Your Guide to Taiwan’s Buzzing Night Markets

Leave it to the Taiwanese to show us what real night markets should be like–friendly, exhilarating, and pulsating. We comb the streets to show you the pleasures of a night market crawl.

Night markets tend to form around schools and places of worship such as temples.

Night markets are a way of life in Taiwan. They are so central to people’s lives that they have inspired an entire soap opera, namely Night Market Life (2009), surrounding the characters who work, live, and socialize here.

If you wish to know how well a city is doing, take a walk in the markets. Are people spending? Are there tourists? Kaohsiung’s most popular night market, Kaixuan Qingnian Night Market, is often mentioned in Taiwan’s current affairs programs–the once-lackluster traffic was attributed to issues like weak spending power, stagnant salaries, and the less-than-cozy relationship with mainland China. However, with a new mayor and active tourism bureau headed by bureau director Pan Heng-hsu, arrivals have since improved and the night market is once again busy with tourists and locals alike.

Night markets tend to form around schools and places of worship such as temples. Gongguan is near National Taiwan University, Shida is, quite literally, named for the university it is near (National Taiwan Normal University), and so is Feng Chia (Feng Chia University). Temples are filled with worshipers craving for a quick bite or two, providing critical mass for stalls hungry for footfall. Over time, this gave birth to the Miaokou Night Market, which is just outside Dianji Temple; Huaxi, a skip and a hop from Longshan Temple, as well as Raohe, next to the Ciyou Temple. Yansan sits in the trading area of Dadaocheng and Dihua Street and continues to be relevant today as it is near Taipei Bridge, one of the key bridges used for commute between New Taipei City and Taipei.

Fried Chicken at Kaixuan Qingnian night market.

Aside from knowing which days of the week a certain night market is open, knowing which night market is good for a certain snack such as oyster omelet, oyster mee sua (vermicelli soup), or dachang bao xiaochang, hotdogs encased in sticky rice, is essential too. Set aside ample time during your trip to Taiwan so you are able to visit one or two night markets each evening.

Feng Chia takes the creative lead, paving the way for new, inspired bites. Yan San, Lehua, and Kaixuan Qingnian offer authentic local flavors we love, right in the company of friendly locals in their habitat. If you like the buzz and an international crowd, then Shilin is your go-to night market and a well-loved starting point for visitors seeing Taiwan for the first time.  Above all, night markets are best visited when you are hungry, so arm yourself with a hearty appetite. Ideally, have a few friends in tow so you can share the calories.

Night markets feel exhilarating, especially when street vendors get creative with their craft. Here are some stalls that are worth trying:

Juicy sautéed clams.

1. Seaside Cottage

Feng Chia Night Market, Taichung 

Seaside Cottage does a brisk business peddling juicy sautéed clams. Cooked over high heat, the sautéeing action uses rice wine and garlic to lock in the briny goodness. The original flavor comes highly recommended.

Bubble tea in the form of a bowl of shaved ice.

2. Yongmei Shaved Ice

Lehua Night Market, New Taipei City

If you like bubble tea, trying having it in the form of a bowl of shaved ice. On those warm summer evenings, or even in winter, it is a real treat. Toppings such as egg roll crisps, powdered Oreo and warm tapioca balls round out this dessert of velvety snow.

Freshly fried golden pork buns.

3. Golden Pork Buns

Rotates between Qinggou & Dongshan Taihe Night Markets, Yilan

If mantou can be fried, so can buns (read: Taiwanese guabao). The folks behind golden pork buns deep fry these buns until they achieve a nice golden finish before adding fried pork, onions sauerkraut, and a dollop of herbal sauce. Other unique flavors are available for those feeling adventurous, including Korean kimchi, Japanese goma, Thai papaya, and more.

4. Ojikamiya Pancakes    

Feng Chia Night Market, Taichung

Ojikamiya has given the pancake a new lease of life by caramelizing the confection. A generous drizzle of earl gray sauce along with a serving of warm tapioca balls, and you have an attractive dessert that tastes as good as it looks.

Pan-fried drumsticks coated with cheese.

5. Gold Leg

Feng Chia Night Market, Taichung 

Chicken drumsticks get a real leg up here: these deboned drumsticks are first pan-fried and then drizzled with vanilla sauce. These inventive folks then layer on two types of cheese and bake the drumsticks to a nice golden finish, served up on a bed of julienned cabbage which adds a nice crunch to the dish.

