Night markets are the life and soul of Taiwanese cities, all of them have one, most have several of these ever-lively, bustling microcosms of Taiwanese society. Full of mouth-watering street foods, delectable snacks along with usually circus-esque games, clothes-selling stalls and more. To miss out on visiting one would be like heading to Paris and refusing to look at the Eiffel Tower. It's just not done.
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A Guide to Taiwan’s Night Markets: Taiwanese Street Food to Eat and Best Markets to Visit
The Foods You Need to Try in a Taiwanese Night Market
With a never-ending list of foods as vendors attempt their own new innovative, culinary creations to bring the crowds, it can be hard to figure out what exactly to try. When in doubt it's usually best to go for the classics, such as those we've listed below.
Taiwanese Oyster Omelette (蚵仔煎)
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A perfect representation of the great seafood street foods you can find around the island, while it might not look particularly appetizing, it makes up for it in taste. A mix of oysters, a starch-based dough and local greens, the 'omelette' is then fried and added with eggs. After cooking it's then layered with a sweet chili sauce to top the dish off. Slightly crispy and chewy, with a burst of flavor and umami from the sauce, once you've eaten one you won't want to stop.
Lu Wei (滷味)
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Often a favorite among local Taiwanese, lu wei stalls will display a variety of meats and vegetables for you to pick and choose to braise in the delicious stewing sauce. Each stall will have their own recipe for the secret sauce but the general flavor is always the same with a range of different spices and herbs, often as much as 30 of them. After you place your goods in the basket and hand it to the vendor, they'll stew it for a few minutes and bag it up with a few spoonfuls of the super flavorful and aromatic sauce.
Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang (大腸包小腸)
Like a Taiwanese version of a hot dog, the name means 'big sausage wraps little sausage' and it's well, literally that. The larger wiener consists of a rice sausage grilled until the outside is slightly crispy, which is cut open like a bun. It's then stuffed with a local variant of pork sausage and various condiments to amp up the flavor. It might seem like an oddity, but this is one street food we can't get enough of.
Although it often gets confused with the Japanese dish of tempura due to its name, it doesn't really share any similarities. Tianbula is a kind of local fish cake, which vendors will batter and deep fry and then mix with chili powder, depending on how spicy you want it. The ultimate fried snack, it's like the Taiwanese equivalent of French fries and goes perfectly with a bottle of Taiwan beer.
Ba Wan (肉圓)
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While most Taiwanese foods tend to have their origins on the mainland before giving them an island twist, ba wan or rou yuan is proudly seen as a native dish. First hailing from central Taiwan's Changhua, ba wan is a kind of Taiwanese meatball that's then stuffed inside a translucent dough, usually made from corn starch, rice flour and sweet potato starch. Afterwards it's steamed and the dish is then completed with a sweet and savory soy-based sauce and topped with sweet chili. This unique dish is like nothing found elsewhere around the world and comes highly recommended.
Ji Pai (雞排)
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Fried chicken? While it might seem a little boring, touring the Taiwanese night markets and not trying the island's spin on this global treat would be sacrilege. The best ji pai stalls tend to have the longest queues of all the stalls, the locals usually can't get enough.
Stinky Tofu (臭豆腐)
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You'll usually smell it before you see it - the bane of most foreigners in Taiwan - many don't attempt to get past the nauseating waft of odor that comes from this fermented tofu dish. The taste is quite different however, with a kind of cheesy, fermented taste to it that goes perfectly with the slightly spicy sauce that's often served on top. The longer it's been fermented for generally the more flavor and tastier it gets, albeit along with a stronger smell. Pinch your nose if you have to and take a bite, cause this delicious snack is one of the best on the island.
The Night Markets
With almost a hundred of these bustling microcosms dotted around the island, it can be a little difficult to choose which to visit. These markets below are some of the greatest representations of them, offering some of the best food, shopping and entertainment in the country.
Miaokou Night Market (Keelung)
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If like most people food is your game, then taking the time to visit the northern port city of Keelung is highly recommended. At Miaokou it's all about food, and here you'll find tons of it. Unless you're staying for a week it's impossible to try everything here, but at this market you'll want to focus on the delicious seafood, most of which comes super fresh from the nearby port and ocean. Grab some grilled squid and make sure to try the 'crab thick soup', a kind of Taiwanese style crab potage served by the Wu family who've been at the market for countless years.
If you don't want to make a special trip to Keelung to visit this market, consider visiting it on the way back from the popular mountain town of Jiu Fen. Buses between the small town and Keelung run regularly and the train back to Taipei from here is much faster.
Shilin Night Market (Taipei)
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Easily the most famous and largest of the markets in Taipei, Shilin is usually also the busiest as hordes of locals and tourists alike head to get a fix of their favorite Taiwanese treats. Check out some of the classics here. We'd recommend trying stinky tofu and ji pai for starters, if you're willing to wait then look for those with the largest queues, the regulars are always willing to line up and know what's best. Also visit Zhong Cheng Hao for their delicious rendition of oyster omelette, it's easily one of the best in Taipei.
Raohe Night Market (Taipei)
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At the entrance you'll usually see a long line, we'd recommend joining it as soon as you arrive. It's for some deliciously crispy black pepper buns filled with a juicy pork filling that locals can't get enough of. No matter how many you acquire, you'll wish you ordered more. Try to show restraint however, the market is full of countless delectable goods you'll want to try later. You'll also find a number of places selling handicrafts, souvenirs and more.
Fengjia Night Market (Taichung)
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For anyone visiting Taichung, Fengjia is the place to be. Said to be the largest on the island, this market is huge, winding around the central streets of the city with a wide range of delectable treats. Get the big sausage little sausage here, the one with the orange sign comes recommended along with the black tea stinky tofu, if your nose will allow for it.
Also make sure to check out Dafeng Stewed Pork (大豐爌肉飯), one of the older establishments around the night market area for some delicious pork delicacies.
Hua Yuan Night Market (Tainan)
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While Taipei might be the capital of the island, Tainan is arguably the center for Taiwanese food. Although you'll often hear this market called the Tainan Flower Market, the name is a bit of a misinformer, it's mostly food you'll find here, alongside a range of Taiwanese street games and discount clothes stalls. It's not open everyday, it opens three nights a week, alternating with Tainan's other famous market of Dadong, so be sure to check first before you head there.
Dongdamen Night Market (Hualien)
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Those of you planning to visit the beautiful east coast of Taiwan, don't miss this huge market in the coastal city of Hualien. Dongdamen is actually a combination of several night markets that have all been brought together. At the back you'll find Aboriginal Street (原住民一條街), a great place to try some of the snacks and eats from the various ethnic groups found around the island. The gua bao, a kind of Taiwanese hamburger, comes highly recommended here along with the spread of freshly grilled seafood, as you might expect from a city straddling the coast.
Use this list as a good place to start your journey into Taiwanese food, however with the myriad of foods on offer, sometimes it's best just to follow your nose and stomach as you eat your way around the island.