The carnival-like atmosphere of Taiwan’s night markets are a spectacle and taste-treat not to be missed on any visit to the island country. Having done little research for our two weeks in Taiwan, we were happy that we would be couch surfing in order to get an insider’s perspective on what to see and do. Both of our hosts asked us on the first day of staying with them if we had heard of Taiwan’s night markets, clearly they were a must-see.
During our visit to the capital, Taipei, we made it to four night markets and visited another one on our trip down to Hualien. Each market had a different atmosphere and a wide range of unique vendors selling food, clothes, shoes, souvenirs and other knick-knacks. You can get a massage at the market or try your luck at a carnival game without being harassed by toothless carnies. The night markets have something for everyone.
A classic carnival game at a Taiwanese night market in Hualien
The only thing more varied than the vendor selection is the crowd. Families come to the markets to get dinner, young couples come on dates, tour groups come to marvel at the selection and locals of all ages come for nightly entertainment. All of the night markets are a people watching paradise, you could spend hours just taking in the diversity of shoppers that frequent the stands.
The Shida night market was the first one we visited and provided instant sensory overload with hundreds of people packed into tight alleys ordering food and browsing the latest fashions. We started our tour with pork blood cake, which is congealed pigs blood, dipped in a peanut sauce and then covered in crushed peanuts. Our couch surfing host insisted this is as Taiwanese as it gets and it was actually pretty tasty, despite the description you just read. From our pork blood cake delicacy we went on to have a “Taiwanese Hamburger,” buko juice, grilled oysters, dumplings and fresh baked cookies.
The array of ingredients available at the Shida night market to make your own dinner. Makes me hungry just looking at it.
The next night we ventured out to the Gongguan Night Market, which seemed to have more clothes, shoes and watches for sale than the Shida market. It’s the perfect place to get yourself a pair of fake glasses, which are all the rage in Taiwan. The market is nestled right in the University area and see lots of students that for some reason wear glasses frames with no lenses in them as a fashion statement. We couldn’t resist trying out a few pairs ourselves.
If you think we look funny you should see all the Taiwanese students in their fake glasses, we blended in!
The largest market is the Shilin Night Market with over 500 food stalls packed with every imaginable edible on a stick and plenty of clothes and shoes to boot. Here we sat down for a meal of fried chicken steak. This very popular dish proved to be quite tasty and gave us a front row seat for people watching. After dinner we couldn’t resist a knife massage. The technique of using dull butcher knives in each hand to coax the knots out of your back is an art that I am glad I experienced.
A couple of my night market favorites, grilled oysters and a Taiwanese hamburger
After our two week stay in Taiwan we were huge fans of the night markets. Just like our couch surfing hosts we find ourselves asking anyone headed to Taiwan if they’ve heard of them. If you are planning a trip to Taipei make sure that you don’t miss the event that is a Taiwanese night market. The food is cheap and the experience is priceless!
IF YOU GO:
Be adventurous, try a new food on a stick and have fun with your dinner selection. Don’t be superficial with your decision either, it may not look good, but it could taste amazing! If you don’t like something you can just buy what the next vendor is selling.
Come early and stay late, the markets typically start opening up around 4:00 p.m. and it can be fun to see the stands setting up. But, things don’t really start rolling until around 8:00 p.m. and the markets are open well into the night, closing at 1 or 2:00 a.m.