In our Lonely Planet guide, night markets and street food were included in Taiwan’s top 15 things to do and see so we decided to visit as many as possible.
Our first was Raohe Street Night Market in the capital Taipei which we found easily by following the Mandarin and Pinyin signs on the metro. On exiting, we followed the crowds to one long street closed to traffic. Stalls on either side were selling a variety of food: squid, sweet and savoury snacks, noodle soups, frittata type dishes, lots of fresh fruit, whole and blitzed into smoothies, and many other things of an indeterminate nature.
We walked the length of the street and spied what was described as a ‘suckling pig’ being chopped up. I knew that suckling pig was meant to be small i.e. a sucking piglet, but this creature was considerably larger. It looked pretty good but we continued on until the end of the street when we turned around. As well as food stalls there was a variety of other shops selling toys and clothes and other amusement places, lottery sellers, fortune tellers, nail bars and massage parlours. We also saw women having a road-side facial treatment called ‘rolling the face’ which removes facial hair.
There was very little English spoken and most of the signs were only in Mandarin. As I’m not a particularly adventurous eater, I decided that vegetarian was the best option and we tried soft buns stuffed with leeks (NT$12 or 25p) which, in the absence of anywhere to sit, we ate standing in a shop doorway. They were delicious if slightly messy. On returning to Mr Suckling Pig, we shared a large portion topped with a squirty red sauce and crackling – this time eaten on a street corner. Pudding was, what we think was recommended in our guide book, black pepper cakes eaten standing outside one of the ubiquitous Seven-Eleven shops. This appeared to be a very local market as we didn’t see a single western tourist.
The next market on our agenda was Shilin night market again in Taipei. This was bigger and more complicated in its layout, but we followed the crowds trying to remember the advice given to us earlier by Gordon our guide. It was extremely crowded and we made arrangements where to meet in case we lost each other. We walked down one street which was mainly clothes and toys with our progress hindered by people putting goods out to sell on the floor in the centre of the path. It was not as easy to navigate as Raohe as there was a maze of streets and we weren’t really sure where to go. We eventually found a covered market which we walked through with a sign for food in the basement but I recalled Gordon advising against it. We came out onto a street with food but it was so busy it was hard to see what the stalls were offering and what we could see didn’t tempt us and finally it would have been another ‘standing up dinner’. After an hour we decided to return to our hotel and head for the bar next door.
Our third attempt was Liuhe Night Market in Kaohsiung which was directly outside the metro. It was one single, uncrowded street with mainly food stalls. Although there were a variety of food, this was specializes in fish, both dead and alive, including scallops, lobster, prawns, salmon, oysters etc. There was also lots of stall with intestine (including intestine sausages) and so we were a little wary. At last we found a market with somewhere to sit with plastic communal tables and chairs laid out down the middle of the road. We found a seat and celebrated with a large, very chilled can of Taiwan beer for NT$50 and people watched. We saw a stall selling buns being baked in a tandoori type oven and I tried one with potato and cheese filling whilst Roy opted for spicy pork. Again, we managed to find a couple of seats. This was definitely the best of the three markets as there were less people, a better selection of food and more importantly, somewhere to sit and eat it.
We were glad we tried the night markets, but they’re certainly not a gastronomic experience.