stall selling a beef offal soup from a portable crockpot with a handmade sign. There’s bao (buns) and lu rou fan, a comforting braised pork rice, and ‘coffin bread’, a street food favourite from Tainan consisting of a hollowed loaf of bread with a gelatinous chicken filling.

Gugi Gugi Fried Chicken sells bubble teas and those large fried schnitties as big as your face (“cheaper than fried chicken in the city,” says Ling), as well as an assortment of other fried snacks.

Another of Ling’s favourites are the egg cakes shaped in animal moulds that are very popular in Taiwan, but hard to find here. There’s also Taiwanese sweet soups and desserts, and a rolled ice-cream stall doing a roaring trade.

Chinese offerings include spicy Chongqing noodles, sliced beef and offal in a chilli sauce, and luosifen, a river snail noodle dish famous in the southern Chinese city of Liuzhou. There’s a corner stall serving Thai street food, and a number of Japanese dishes too − a nod to Taiwan’s influence from Japan, says Ling.

In the centre, vendors sell jewellery, mobile phone cases and even spruik a game of fishing for plastic goldfish in a wading pool. There are plans to bring in more of these games that lend a festival-like atmosphere to the markets in Taiwan.

And the stinky tofu? “It’s coming, it’s coming!” Ling promises. “The only concern is we don’t know how acceptable the smell will be for [non-Asian] Australians, but hopefully once they try it they’ll love it.”

Thursdays to Sundays, 12pm-10pm, 178-180 Rose St, Eastwood, taiwannightmarket.com.au

Traditional bing with pork floss and Taiwanese mayonnaise are a bit hit

Taiwanese at home
Taiwanese pork ragu on rice (lu rou fan)

This is typically called lu-rou-fan, meaning braised pork (lu-rou) on rice (fan). It’s a generic and sometimes misleading name because, to be more accurate, it is also called rou-zao-fan, meaning braised pork belly with fried shallots (rou-zao) on rice (fan).

Sesame noodles (ma jiang mian)

A favourite street food in Taiwan, these cold sesame noodles use a thin wheat noodle which is covered in a creamy sesame, peanut and soy sauce. The dish is so popular in Taiwan, you can even find it at 7-Eleven stores.

Taiwanese fried chicken

Originating in Taipei’s Shilin night markets, the juicy schnitzel-style snack measures in at about 30 cm long. Its crumbly crunchy coating is generously doused in a sweet, salty and spicy seasoning with the ability to opt-in for extra chilli. Here’s our version.

Braised beef noodle soup

Combining tender beef cheeks and just-blanched bok choy with a lush, layered broth, this easy Taiwanese dish makes for a hearty and wholesome dinner. Try the slow-cooked wonder on the weekend and swap Sunday roast for hearty noodle soup.