Night markets are a feature of many Southeast-Asian cities (well, definitely cities with large Chinese populations, anyway), and while I appreciate the beauties of a sunny daytime market in, say, France and Italy, in my opinion, night markets are the best of the market genre.
First, they’re practical. When you’re in a hot, tropic climate, it makes sense not to go out until dark, and after being cooped up in air conditioning for much of the day, being outside again is a heady release. Second, there’s a liveliness that only nighttime brings. The carefree and festive atmosphere of night markets is hard to match. In Taipei, night markets open at around 4 or 5 pm, but they really don’t get going until 8 or 9 pm, when families and friends meet up for a stroll, some shopping, and/or a bite to eat.
Shilin night market in Taipei isn’t the only night market in town, but it’s the biggest. You could happily shop or play carnival and arcade games there for days. I, of course, go for the food. I was last at Shilin night market in 2002, and the major change today is that there’s an enormous covered tent now that houses the majority of food stalls in one place. It’s certainly convenient, but it means you can expect an unbelievable human traffic jam at around mealtimes.
I already talked about the brilliant jian bao in my previous post about dining out in Taipei, generally. These are a must-have.
Zen bing. They’re a Chinese burrito. You take a thin flour-based shell (almost like an eggroll skin), and you get it stuffed full of goodies like Chinese sausage (which is sweet), roast pork, fresh bean sprouts, sliced up egg omelet, scallions, crushed peanuts and a little chilli sauce. For normal people, a zen bing constitutes a solid meal, for less than $2. For me, ’twas but another snack.
Scallion pancakes (tsong you bing) are great. But throw on a layer of egg and eat it hot off a griddle, and it’s even better. That’s a dan bing. They’re commonly eaten as a brekkie-on-the-go in Taiwan, but in my humble opinion, they’re good at all hours of the day. Much like breakfast foods, generally, yes?
Hot Star is one of the more famous stalls in Shilin night market. There are at least two stalls in the market, in fact. For 55 NT (less than $2), you get an *enormous* wedge of what appears to be schnitzel (chicken breast pounded thin, breaded and fried). Bite into it, though, and you’ll know this thing is all Chinese. The spices. A little star anise, a hint of cinnamon, some turmeric and fennel in there, too, I think? I must confess that I should have shared this one with someone. I made the strategic error of eating one on my own, which left scant space for the dozens of other goodies on offer at the night market.
Chinese sausages. The ones at Shilin night market are famous, though I suspect it’s because they’re so large. If you’ve never had a Chinese sausage before, this is a good place to try them. For me, it was just a Chinese sausage. Sweet, porky, smoky. Good stuff.
Last but not least, owa jen. The oyster omelet. One of those staple snacks of Taiwan. You can guess what’s in it based on the name. There are a huge variety of them at Shilin night market though. The oyster-to-egg ratio varies; the runniness of the egg varies. I could have devoted a whole separate meal to testing out all the owa jen stands, but when you go to the night market, make sure you try at least one.
In case it’s not obvious, I didn’t make it to dessert that night. Next time. And before someone busts me – no, I didn’t eat stinky tofu that night.
Shilin night market. Closest metro station: Jian Tan (red line). Just exit the station and you won’t miss the giant covered tent housing most of the food vendors. Bring wet wipes and arrive hungry. If you’re on a budget, you could happily eat at the night market every day and never get bored.
Here’s a sampling of other blog posts about Shilin night market:
- Hungry in Taipei (November 2006 post)
- Neatorama (March 2009 post)
- A Little Adrift (December 2010 post)