Night markets (夜市, ye4 shi4) are an essential part of Taiwanese culture. When visiting one of the many night markets, expect to experience a huge mix of Taiwan culture and people, all in one place. These are groups of stalls set up to sell food, drinks, clothing, and other random items, and though a few are permanent, most are set up on streets that are used normally during the day.
Even though they’re called night markets, the larger ones often start in the late afternoon, and begin to close up around midnight or 1AM.
Particularly famous (and recommended!) is ShiLin Night Market (士林夜市 shi4lin2 ye4shi4), which is one of the largest night markets in Taiwan and has a wide selection of food and clothing.
Food in Taiwan
Night markets sell every kind of Taiwanese food you could think of–and many you couldn’t. Some of the best include fried potato balls, oyster omelets, and any kind of fruit juice you could imagine. Some of the most unusual and unexpected include snails (boiled in giant pots; you pick the meat out with a toothpick), snake soup, blood sausage, and the infamous “stinky tofu” (臭豆腐, chou4 dou4fu). However strange or unappetizing these sound, they’re all worth a try—even something that smells and looks disgusting, like stinky tofu, can turn out to be delicious! Try bringing a Taiwanese buddy, who can point out the best foods, best prices and give you advice on ordering.
Night-markets also showcase Taiwanese fashion styles. Taiwanese fashion is extremely different from American fashion, but that’s half the fun—you can revamp your wardrobe with clothes you’d never be able to get in America! Plus, Taiwanese clothes are made to fit the weather, with light colors and thin fabrics in the summer, usually not skin-tight since that can be sweaty and uncomfortable in humid climates. This means you’ll be even more prepared for the weather in Taiwan, as well as experiencing the varying styles in Taiwan.
A warning travel tip for women: although Taiwanese people do dress for the weather, they do so with light, thin fabrics—NOT by exposing more skin. Extremely low-cut shirts and other skimpy clothing is likely to be frowned upon, and may scandalize your Taiwanese hosts. Similarly, many public pools don’t allow bikinis or two-piece swimsuits, and do require swim caps for both men and women.
Fun in Night Markets!
Although many night markets are split into food and clothing areas, which I’ve discussed, the best advice I can give you is to explore! There are usually small stalls with trinkets, toys and souvenirs, as well as stalls featuring games with prizes. However, take the crowds seriously—night markets are literally packed with people, so be careful and don’t get lost! Keep track of the people you’re with, and hold onto each other when in large crowds because it’s easy to get separated. If you get overwhelmed or tired, there are often lounges, bars, or other sit-down areas in the very middle of the markets, where you can get a drink and relax.