I stood on the outer edge of Shilin Night Market and waited for my Taiwanese friend, Lee, to find me. I’d be joining him and his friends on a self-guided tour of Taipei’s night markets, where we’d browse through the hundreds of food stalls in search of the perfect dinner.
Food salesmen set up their stands with efficiency and the night market became more crowded by the minute. People filed out of the nearby train station and started lining up at the stands – with some stands having at least ten people in line before they’d finished setting up.
A man selling pork skin shooed me away from his stand. He didn’t want others with cash in hand thinking his line was longer than it was.
Lee walked over to me with a smile.
“Taipei locals almost never cook at home,” Lee explained. “I don’t think I’ve used my kitchen in weeks – not even for breakfast.”
It’s often too hot and humid in Taipei to socialize during the day, so nighttime is when locals get out and mingle with friends. Food from a night market is cheap, delicious, and convenient, so there’s little incentive to spend time indoors making a meal.
After spending a week browsing night markets all throughout the city, here are the best night markets to visit in Taipei and the foods you need to try.
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market is the largest and most popular night market in Taipei. After 5 p.m., hundreds of stalls set up throughout the neighborhood in between clothing shops and restaurants. Foods range from classic Taiwanese dishes like beef noodles, dumplings, and bubble milk tea to stands with a Japanese or Western influence. Walk through the market before settling on what to buy, as the best stands are often tucked away in the middle.
If sit-in dining is more your style, consider eating at Modern Toilet, a loo-themed restaurant that serves sludge-colored curries and chocolate ice cream out of miniature toilet bowls. True to the theme, every seat is a toilet – but the waitstaff iterate that the seats are non-functional and for decorative purposes only.
How to get there: Take the MRT to Jiantan station.
Raohe Night Market
Raohe Night Market is thought to be the oldest night market in Taipei, where hundreds of stalls squeeze together on a quarter-mile street between shops. Since it is in a confined area, Raohe tends to be the most crowded night market, with long wait times at the most popular stands. Though there’s seating at the end of the market, it’s best to take your food and walk towards the edge of the river where it’s much less hectic and you’ll likely hear buskers singing for their supper.
Raohe Night Market is best known for serving some of the best xiao long bao, a soft dumpling filled with broth, in all of Taipei. Some stands are so popular, they have a separate line area. Many chefs are protective over their recipes and will scold you for filming or taking pictures.
How to get there: Take the MRT to Song Shan Station. Walk through exit #5. There is a bright red sign marking the entrance.
Tonghua Night Market
While you’re in Taipei, you’ll no doubt be visiting the Taipei 101 tower, one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. The inside of the Taipei 101 is known for having a variety of restaurants to dine at, but you’ll find food that is just as delicious and much cheaper at the Tonghua Night Market, the closest market nearby.
The Tonghua Night Market is the only market that stays open until 2 a.m., making it a great place to stop by in between singing songs at the Taipei karaoke bars. The largest night markets get all the attention when it comes to tourists, so the Tonghua Night Market has a much more local clientele and atmosphere. Most stalls at Tonghua Night Market won’t have signs in English, but you’ll be fine by just pointing at a picture or at what they’re cooking.
How to get there: Take the MRT to Xinyi Anhe station. Walk through exit #3 and continue towards Tonghua Road.
Top Taiwanese foods to try
Stinky tofu: While you’re walking through any market, you’re sure to catch the whiff of something putrid. Stinky tofu smells worse than it tastes, and it’s best to sample it at a stall with a long line of locals trailing behind it. Though there are many types, the best stinky tofu is marinated in brine, fried, and served with cabbage.
Noodle soup: One of the most popular dishes in Taiwan is beef noodle soup. You can find it just about anywhere in Taipei. The dish is so iconic among Taiwanese people, there is even a yearly festival that takes place honoring it. It’s typically served in a chili-butter broth with beef chunks and spices.
Shaved ice: When you look at the ingredients, Taiwanese shaved ice can seem very unappealing. The dish consists of a pile of shaved ice, fruit slices, an assortment of cold beans, tapioca, mochi, and syrup. Surprisingly, Taiwanese shaved ice is a refreshing and filling treat after a long day sightseeing in the Taipei heat.
Fried milk: Crispy on the and golden on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside.
Pan-fried buns: Most of the best pan-fried bun chefs have brought their recipe over from mainland China and now serve it with a Taiwanese twist. A soft, white dough is filled with meats and spices, usually pork, and fried on one side.
Gua bao: Gua bao is so popular, there are many restaurants dedicated to serving nothing but gua bao all throughout Taipei. Pork belly, mustard, coriander, and nuts are cooked together and wrapped in fluffy white bread.
Bubble milk tea: Taiwan is proud of being the originator of bubble milk tea (boba), a sweet milk drink that comes in all types of flavors with a generous pile of tapioca balls at the bottom that you slurp up through a thick straw.
Iron eggs: At the convenience stores, on the side of the road, and at every night market you’ll see iron eggs, hard-boiled eggs cooked in water with spices and soy sauce.
Xiao long bao: Finding good xiao long bao in Taiwan is easy. Finding excellent xiao long bao, however, is a challenge. This is because of the precision it takes to master the art of making a soup dumpling. First a pouch of dough is filled with a warm broth, often pork, beef, or chicken flavored. Then, the dumpling is pinched together and steamed to perfection. Eating xiao long bao is an experience, because transferring the dumpling from the basket to your mouth without puncturing it requires mindfulness and precision.