Dongdamen Night Market is not your typical 买东西，吃东西，买东西，吃东西~ but rather 吃东西，吃东西，吃东西~! Yup, you get the idea of how much of a foodie's heaven this night market in Hualien, Taipei, is. Dongdamen is the largest street food night market in Hualien. When you first get there, you will be abit confused as you can't see a clear big signage that reads "Dongdamen Night Market", this is because it is made up of a few smaller street markets, namely Futing Night Market, Streets of China Cuisines, Streets of Aboriginal Cuisines and Ziqiang Night Market. Each division offers visitors their own unique flavour and cuisine.
Here's what I feel about the top 6 must-try items IMO. Add them to your bucket list when you are there!
#01 - Smelly Tofu 臭豆腐
This is my personal favourite, a must-eat at every night market in Taiwan. The tofu is fermented and gives off a funny smell which is likely to turned many away. But once you sink your teeth into this dope tofu, you can taste the crispy crust on the outside and the soft tofu on the inside that just melts in your mouth with the special sauce it's dipped in. I also absolutely love the sour crunchy preserved vegetables at the side that completes the experience of eating this tofu. Once you've put it in your mouth, the pungent smell just magically goes away!
Price: NT$100 (approx. SGD $4)
#02- Banana Pancake 香蕉煎饼
This sinful but super satisfying banana crepe is da bomb! It's literally finger-licking good.
From caramel, to peanut, honey and chocolate, they have a great selection of sauce to choose from. We chose half caramel and half chocolate, and personally I feel chocolate is way better as the caramel just feel a little too thick and sweet, and banana just goes perfectly with chocolate. I still can't forget how it just melts in my mouth. SLURPS!
Price: NT$50 (approx. SGD $2)
#03 - Taiwanese Pancake with Egg 蛋饼/葱油饼
Did I mention that we could literally eat this every morning for breakfast? Or in fact even for lunch, dinner and supper as an appetizer. It's that good! This is like a Singapore equivalent of Prata with egg and any goodness you can wrap in it. My personal favourite is ham and cheese with their special garlic sauce! They have both sweet and savoury options for different taste buds. Lucas's favourite, or any gym guy's favourite would definitely be the pork chop pancake with huge chunks of pork chop cubes wrapped in it.
Price: NT$60 (approx. SGD $3)
#04 - "Coffin Toast" 棺材板
"Coffin Toast"is much like a french toast with extra goodness deep inside. The toast originated from Tainan, the southern part of Taiwan, and it got is name as it is usually cut out from the top layer forming a lid, like that of a coffin. Despite the wierd sounding name, it actually "buries" quite delicious flavours deep inside. The coffin toast from this shop in the night market looks rather different from the thick coffin bread that I've tried in Taipei, but its thinner bread makes it easier to eat on-the-go. They have rather creative flavours like pumpkin seafood, satay mutton, milk cheese chicken etc. Being a seafood lover, I naturally went with the pineapple prawn flavour.
Price: NT$50-65 (approx. SGD $2-$3)
#05 - Grilled/ Boiled Squid 烤魷魚/ 魷魚烫
I personally prefer grilled squid as it has a barbecue smoky taste to it, but for the more health-conscious foodies, you can try the boiled squid. It still has the chewy feel topped with a special honey seafood sauce, tasting much like a salad.
Price: NT$150 (approx. SGD $6)
Rating: 9/10 for grilled squid, 7/10 for boiled squid XD
#06 - Grilled Prawns and Scallops 天使红虾，烧干贝
YASS! Me and my prawns and more seafood! These grilled prawns are tedious to shell on your own, BUT i guarantee you once you chew on the prawns, everything is worth it. The prices of the seafood here are not cheap and takes a while to serve as they are freshly grilled to order. Good things are worth waiting for!
Price: NT$200-300 depending on type of seafood (approx. SGD $8-13)
How to get there
From Taipei to Hualien
Hualien is a beautiful scenic county due south of Taipei. Sadly there's no high-speed rail from Taipei to Hualien yet, but the fastest way to travel from Taipei is to board the Tze-Chiang Limited Express from Taipei Main Station to Hualien Station. The journey is slightly over 2 hours, and costs NT$440 per way (approx. $20), but it's quite the scenic ride as you get further away from Taipei. You do need to book a reserved seat on this train, and if you are travelling during Taiwan's public holiday/ school holiday period, it is advisable to pre-book your seats online in advance, or you have to stand for that entire 2-hour journey. Otherwise, you can buy your ticket at the counter at Taipei Main Station during off-peak periods.
From Hualien Station to Dongdamen Night Market
Any of these buses 105/1123/ 1126/ 1128/ 1129/ 1131/ 1132/ 1133/ 1136/ 1139/ 1141
15 min bus journey and roughly 5 minutes of walking
Taking a taxi is definitely the easier alternative if you are not travelling alone, as it takes only 10 minutes with around NT$130 (approx. $5 SGD)
Walking (for the backpackers and briskwalk enthusiasts):
It is definitely possible to walk from the station to the night market, which will take around 25-35 minutes depending on your age and fitness level. (2.6km)
Where to stay in Hualien
We booked our stay at Classic City Resort, a 3.5 star hotel which was 5-minute walking distance from Hualien station via Expedia for $60/night average. It was easy to get in and out of Hualien from our hotel, as well as around Hualien, being at the city centre, and there were many KTVs, arcades, restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, massage spas and a cinema just within walking distance. The area is very safe as the police station is just next door. The lobby was very modern, and the room and toilet were spacious enough and super clean. Definitely a great steal for SGD $60-70/night! It offers free parking as well for those who are considering to drive around Hualien.
Stay tuned for my next blog post on Taroko National Park and a hidden-gem farm trip in Hualien!