Hualien: Ziqiang Night Market 自强夜市

Website: Hualien Government Website
Address: Hualien County Ji-an Village, intersection between Heping Road and Ziqiang Road (花蓮縣吉安鄉和平路和自強路口)
Enquiry Tel: +886 3 832 2141
Operating Hours: 17:00 – 02:00 (Peak hour from 20:00 to 00:00)
Budget: NT220 – 300 (we spent NT250 for 2 pax)

Quick List of food at 自强夜市
1. Chiang’s Family Coffin Boards (蔣記花蓮式棺材板)(NT$45++ for each sandwich)
2. “Too Wonderful for Words” Fruit Juice Shop (“妙不可言”果汁店)(NT15 – 20 per cup)
3. North Harbour Spring Rolls (北港春捲) 
(NT 35 – 40)
4. Lee’s Cantonese Porridge (李記廣東粥) (NT$60 to NT$100 per bowl)
5. Number One BBQ (第一家烤肉串)(NT10 – 20 per stick)

ImageWelcome to Hualien Ziqiang Night Market!

Zi-qiang Night Market (自强夜市) is a must-visit for foodies in Hualien City. Incidentally, the night market is small and not too crowded, and we preferred it to the overcrowded and noisy night markets in Taipei. Although Zi-qiang Night Market might be physically smaller compared to its gargantuan Taipei cousins, this Night Market has everything you need to satisfy your craving for affordable and delectable food.

1. Chiang’s Family Coffin Boards (蔣家花蓮式棺材板)

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Chiang’s Family Coffin Boards (蔣記花蓮式棺材板)

ImageMenu: If you look hard enough, there are animal caricatures in the Chinese Characters 

If you expected the Taiwanese to be a superstitious lot who shuns at the thought of selling coffins or ‘coffin boards’, then you’re probably wrong. ‘Coffin boards’ or colloquially knowns as 棺材板 makes for a good starter at Ziqiang Night Market. They are made from thick toasted bread, with the centre portion removed to make space for anything ranging from beef, pork or seafood stew. The external crust is left golden crispy, with a flap opening like a mini coffin. Not sure if this was how it got its name, but it sure is an innovative yet appealing innovation.

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ImageFlap opening like a Coffin Board – The Taiwanese in Hualien sure aren’t superstitious. 

Our Seafood Stew Coffin Board (南瓜海鲜)(NT50) was a mix of succulent prawns and fresh squid with tasty pumpkin broth. (Apologies for the picture because I had a hard time turning the flap over while London Girl went to purchase her fruit juice). It was really tasty and we finished it in no time. We would advise you to look for a seat and dine in, since there is free flow milk tea and drinks!

ImagePreparing the Coffin Board – luckily it’s just bread.

ImageHualien Scissors-hands

2. “Too Wonderful for Words” Fruit Juice Shop (“妙不可言”果汁店)

ImageLong queues at the Fruit Juice Stall – Too wonderful for words?

While I was waiting for the Coffin Board, London Girl went over to the nearby  “Too Wonderful for Words” Fruit Juice Shop (“妙不可言”果汁店) to purchase her daily dose of fruity goodness. I can probably understand why this shop is so named. The fruit juice here is simply amazing! The fruits in Hualien are really exceptionally sweet and tasty and to squeeze them into a cup of liquid form is simply heaven for fruit juice lovers. That said, we do caution that local bloggers have commented that sometimes you may end up with a diluted cup, but I’m sure that’s once in a blue moon. 

3. North Harbour Spring Rolls (北港春捲) 

Image黄昏市场老店:北港春捲

We were just making our rounds in the Night Market when we chanced upon this gem: North Harbour Spring rolls (北港春捲).

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The friendly boss: Very affordable at NT45 each.

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Our prize for queuing: Spring Rolls!

ImageClose up of our om nom Spring Rolls

4. Lee’s Cantonese Porridge (李記廣東粥)

Operating Hours: 16:00 – 00:30 hours

ImageLee can cook! 

ImageMenu at Lee’s Cantonese Porridge 

Craving for some light porridge after days of binging at Taiwanese night markets? Look no further, Ziqiang night Market has the perfect option for you – Lee’s Cantonese Porridge. With Abalone Chicken Porridge, Fish Porridge and Century Egg Pork Porridge ranging from NT 60 to 90, Lee is definitely bound to make your stomach happy.

