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Taipei essential guide

by yang

Around town and shopping

Visitors cannot complete a trip to Taipei without catching a glimpse of its architectural pride and joy, Taipei 101 But apart from the bservation decks on the 89th and 91st floors, the mall is just like any other shrine to consumerism. So just take your best photo with the tower and spend the rest of your time exploring the rest of the city.

Fujin Street is to Taiwanese hipsters what Tiong Bahru is to our local iconoclasts. The tree-lined, sleepy residential area of walk-up apartments has a well-distributed layout of trendy cafes, multi-concept stores and hip retail spots. Funfuntown is a source of quirky omeware – some old, some new and some upcycled on a small workbench in the shop – such as Edison light bulbs, copper Moscow mule cups and rare art magazines.

Of course, no visit to the street is complete without a stop at two of its pioneering eateries, The former is a cosy retail corner with imported homeware and clothing from Japan, Europe and the local area, and the cafe is the ideal pit-stop for its invigorating coffee drinks.

Huashan 1914 Creative Park is a testament to how civil activism has preserved Taiwan’s built and cultural heritage. The two-hectare site was abandoned from 1987 to 1997, when the Golden Bow Theatre Group staged an illegal production there ahead of a planned demolition. This sparked a two-year battle with the authorities and transformed the area into an artists’ enclave. Locals come to hang out in the many cafes and retail shops tucked away in the various buildings, and the outdoor plaza doubles as a picnic area and event space for annual festivals such as the Taipei Swing x Jazz meet.

Eslite Bookstore – affectionately known to locals as Chenpin – is a chain that can be found throughout the city, but we particularly love the four-storey retail space at its own Eslite Spectrum Songyan Store (88 Yanchang Rd, Xinyi District, artevent.eslite.com) in Songshan Cultural Park. As with all Eslite outlets, the range of books in both English and traditional Chinese is extensive and discerning (gastronome’s tip: we spotted Chinese editions of the first two issues of Lucky Peach), but the space also functions as a department store with arts and crafts vendors. There’s even a studio on the third floor where you can create your own music box with a choice of fittings, tunes and wooden scenery.

Eat and drink

And then there are the city’s legendary night markets to conquer. The Shilin Street Night Market (Dadong Rd, Shilin District) is always a good bet, although it’s common to hear locals complain about the deteriorating quality of the food. Their suggestion? try the Raohe Street Night Market (Raohe Street, Songshan District). It’s one of the oldest thoroughfares of sights, sounds and not-always-pleasant smells, where you’ll find innovation in food and cheap prices on deep-fried breaded chicken patties, smelly tofu and the street’s must-try: hu jiao bing (pepper meat buns), which hide a steaming lump of minced meat and spring onions in a tandoori-baked doughy casing.

The bizarrely named Addiction Aquatic Development (18 Alley 2, Lane 410, Minzu East Rd, Zhongshan District, +886 2 2508 1268, www.addiction.com.tw) may sound like a research lab, but it’s actually a gourmet fish market with huge tanks full of edible sea life. If you don’t like your meat chopped up before your eyes, there’s also a small sashimi bar where you can buy shiny takeaway packs of fresh slices and pre-prepared sushi. Opposite the market, in Addiction’s equally mysteriously named Area 4, is a restaurant where a flat rate gets you seafood that the chefs boil, fry and stew to perfection.

While the speakeasy bar movement hasn’t really taken off in Taipei, the city is still home to a few good bars, but Ounce Taipei (No.40, Lane 63, Section 2, 2 Dunhua South Rd, Da’an District, +886 2 2708 6885, www.ouncetaipei.com) requires an act of faith and a keen eye to enter. To find it, enter Relax: The Espresso Place – trust us – and look at the wall of box frames in the left corner of the oddly shaped room. You’ll need to find a buzzer and ask for permission to enter. Inside, the well-hidden and dimly lit bar is run by American expat Liam Baer, who makes a mean cigar-infused Old Fashioned.

On the other side of town, in a residential area near Taipei 101, the Alchemy Baris another place that takes a bit of work to find. To get in, muster your best Mandarin and make a reservation before you go. Enter through the chic Marquee restaurant and lounge and wait for the servers guarding the second floor to escort you upstairs to another dark room, this time run by Taiwan’s Diageo World Class 2010 champion. Angus Zou. His bar has some of the finest pours in the city, some of which he brings in by hand.

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