Z Paella does a very good rendition of the Valencian stewed rice.

6. Z Paella

Ruei Fong Night Market, Kaohsiung

Z Paella does a very good rendition of the Valencian stewed rice–the flavors of the smoked bacon, small batch garlicky chorizo, chicken along with the red peppers and tomatoes conspire to draw you to the stall from miles away.

Mashed potato topped with various ingredients.

7. Dody Duke

Feng Chia Night Market, Taichung

Fast food staple mashed potato makes an appearance in the night markets with some surprising results. Each serving is laced with cheese icing, croutons, corn, broccoli, and a main topping of your choice. Choose from a selection of spicy chicken, honey mustard chicken, teriyaki chicken, and mushroom.

Revisiting the classics

What is a trip to the night markets without savoring the classics? Make room for deep fried items such as chicken cutlet and squid (often the size of a human face), fried chicken with Thai sauce, and stinky tofu paired with sauerkraut. If there is room for carbs, the delicious lu rou fan, otherwise known as stewed minced pork rice, is a good choice.

Love it or hate it, stinky tofu is a staple at Taiwan’s night markets.

Taiwanese love a good salad when they are at the markets. Chicken salads are best eaten on the spot as they are tossed a la minute–choose from an array of chicken parts along with vegetables such as broccoli, celery, tomatoes, and bean products. The pork version consists of stewed parts of a pig which can be matched with vegetables, sauerkraut, and tossed for a snack that you can eat on the go.

Sweet treats in the form of red bean cakes.

If you have fancy eating like the locals, we highly recommend deboned chicken feet, wonderfully stewed and with all the hard lifting done for you. Otherwise, go for duck blood paired with tofu in a tasty broth or the pork blood cake, an oblong lolly made of pork blood, sticky rice, soy, steamed, and then coated with peanut powder.

As you walk the night market, leave room for bubble tea and be sure to try the red bean cakes or sweet potato balls.

Games people play

Night markets are filled with endless retail opportunities, from clothes and sports shoes to fashion accessories, and even daily essentials such as nail clippers–but none are quite as fun as auction stalls run by a “jiao mai ge”, an eloquent and verbose stall-owner.

The animated “jiao mai ge.”

Each night, he takes his audience through his Doraemon world of goodies such as soft toys, tech gadgets, and home appliances. He speaks in a fashion that is expressive and, at times, deadpan ad nauseam when he repeats the offer just before the figurative auction hammer falls. He is comfortable in Mandarin and Taiwanese, telling stories, and creating a convivial atmosphere that promotes shopping and bidding–no, make that outbidding. This entertaining spectator sport is fast disappearing as some famous owners have been known to bring the auction online to Facebook.

Put on your game face and have a go at the many game stalls at the night markets, such as throwing hoops over targets, archery, shooting balloons, pinballs, basketball, mahjong, claw machines, and plenty more.

The massive display of prizes are yours to bring home if you ace the game, and they certainly make for some cool arm candy on your evening stroll through the night market.

Address book

KAOHSIUNG

Kaixuan Qingnian Night Market

Open Thursday to Sunday; Kaixuan MRT Station or Kaixuan Ruitian Tram Station.

Ruei Fong Night Market

Open Tuesday, Thursday to Sunday; Kaohsiung Arena MRT Station.

TAIPEI 

Gongguan Night Market

Open daily except Wednesday; Gongguan MRT Station.

Huaxi Night Market

Open daily; Longshan Temple MRT Station.

Raohe Night Market

Open daily; Songshan MRT Station or Songshan Railway Station.

Shida Night Market

Open daily; Guting MRT Station.

Shilin Night Market

Open daily; Jiantan MRT Station.

Yansan Night Market

Open daily; Daqiaotou MRT Station.

TAICHUNG 

Feng Chia Night Market

Open daily; cab from Taichung Railway Station or Taichung High Speed Rail Station.

NEW TAIPEI CITY

Lehua Night Market

Open daily; cab from Dingxi MRT Station.

YILAN

Dongshan Taihe Night Market

Every Wednesday; cab from Xinma Railway Station.

Qinggou Night Market

Every Wednesday; cab from Luodong Railway Station.

KEELUNG

Miaokou Night Market

Every Wednesday; Keelung Railway Station.

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