ImageGarden Vegetables Porridge 田园蔬菜粥

Every bowl of porridge at Lee’s comes free with pork floss topping or a choice of other toppings, so it’s really value for money. We opted for the Garden Vegetables  Porridge (NT60) as a detox option, but was pretty full after the spring rolls and coffin boards. Honestly, we felt that the texture of the rice grains was not as smooth as we wanted it to be, but the broth was sufficiently seasoned. That said, if you want a healthier option in Hualien, do consider Lee’s.

ImageCheck out the generous portion of pork floss topping

5. Number One BBQ (第一家烤肉串)

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The massive insane crowd in front of Number One BBQ

If you’re a protein buff or just simply a carnivore, head down to Number One BBQ (第一家烤肉串) right away. Touted as the must-try at Ziqiang Night Market, the queue is incredibly long (waiting time of 30min-1hr or more) and we would advise you to get a queue number, walk around and come back for your food. As you would have guessed, we didn’t try this at all since we couldn’t even finish our porridge (had to take-away) and didn’t quite fancy BBQ food. Well, perhaps next time we’ll be back for some beer and BBQ!

Pls continue on to Hualien Part II: Itinerary (Day 7) (upcoming)

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Hualien Part II: Itinerary (Day 6)

Itinerary in a Nutshell:
1. Morning: Sunrise at Chixing Tan(七星潭), check-in to Hualien 11 and head to Taroko Gorge(太鲁阁)
2. Afternoon: Taroko Gorge Tour and City Centre Exploration
3. Evening: Gongzheng Street Baozi(公正街包子)and Indigenous Cultural Park

Pro-Tip: Pick up the Taroko Gorge and Food Trail Maps from your minsu or Hotel!

DAY 6: TAROKO GORGE AND HUALIEN CITY CENTRE

1. Morning

ImageWaiting for sunrise at Seven Stars Lake (Qixin Tan) at 5am (in summer)

Waking up early to catch the sunrise at Qixing Tan is a must for any romance escapade. Hotel Bayview provides a spectacular view and convenient location for this activity. The good people at Hotel Bayview also provide the information of sunrise for the next day, so do check with them for more information. If you are lucky enough to book the Seaview rooms, you can even laze in bed and enjoy the splendid view from the comfort of your cosy bed.

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To be honest, the photos do not do justice. We would highly recommend you to embrace the sight and enjoy your company, instead of frantically taking photos like us. Not recommended for romantic escapades.

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As the sun gradually rises to the azure skies of Hualien, we then rushed back to the Hotel for our complimentary breakfast (7.00 – 9.00am; international buffet spread), since we needed to check in to Hualien 11 for our Taroko Gorge tour. You can also book the Taxi tour at Hotel Bayview, of which the tours range from NT2500-3000, with friendly and knowledgeable drivers. We also have to thank the Shuttle Service driver at Hotel Bayview for kindly giving us a lift to Hualien 11, even though we only spent one night there. The kind people at Hotel Bayview really go out of their way to render warm, hospitable and first-class service. I would definitely be back!

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 Entrance of Taroko Gorge National Park

At about 8.45am, our friendly driver, Leo(刘正崇)(Tel: 0937-947845) (full day tour approx NT2200 for 2-4 pax.), came to fetch us at Hualien 11 for the Taroko Tour. He’s really friendly and we felt really bad not taking a photo with him, because he’s really nice! He also recommended going to 清水断崖 (translated as Clear Waters Deathly Cliffs), a must-go tourist attraction for Chinese tourists (apparently some Weibo/blog made it famous among the mainland Chinese tourists). It costs about another NT1000, which we thought was not worth the money nor the time (another 2 hour drive to and fro).

If you’re on a budget, you may also opt for the Taroko Shuttle Bus Tours (about NT600-900) instead of our Taxi Tour. We heard from our friend that the Shuttle Bus Tour only stops at 2 locations, but please do check out the latest information at their official website.

