Travelers and locals alike are spoiled for choice when it comes to Taiwan’s innumerable night markets. And Taipei—the profoundly Buddhist and Taoist 13,000-square-mile capital city—does not disappoint.
Night markets first formed in Taipei’s old urban areas in the ’50s and had later sprout up along the city’s edges. Urban migrant workers made up the large majority of their consumer base, ordering up xiaochi foods that later attracted Taiwan’s local elite—among them, distinguished politicians and esteemed intellectuals. In the ’70s, night markets had spread into new suburbs and traveling night markets periodically popped up in rural towns—oftentimes, the towns were named after the dishes they’d served. By the ’80s, night markets became commonplace throughout the country, and, today, strong smells of stinky tofu and fried chicken feet permeate the pandemonium that is Taipei city.
If (when) you find yourself consumed in the chaos crowding the streets thronged with vendors and crawling with urbanites, consult this list. Here are six nights markets in Taipei you shouldn’t miss, and everything you need to know to navigate the night.
1. Raohe Night Market
Known for its variety of local snacks—pork feet noodles, squid stew, black pepper buns, sticky rice sausage, bubble tea—this is Taipei’s oldest night market, which means it has an authentic charm. It stretches just 600 meters across the heart of downtown and has a seating area in its center for those looking to stay awhile. Enter at the Song Shan Fu De Temple; to get there, take the MRT to Song Shan Station, walk out at Exit 5 and take a right to the temple. (5 PM – 12 AM)
2. Shilin Night Market
This is the largest and best-known night market in Taipei, perhaps because of its sheer size and the fact that it’s been around since the early 1900s. In 1915, Japanese colonists sold seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables out of a small brick home in the Shilin district, and, after World War II, it grew to become the base for hundreds of vendors. Today, it’s famed for a wide array of authentic Taiwanese eateries and clothing shops—most of which are housed in the indoor enclosure. The building has three basement floors and a ground floor; the first two levels are for parking and the third basement floor is where you’ll find food vendors. They spill out onto the surrounding streets, as well. Go for the fermented stinky bean curd or penis cakes, and be sure to stick to outside sellers for better quality (and cheaper) options. To get there, take the MRT Red Line to Jiantan Station. It’s just opposite. (5 PM to 12 AM)
3. Tonghua Night Market
Exotic delicacies from Taiwan, Malaysia and Japan abound in central Taipei, especially here. With over 100 vendors (food, clothing, accessories and trinkets) and neon signs that illuminate the pathways, this market attracts late-night shoppers of all ages. Young Taiwanese city-dwellers tend to go for the fashion and families more often opt for the plethora of local fares. Regardless, you’ll find far less tourists here than you would at Raohe or Shilin, even despite how close it is to Taipei’s main tourist attraction, Taipei 101 (the tallest building). The center isle has a variety of food vendors selling everything from fried chicken feet to braised duck tongue, but look out for the peanut brittle “burrito” dessert and sorbet. To get there, take the MRT Red Line to the Xinyi Anhe stop, walk out at Exit 4 and walk one block toward Taipei 101 to Tonghua Street. (5 PM – 2 AM)
4. Huaxi Night Market
It’s not only famous for its Chinese herbs, medicine and massage parlors, but also for its snakes. At the Huaxi Night Market, dubbed “Snake Alley,” regulars believe that snakes are a healthy, nourishing source of food for the human body. The reptiles, which are caged up until ordered, are served in soups, wines, cooked dishes and as medicine. You can also try turtles or any of the fresh seafood like squid. Because Hauxi Night Market—which is the first Taiwanese night market specifically designed for tourists with both English and Japanese signs—is located in walking distance to both the Guangzhou and Wuzhou night markets, the area is bustling after dark. To get there, take the MRT Blue Line to Long Shan Temple and just walk five minutes. (4 PM – 12 AM)
5. Ningxia Night Market
A local favorite, this was the first night market in Taiwan to separate pedestrian traffic from car traffic, and it’s been around for more than two decades. It’s a traditional bazaar with just one lane flanked by nothing but food stalls. It’s mildly claustrophobia-inducing given its density, but there are no clothing or accessories vendors cluttering your hunt for some local cuisine, and you can get through the whole market in under an hour. It has an abundance of sit-down restaurants, but it’s acclaimed for its finger foods like barbecued squid on a stick (see above where I try it), fish rolls, pig kidney and grilled cheesy scallops. To get there, take the MRT Green Line to Zhongshan, then head west down Nanjing West Road until you come to Ningxia and take a right into the market. (6 PM – 12 AM)
6. Gongguan Night Market
In close proximity to National Taiwan University and at the heart of the business district, this market is immensely popular among students. It boasts a breadth of coffee shops and teahouses, as well as shopping boutiques and bookstores. Be warned, however, that the street vendors serving up top seeds like pig’s blood cakes are so sought after, you could stand in lines for half an hour. To get there, take the MRT Green Line to MRT Gongguan Station. (6 AM – 12 AM)