A Lifestyle in Taiwan
When it comes to night markets, nobody would doubt that Taiwan has probably the most delicious and bustling night markets in the world. Different from day markets, night markets are intrinsic to local culture in this island nation and often offer culinary delights for visitors rather than chefs. You can say the night market is an open-air food court, as it normally occupies streets and roads during a certain period of time at night, with or without traffic control. Most of the time, it also looks like a shopping arcade, no matter it’s nothing but an alfresco busier section of the street or a covered passageway. Tourists are always able to find a specific type of night market during their visit in Taiwan and seldom find them boring.
Shilin Night Market, Taipei City
The Shilin Night Market, needless to say, is the largest night market in the capital of the country. It’s a huge mixture of everything, ranging from street foods, eateries, restaurants, etc. to boutique shops, toy stores, claw machine gaming parlors, and drugstores. The history of the market can be traced back to the Japanese era more than a hundred years ago and its marketplace has gone through a couple of renovations, keeping attracting guests over a century. The boundaries of the night market has pushed further out to an area between MRT Jiantan Station and MRT Shilin Station. Lanes and alleys in between have filled with food stalls and snack vendors, which are usually flanked by interesting souvenir shops and accessory stores. This is an expansive region you can stay for hours if you’re truly into street foods and late-night shopping.
Street Foods to Sample in the Shilin Marketplace
We’re talking about night market around dinner time, so let’s explore some interesting foods in the night market. The number one snack food you’ll have to try must be the “small pastries wrapped by big pancakes”. Since I was an elementary school kid, I’ve known that this is the most representative snack in the night market. I remember there are two to three famous vendors and they all sell a wide range of sweet or savory little pastries to be first crushed before being wrapped by a larger pancake.
The rolled delicacy should be the first thing you need to buy and take away before your hungry search for the next food to complement your ambitious dinner menu. Nearby you should be able to find the “squid potage”, which is a sweet thickened soup with crispy squid strips served in a shallow bowl. The “giant sausage” exceeds the normal size of common Taiwanese sausages and it will absolutely stun you before you take out your wallet.
More Foods in Shilin Night Market
If you stay outside the traditional marketplace, you’ll see lots of queues in front of some eateries and food stalls. Here you’ll be amazed by the face-sized Hot Star “large fried chicken”, which is a deep-fried chicken cutlet famous for its juicy and crispy slice of chicken. Not far from here, the Michelin Bib Gourmand recommends the Hai You Pork Ribs, which is served in a strong herbal soup and offers refreshing taste that you’ll believe you can be healthier after having it.
Further down the lane, on the Da’nan Road, you’ll find the best “cold noodles” in Taipei, named Good Friend and also recommended by Bib Gourmand. Just around the corner, another highlight will be the Zhong Jia “panfried buns”, with a succulent filling of shredded green cabbage and minced pork.
Ningxia Night Market
Not like the other night markets in cities such as Tainan or Kaohsiung, most night markets in Taipei City operate everyday. The Ningxia Night Market near Taipei Main Station is not big but well-known for more traditional delicacies. You’ll want to try the highly-mentioned “oyester omelets” here, which boast the best flavor throughout the nation. This traditional omelet is a yummy lump of panfried starch with oysters, vegetables, and eggs served in sweet and sour sauce.
There are a couple of good choices right here but Bib Gourmand selected the cleaner Yuanhuanbian “by the roundabout” as the top to visit. You wouldn’t want to miss another highlighted snack vendor Liu Yu Zi, which sells the traditional deep-fried taro balls with egg yolk or pork floss.
Raohe Street Night Market
Located in Songshan District near the Keelung River, this night market’s development has a lot to do with its glorious past as a river port hub. It’s a 600-meter long street-type night market with very limited traffic. After 5:00 p.m., like nearly all the night markets, that section of the street will be filled with hundreds of vendors. Some of the portable stalls are lined up in the middle of the street like the traffic island.
The Raohe Street Night Market has been long popular among foreign foodies because it’s easier to browse through and has a good mixture of everything – not just foods! The Ciyou Temple on the eastern end of the street is one of the oldest temples in Taipei and a good starting point to prepare yourself for the gourmet night tour. Visitors won’t miss the Fuzhou “black pepper bun” here right beneath the arch of the entrance before searching for the Chen Dong “pork ribs medicinal herbs soup”.
Taichung City’s Fengjia Night Market
Going to central Taiwan, you shouldn’t miss the acclaimed night market right outside the Fengjia University. Highly-related to the students’ consuming behavior and tastes, the Fengjia Night Market in Taichung has a sustainable amount of customers at all times, let alone more and more international and domestic visitors being attracted here when on holiday.
The night market has a plethora of street foods to suit your taste buds and is frequently ranked as either the most popular or the largest night market in the country. It is estimated that there are around 30,000 visitors on a normal day and a lot more on weekends. The economic value it creates in the night market and surrounding commercial districts has dwarfed heaps of big night markets in Taiwan. Right here you shouldn’t miss the alleged ground zero of “takoyaki”, which is a ball-shaped savory snack with shredded cabbage and cubed octopus wrapped by wheat batter on a heated grid mold.
Dadong Night Market in Tainan
Known as the ancient city of Taiwan, Tainan City shouldn’t be excluded when talking about night markets. Unlike those largely reported night markets in other cities, Tainan’s night markets are not open everyday; instead, those vendors and carts seem to prefer to move around the city doing business in different locations.
Let’s take Dadong Night Market for example, it opens only on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. The night market operates on a huge empty land and, during business hours, you’ll see swamps of motor scooters and cars filling the neighboring streets and roads. Parking might be a big problem if you don’t take public transport. This night market is interestingly divided into two halves – one for foods and the other for games and shopping. Cheap buys and affordable foods are the main attractions here. Night markets in Taiwan continually provide tourists with lots of fun and traditional cuisine as well as a bit of local culture you’re constantly looking for.
Almost all the night markets operate between 5 p.m. and midnight. Some of the night markets are still busy even until 1 a.m. before the pandemic. Some of the street-type night markets like Kaohsiung’s Liuhe Night Market are roads for traffic during the day. When it starts at 5 p.m., you’ll still see reckless motor scooter riders zipping through the crowds. Watch out for the “flexibility” of this phenomenon especially in southern Taiwan.
Since that those are “markets”, how can they charge admission? They’ll want you to buy and eat as much as possible!
How to get there?
Most of the night markets mentioned here are easily accessible with public transportation. If you don’t want to hassle, hail a cab to quickly get to your destinations to start eating before the crowds.
Useful Tips While Visiting
Too hot in summer?
The blistering hot summer night might be a torture to some visitors from higher latitude. Taipei City’s evening temperature in summer can reach 30 to 31 degrees Celsius. Be sure to bring a portable fan or handkerchief when you visit a night market. Sometimes the afternoon thundershower lasts until evening. Don’t forget to bring an umbrella, too.
The best way to fill your stomach in night markets is to try a couple of different snack foods we call “little eat” in Mandarin Chinese of Taiwan. We are supposed to do so to introduce the colorful elements in your visit of a traditional night market. Don’t eat a large portion from just one single vendor or stall. Always leave some space in your stomach for future possibilities.
We are not supposed to bargain when buying foods in a night market. If you want to buy souvenirs or clothes, for instance, it’s not harmful to try to negotiate the price. We basically pay the price on the price tags and most of the businesses behave honestly. One good thing about traveling in Taiwan is that you don’t have to waste your precious time bargaining on a small thing like you always have to do in China or Southeast Asia.