Official Website: http://www.taroko.gov.tw/English/
Maps and Brochures: http://www.taroko.gov.tw/English/?mm=3&sm=1&page=1#up
[Both Hualien 11 and our driver Leo have a few brochures so you need not print them out!]

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ImageSha-ka-dang Road Tunnel 砂卡礑隧道(beside Sha-ka-dang Trail 砂卡礑步道

Taroko Gorge is all about trekking and walking. Wear comfortable walking shoes to enjoy the scenic views and marvel at the magnificence of Mother Nature. Leo will bring you to each stop and tell you what time to come back and etc. All that walking is essential for that binging at night!

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The iconic Taroko Bridge 

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This was one of the attractions, though we didn’t know what was so special about it – just a few stalls selling souvenirs and ornaments.

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ImageTaroko Dangerous 

Image慈母桥

So why is Cimu Bridge 慈母桥 so named? Cimu Bridge was built to commemorate the late President Chiang Zhongzheng’s mother and it is rumoured that a number of workers have sacrificed themselves in the construction of this bridge. That said, this bridge bears deep meaning and we took the opportunity to take a few artistic shots.

ImagePicture-in-a-picture Inception: Artistic shot of London Girl taking a shot of the bridge

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ImageSoup that came with the Set Meal

ImageBamboo Rice Set Meal 

As advised by Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow, lunch options at Taroko Gorge is pricey and average at best. However, since Leo brought us to his old friend’s eatery (where he eats for free), we feel awkward not to oblige. We would say the meal was acceptable but a little oily. We spent about NT250 for 2 pax.

ImageBraised Beancurd (Extra Dish)

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Cured Pork and Taiwanese Sausages

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Bamboo Glutinous Rice

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After lunch was more walking for us. We first went to Lushui Trail and then headed to the Theatre which showcases the award winning film documenting the lifestyle habits of the indigenous Taroko tribe. And indeed, it was a great experience and a good time for us to escape the inclement weather!

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ImageRainy weather = time to head back to City Centre

As rain drops began to fall on our pretty faces, our day tour ended early as we were not heading to Qixing Tan or Qingshui Cliffs. Hence, we headed back to the City Centre at about 4pm and lazed around for some shopping / food adventures.

Hui-lan Shu Dao/Organic Yam (洄澜薯道)
Location: No. 11, Zhōnghua Rd, Hualien City (花蓮市中华路11號)
TE了: 03-8338899
Price: NT$50 per ice cream cone, other souvenirs range from NT20 (sold singly) to NT300 (gift boxes)

ImageEntrance of Hui-lan Shu Dao (洄澜薯道)

Incidentally, we chanced upon a shop with many students queuing up for ice-cream and since it was a humid afternoon, we decided to grab one as well (actually it was fatsgboy who initiated because I really have a sweet tooth). After reading up the reviews and posters, we realised that 洄澜薯道 is a household brand which sells a variety of products manufactured from organic yam (the local specialty).

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The much-coveted Organic Yam Ice Cream

ImageTaiwanese School girl enjoying her dose of Organic indulgence

At NT50, this huge cone of Organic Yam Ice-Cream is not sinful at low. Marketed as low sugar and calorie with high calcium, we instantly forgot all our weariness from walking the whole day in Taroko and was prepared to conquer the Golden Triangle of Hualien City Centre.

(N.B.: we must however caution you to visit this particular store instead of another outlet located at another side of the street, because the service here (the store with the ice cream machine) was much more friendlier. the staff at the other store was a little impatient and their courier service messed up, so we couldn’t send our package to our Wwoof host in Japan on time. That said, their ice cream is really good!)

At the heart of Hualien City is the Golden Triangle Commercial Circle (金三角商圈), which comprises the main Zhongzheng Road(中正路), Zhongshan Road(中山路)and Zhonghua Road(中华路). If you have noticed, many roads in Taiwan are named after the late Founding Father of Modern China Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan) and the late President Chiang Kai-shek (Chiang Zhongzheng). So do not be confused if you see the same road name in another city!

