Of Taiwan's many sights, the country's night markets are the one thing that visitors cannot miss. Taiwanese food is unbelievably delicious and diverse--night markets, in particular, are full of food stalls offering up unique dishes at low prices. Of course, for an outsider, it can be hard to understand what's going on. What's night market etiquette? How long are the lines? What time do vendors open their stalls? Which foods are the best? How much does food cost there? Are night markets just tourist traps that charge high prices? Read on for everything tourists need to know before visiting a Taiwanese night market for the first time.

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Taiwan's Night Market Culture

Night markets started in mainland China long ago. After working hard all day, people would gather in the street to eat, trade, and enjoy themselves. Chinese immigrants have spread this tradition elsewhere, including Taiwan where 95% of the population is of Han Chinese descent. The Taiwanese especially love their night markets and every city in the country has at least one. The Greater Taipei area may have as many as 30 different night markets, each with a distinct identity. Some have been running for more than a hundred years!

  • Quick fact: Shi Lin, one of Taipei's most famous night markets may date back as far as 1899. Today, more than 500 food vendors offer their wares here.

related: 10 Things You Can Only Do In Taipei, Taiwan

Food stalls are the most famous feature of night markets, but stands and shops offer many other types of goods and services. There are carnival games, electronics for sale, clothing, fresh produce, cell phone repair shops, massages, and nearly everything else within the realm of imagination.

  • Quick tip: While night markets offer just about anything, comfortable, clean restrooms can be hard to find. Visitors should go before leaving their hotel.

Night Market Foods

Some foods, like stinky tofu, can be found at every night market. Other dishes and specialties, like black pepper buns, may only exist at one stall in one specific market. People looking to try this delicacy, for example, will have to visit a stall in the Raohe Street Night Market called Fuzhou Pepper Buns. Sometimes the line there lasts 30 minutes or more, but everyone who visits agrees: these pepper buns are worth it.

  • Quick fact: Raohe Night Market is about 600 meters long--one of the biggest in Taipei--and has a distinctive arch entryway.

Travelers can find just about any kind of food at night markets including vegetarian options. The most traditional offerings include offal (entrails and internal organs of animals) and seafood. The Liaoning Street Night Market is known for its specialties like broiled squid and oyster omelets. Other stalls have sishen soup which is made with pig intestines and pork blood cake on a stick. These dishes may not make everyone's mouth water, but people looking to try something different should give them a try.

  • Quick tip: Night markets are generally very crowded and it can be difficult to move around. Visitors should "follow the flow" and keep their personal belongings close.

To truly enjoy a night market, travelers need to arrive late. Stalls often open at 6:00 PM, but going around 7:00 PM means finding a larger selection of wares. Sellers often stay open until after midnight. Going on an empty stomach is best since it means there's room to try more dishes.

  • Quick tip: Long lines usually indicate where the best food is and the flavors are worth the wait.

Night markets welcome tourists, but really they're for locals. Prices are usually the same for everyone--food stall workers generally don't inflate the price for tourists. Visitors will need to take cash, though, since most booths don't accept credit cards. Night markets are not places for bargaining and sellers expect to receive the amount they ask.

Approximate night market prices in USD:

  • Xiao Long Bao (Soupy Dumplings) - $.10-$.50 each
  • Gua Bao (Pork Belly Sandwich) - $1.80-$2.50
  • Spring Onion Pancake - $2-$4
  • Peanut Ice Cream Roll - $1.50
  • Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang (Hot Dog with Sticky Rice Bun) - $2.50
  • Fried Chicken Breast - $3.60
  • Flame Grilled Beef Cubes - $7.50
  • Stinky Tofu - $1.80

Which Night Markets Are The Best To Visit?

Shi Lin and Raohe are two of the largest and most famous night markets in Taipei, but that doesn't mean that they are the best. Smaller, neighborhood night markets also have a great atmosphere and food. Sometimes they're a little less busy and easier to navigate for first-timers.

Ced Zabala visited the Ximending Night Market in Taipei's fashion district and wrote this Google review: "This place is so hip and vibrant with various street performers that entertain the crowd. So many food choices but prices are quite higher than other night markets. Love the milk tea, stinky tofu, shaved ice with toppings, and big fried chicken! Love the vibe of this place!"

The Lehua Night Market in New Taipei is less popular with tourists since it's a little out of the way. Many people find it cleaner and less crowded than its counterparts and rave about the food there.

The best thing about night markets is that they open every day. Travelers in Taiwan can visit a different night market each day of their stay and find something new and wonderful at each one.

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