Taiwanese people tend to eat dinner rather early, around 18h30 (which is insanely early by French standards where dinner service starts only around 19h30-20h), which explains that a few hours later, they start feeling peckish and have a late-night snack 宵夜(or 消夜) ㄒ｜ㄠ ｜ㄝˋ. For some, it’s a daily evening ritual, one that I’ve embraced as well. 😀
What is considered as a 宵夜? Well, it can be as simple as some fruits, a mug cake, a small bowl of noodles, a scallion pancake, as long as it’s edible, you’re doing it right. Venture out in the streets at night and you will inevitably stumble upon one of the 永和豆漿/四海豆漿/[fill-in the blank]豆漿 corner shops, open from the late evening ’til early morning, serving a variety of snack, mantou 饅頭 and traditional beverages like soy milk 豆漿, rice milk 米漿, etc… Other options can include the island’s beloved convenience stores like 7-11 or Family Mart, among others.
Coming from a country where these kind of nocturnal eateries would be unable to operate, I’m still not used to those odd opening hours, but hey, I’m not complaining!
If you’re not yet an adept of the 宵夜, then I suggest you give a try at Fifty Year (“Year” without the ‘s’ because that’s how they spell it). The business is actually well over 60 years old, but unlike other places celebrating each passing year, Fifty Year appears content enough to have reached the half decade mark and decided to be fifty forever.
Another peculiarity of Fifty Year is how it’s sharing the premises with a noodle shop, two businesses sharing a place used to be a common setup in the past to save up on rent, 「相逗市」is how the author names this kind configuration.
Just like A-Main Mochi, part of the fun about Fifty Year is actually going there. The Yancheng district tends to be deserted at night and with the dim-lighting, it creates a pleasant atmosphere to roam through the roads and alleys. At times, the shop is calm and there’s space to sit down, but at others, it’s assailed by packs of students from the nearby Sun Yat-Sen University.
At Fifty Year, the star is the almond tea 杏仁茶 (tea in the sense of beverage, not from actual tea leaves) or almond milk (however you translate it), made in-house and without any artificial flavoring, which yields a delicate and subtle almond flavor. During cold times, I prefer to order it hot, the smooth and silky texture hits the spot, making me all warm and fuzzy inside. And who wouldn’t want to feel all warm and fuzzy inside?!
To go along with the almond tea, there’s a variety of sandwiches and breakfast fare. I usually stick to the cheese danbing 起司蛋餅 and (potato) salad bun 沙拉堡. If you want to go traditional, then a fried bread stick 油條 to dunk in the almond tea will suffice. On one occasion, I also got the almond tofu 杏仁豆腐 which the author had raved about during his book signing event, but the tofu turned out to be actually more of an agar-agar jelly, with a bit too firm texture for my liking, but that is up for each to judge.
Next time a desire for hot almond tea arises, I’ll be glad to have this new place, but for the full 宵夜 treatment, a trip to the historical haunt will still be in order!