Justice Street Buns (公正街包子)
Location: No. 199-2, Zhōngshān Rd, Hualien City (花蓮市中山路199-2號)
Opening hours: 24 hours
Price: NT$5 per xiao long bao; NT$30 per basket of steamed dumplings/wantons; NT$3 per boiled dumpling

Tai Kee Wonton (戴記扁食)
Location: No. 120, Zhōnghuá Rd, Hualien City (花蓮市中華路120號)
Opening hours: 0700 hours to 0030 hours
Food: Wonton
Price: NT$60 for 10 dumplings

ImageGongzheng Street Pau-zi(公正包子店), beside Dai Ji Wanton(戴记扁食)

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The Famous Gongzheng Street Pau-zi(公正包子店)

Gongzheng Street Pau-zi(公正包子店)is a must-visit if you’re heading to Hualien City Centre. We even bumped into a few young Singaporeans and they highly recommended the Xiaolong Bao and the Wantons/Dumplings.

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公正 Xiaolong Bao (小笼包) (2 x left) and Wantons (扁食) (8 x right)

Singaporeans familiar with the usual Xiaolong Bao (think Din Tai Fung or Kao Ji) will be surprised to see their XLBs in the traditional Pau format. YES, these are the Xiaolong Baos in Hualien. The pork filling is extremely tender and smooth, just like the ones we had at Kao-Ji, though the pau skin is thicker here and more akin to the charsiew bao or Da Bao we have in Singapore. We were afraid that we couldn’t finish them all since we had ice cream prior to this, but the Taiwanese couple sharing the table with us finished about twice the amount as us. Amazing!

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ImageClose up at the Wantons

ImageUnknown Soupy Gelatin 

We were so full, we wanted so much to try Dai Ji Wantons(戴记扁食)but didn’t have space to :(

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ImageHualien Papaya milk

Hualien Indigenous Cultural Park (石藝大街)
Website: http://tour-hualien.hl.gov.tw/Portal/Content.aspx?lang=0&p=005040001&u=Intro&area=3&id=65
Location: No. 326, Guangdong Street, Hualien City (花蓮縣花蓮市廣東街326號)
Tel: 03-8353730
Opening hours: 1400 – 2230

ImagePerformance at the Hualien Indigenous Cultural Park (石藝大街)

After so much binging, we then headed to the Hualien Indigenous Cultural Park which was about 15min walk from the Golden Triangle Commercial Circle. Here, you can find various shops selling all kinds of ornaments and souvenirs, and watch a complimentary outdoor performance lasting for about 1 hour. The male performers are clad in traditional indigenous tribe costumes, so many of them are in fact half-naked (hear the screams of females). And the good thing is, they have nice figures too haha.

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There are a few segments and the finale is a bamboo stick dance where the performers invite some of the audience to join them for the dance. It’s very fun and they accept all volunteers!

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And at the end of everything, you can even take photos with your favourite dancers! They are very friendly and you can catch a short chat with them. And then we headed back to our minsu with Leo fetching us back to home sweet home!

Pls continue on to Hualien Part II: Itinerary (Day 7) (upcoming)

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Hualien Part II: Itinerary (Day 5)

Itinerary in a Nutshell:
1. Afternoon: Lunch around Hotel Bayview, cycling along Chixingtan
2. Evening: Chilling at Hotel Bayview

DAY 5: EASTERN HUALIEN & CHIXING TAN
1. Morning

After a wholesome and delicious breakfast at (Fu Hang Dou Jiang), we headed to Taipei Train Station for our next stop: Hualien. The recommended mode of transport between Taipei and Hualien is the Taroko Express (0850 – 1146am; NT418), where many bloggers recommend sitting on the left side of the cabin. However, since we were pre-allocated seats, we did not have a choice (and were in fact separated). Nonetheless, if you happen to sit on the left, you will enjoy a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean and witness how the scenery transits from high rise buildings to scenic waters and majestic mountains.

We arrived at Hualien Train Station at about noon, where the driver from Hotel Bayview was patiently awaiting our arrival. Since the hotel was quite a distance from the train station, such arrangements really saved us a lot of trouble.

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Hotel Bayview – Worth every penny

Upon check-in, Juan, the helpful and friendly boss of Hotel Bayview, gave us a short orientation of the hotel and recommended eats in the vicinity. We decided to take the bike and cycle to 鲍鲜楼, and we do not regret our decision.

