Taiwan’s bustling night markets are legendary – the air filled with the thick aromas of soy sauce, rice wine and spices, where you can browse row after row of everything from hot pastries studded with spring onion to wobbly pork belly simmering in vats of rich meat stock. Local eatery Tainan A Dou Zai may not be a street-side stall, but it certainly evokes many of the images, flavours and emotions of one of the world’s most fascinating food cities.
Tainan A Dou Zai serves up wonderful renditions of classic Taiwanese ‘xiao cai’ – small dishes that you would normally find hidden amongst the hawker stalls at a typical Taiwanese night market.
‘A dou zai’ means ‘foreigner’ in the Tainan dialect, a lighthearted name that references the fact that many ingredients are imported from Taiwan to be enjoyed in Hong Kong. With authentic ingredients, Tainan A Dou Zai is able to recreate classic dishes that adhere to original Taiwanese recipes.
The atmosphere of the eatery is casual and comfortable, with wooden tables and benches that inspire the feel of night market dining. Hanging on the walls are the same fluorescent light boxes that function as menus in the street-food stalls of Taiwan. Here, they are used purely for decoration, with guests given a bilingual menu and simple ordering form to tick off their choices.
Start with a few cold dishes, perhaps a tangle of spicy soy-marinated pig ears topped with bright cilantro, or a bowl of vinegar black fungus. From there, dig into sugarcane pork ribs, crispy chicken, crispy pork chop or the oyster omelette – an iconic street food dish with fresh oysters and greens cooked into soft eggs with a starch-based slurry to bind it all together.
From the larger plates, the braised beef noodle soup is another Taiwanese mainstay. Tainan A Dou Zai offers one of the best renditions in town, with slippery al dente noodles and tender chunks of beef swimming in a dark broth slicked with chilli oil, earthy fermented bean curd and warming star anise.
Several rice bowls are available but the most popular is the ‘lu rou fan’, or braised pork rice, a perennial comfort-food favourite around the world. Here, it’s served with half a hard-boiled egg sitting in a savoury, aromatic meat sauce that seeps into the fluffy rice below, coating each grain with umami flavour.
Pair your food with a cup of bubble milk tea – the sweet creaminess of ‘naicha’ works particularly well with the strong salty and savoury flavours of Taiwanese street eats.
Taiwan is known for its warm hospitality, and Tainan A Dou Zai pays special attention to reflect this with friendly and attentive service. With plans to expand around Hong Kong, Tainan A Dou Zai is spreading an appreciation for Taiwanese food culture with insight and ambition, adding another worthy layer to Hong Kong’s melting pot of cuisines.