6 of the Best Night Markets in Taipei
As Air Canada begins to offer non-stop flights to Taipei from Vancouver, we look at six of the Taiwanese capital’s many night markets that offer the best selection for visitors.
There are a lot of reasons to spend time in Taipei – the vibrant alleyways, the huge anime library, the fluorescent nighttime views from the top of Taipei 101 – but the jewels in the city’s colourful crown are its night markets. There are more than 100 of them, mostly outdoors on temporarily pedestrianized streets, filled with storefronts and carts that move about from day to day, mostly starting around 4 p.m. every day of the week. It’s where you can get the best Taiwanese food all in one place and rub elbows with the markets’ many (many) local regulars (look for the longest lines, that’s where the best stuff is). You can’t go wrong with any of them, but here are six of the best for visitors.
This is one of the smallest markets in Taipei, and one of the most recommended to tourists, who may not have the stamina to eat their way through anything bigger. But what it lacks in breadth it makes up for in density, with two lanes of stalls and tables set up down the middle of the street. Try the boat sandwich, which is deep-fried sweet dough stuffed with mayonnaise and meat (so, essentially a doughnut sandwich). And stop by the cart with the sign, in English, that says Small intestine in large intestine – basically, it’s a delicious sausage stuffed in a sticky-rice sleeve.
The entrance to Taipei’s oldest night market, founded about a century ago, is a big neon archway. The market is narrower than Ningxia, which means more shoulder-rubbing, but it’s also easier to do both sides of the street at once. Though it’s known for black-pepper buns, which you’ll find at the end of the market’s longest line, try some frog’s-egg milk tea, which is like bubble tea (a Taiwanese invention), but with melt-in-your-mouth basil seeds called wild pearls instead of tapioca. Then there’s coffin bread, proof that the Taiwanese sense of what sounds appetizing differs significantly from the rest of the world’s. It’s actually an oblong cake with a hollow centre filled with fruit jams and other sweet stuff.
Known for its seafood, this low-key market on a wide street is the place to try the night-market standard, the oyster omelette, at one of the many stalls acting like abbreviated storefronts with sidewalk stools and counters. Also try the goose meat and rice. Goose is more popular in Taiwan than anywhere else in Asia, and the Zhongshan district, which is home to the Liaoning night market, is where you get the best stuff. Expert tip: Let the meat sit for a while before you eat it, so the goose fat can seep into the rice.
Though it’s at the base of the city’s biggest tourist attraction, the Taipei 101 tower, this is a market primarily for locals. This is where you should get your stinky tofu, Taiwan’s unofficial national food. Like durian fruit, another pan-Asian favourite, the smell and the taste of stinky tofu don’t quite match up. Durian famously smells of body odour. Stinky tofu, well, let’s just say it’s a little bit worse than that. But the taste is actually quite mild, the fermentation transforming raw tofu’s beany flavour into a vegetal sweetness that’s complemented by the chili or BBQ sauces it’s often served with.
Unlike many night markets, Shida is laid out largely along the alleys on either side of Shi Da Road. Frankly, no one’s going to recommend this one, and it never shows up on top-10 lists – it’s a little too normal, too local. Go to Hsu-Ji for their steamed and fried buns, but the real reason to visit is that this is where the students from nearby University of Taipei and National Taiwan University set up their businesses. The Market 39 building is an incubator that offers short-term platforms in the form of storefronts for start-ups to try out their ideas. It’s a great way to see what’s next for Taiwan and get some unique stuff, like handmade wooden earrings or flower arrangements in jars.
Many of the stalls are collected in the open-air food hall, though this market spreads out onto all the surrounding roads. Shilin was where the first Hot-Star chicken stall opened. It’s since become a nationwide chain, and fostered a mania for fried cutlets. Shilin is more neighbourhood than market, with hundreds of shops. It’s a good place to try oo yu zi: wind- and sun-dried pressed mullet roe with crispy apple on a toothpick. If you’re there in summer, stop by the shop with the big frog on it for some aiyu jelly. It’s made with a local type of fig, but is mostly tasteless and takes on the flavour of whatever it’s served with. Lemon-and-ice is a must-have when it’s hot.