2. Afternoon

鲍鲜楼
Address: 花蓮縣新城鄉七星街45號-1
Tel: 03 823 6606
Recommendations: 曼波鱼 (Mambo Fish) and Set Lunches

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The Wide Variety of Dishes available 

鲍鲜楼 offers a wide variety of ala carte dishes and we were literally spoilt for choice. We wanted to go with the usual “3 Dishes 1 Soup” combination and did some calculations. Finally, we decided that it would be more economical to order the Set Meal instead, which comes with a cold dish (Tuna Sashimi), stir-fried vegetables, the signature “Mambo Fish” that can only be found in Hualien and a soup.

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Ala Carte Menu

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Perhaps more economical to order the Set Meals

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Sashimi (生鱼片)

Starting off with the Cold Dish – this was our first serving of sashimi for the trip and we were looking forward to it because Taiwan is known for its fresh, high quality and yet affordable seafood. There were 6 slices of tuna sashimi and 3-4 slices of squid sashimi (relatively camouflaged due to the colour of the plastic plate), which were absolutely fresh and delicious. You probably wouldn’t go wrong here, since Hualien is a port city with a sustainable supply of fresh seafood.

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Seasonal Vegetables(时蔬青菜)

Rapidly stir-fried over high flame, this dish is simple yet yummy.

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Clam Soup(蛤仔汤)

The Clam Soup was seasoned with cooking wine and contained about 12-15 portions of claims. Not absolutely mind-blowing but reflects the superior culinary skills of the chef.

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Stir-Fried Celery with Signature Mambo Fish (洋芹曼波)

Finally came the star of the meal: Stir-Fried Celery with Signature Mambo Fish. This is our first time trying the Mambo Fish  (or ocean sunfish, Sharptail mola) and an eye-opener indeed. Apparently, although mambo fish is a delicacy in Taiwan, it is banned in the EU and rarely encountered. In recent years, it has grown to be the local delight of Hualien, after the county government’s efforts to promote it as the icon of Hualien. Mambo meat resembles a jelly-like substance of gelatin or collagen and tastes likewise.  It is soft, tender and very chewy.

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Mambo Fish Wall Painting

When we went up to the cashier, curiosity got the better of us and we asked the lady boss about how the Mambo Fish actually looked like – and so she kindly showed us her photos:

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The Lady Boss and her catches

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Close-Up: The humongous Mambo Fish

Yes – a mambo fish can weigh up to 1000kg and measures 3-4metres.

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The interior of 鲍鲜楼Image

Verdict: 3.8/5 (for displaying superior culinary skills in simple dishes, with the unforgettable mambo fish)

After the binging, we decided to take a look at 柴鱼博物馆, which required entrance tickets not worth paying for. We thus headed back to hotel and checked in (at about 2.30pm), since it would be too hot to cycle under the scorching sun at midday. At about 3.30pm, we headed out for our cycling trip along the gorgeous Chixing Tan:

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Dolphins – A common sight in the Pacific Ocean

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The Cycling Track

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Map of the Cycling Track

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Cycling along the coast is a breeze with the dedicated cycling track and you will appreciate the breathtaking beauty of Chixingtan (Seven Stars Lake) (only sunrise though, not sunset). We cycled for about 45min south from Hotel Bayview (turn right out of Hotel Bayview, and including some uphill and downhill), and encountered some herding cattle, surrounded by some unique structures.

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The Azure Blue Pacific Ocean

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The Maroon Surfer

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Marvel at the beauty of Hualien

2. Evening

After cycling for about 2 hours, we decided to head back to return the bicycles and proceed for dinner. As we did not want to cab out to the city centre or have western food at a nearby farm (we wanted to enjoy quintessential local food first), we decided to have dinner at Family Mart Convenience Store:

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Pork Ribs Bento: NT65

After dinner, we thought that it was time for coffee and headed to the 24 hours Self-Service Coffee/Wifi bar at the ground level. You may also wish to check out the rooftop balcony for sunset, but it closes at 8pm daily. We had an early night so that we could use the internet, wake up early for sunrise and rest for the Taroko tour the next day! 

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24 hours Self-Service Coffee/Wifi bar

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Complimentary Free-flow Snacks

Pls continue on to Hualien Part II: Itinerary (Day 6)