Lots of noise, different smells and exotic food…
The sun sets over the capital city of Taiwan and people from everywhere are heading to the night markets in Taipei. This is where the real Taipei can be found. Some of the markets are also open during the day, but the fun starts when it gets dark after 7pm. The night markets are a collection of street stalls, sidewalk vendors and small canteens or in the case of the ‘Snake Road’ they are purpose built market stalls. Markets are part of the all Taiwanese social life – they are usually crowded with a vibrant atmosphere.
There are six main night markets in Taipei, all in walking distance from an MRT (subway) station. The largest one is the Shilin Market which dates back more than 100 years. Shilin (MTR Stop: Shilin) has a buzzing atmosphere, as gambling and game stalls set up where ‘catch the goldfish with a paper net’ or ‘shoot at plastic cans’ takes place. Great bargains on clothes, bags, shoes and other accessories can be found. In the heart of the market are the food stalls. The specialities of the market are the seafood dishes, like the oyster omelette and the squid stew.
Jaoho night market in Sungshan District near the Tsuyou Tempel, differs a bit from the other ones as it has a little flee market next to the normal food vendors and market stalls. The entrance of the market has a large sign saying ‘Zou Ho Market of Tourist’ but it is very different form your normal tourist market known all over South East Asia. At the end of the market you find the beautiful Tsuyou Tempel which is very colourful and lets you have a glance into the Chinese Daoism religion.
The Shida market is spread over several side streets of Shida road in the Taan District (MTR Stop: Kuting). Most of its visitors are students as it is located near the university. In addition to the restaurants and food stalls, you find a lot of household goods such as dishes and small appliances and other nick nacks for apartments.
Kungguan in the Chungcheng district and Tunghua between Tunghua and Keelung road are smaller than the others and have the usual collection of stalls and food vendors.
Snake Alley, or as it is called in Chinese ‘Hwahsi Jie’ is probably the most touristic market. As the name implies, you will find snakes and snake dishes on this market which is located in Taipei’s oldest district, the Wanhua District (MTR stop: Lungshan Temple). Beside the snake blood, snake soup and turtle meat you can find regular food stalls with excellent Chinese dishes and a couple of good clothing and shoe stores.
A visit to the night markets wouldn’t be complete without trying a few of the delicious Chinese specialities, done Taiwanese style. Although there are always a few restaurants at the markets where one can get a complete meal including starter and dessert, the more interesting way is to sample as much as possible by going from one snack stall to another. Great choices are the oyster omelette made from fresh oysters, vegetables and eggs, the cuttlefish soup served with noodles or rise and the fried chicken fillet, soft, flour coated of fried pieces of chicken.
Quiet a delicacy is Stinky Tofu. The name should not prevent you from trying this. The fermented tofu has a distinct unforgettable aroma and is considered as a real treat. It can be prepared steamed, fried or cooked in spicy sauces. There also exists a sweet version, simmered in sweet soy sauce.
Pearl milk tea is a speciality of the Taiwanese city of Taichung. This delicious hot or cold tea beverage comes in many flavours and is also known as ‘Bubble Tea’. It got its name because of the marble-sized tapioca balls or ‚pearls‘ at the bottom of the cup. These chewy balls, although having little flavour, are sucked up through large wide straws and are consumed with the drink. A perfect desert after all the snacks or just a great night cap before heading back to the hotel.
Photos & Story: Sabina Herbst