As I left Jiantan station on the Tamsui Line, I could immediately smell the scents of Shilin Night Market which really made my tummy rumble! The market usually opens at 4pm and remains open until around 3am. However, tourists don’t usually stay as long as the Taipei locals, as once we’ve eaten as much as we can, we head back to the hostel and try not to be sick during the night…
There are two different segments to the Shilin Night Market. Firstly, there is a food court with over 500 stalls, plus some small local restaurants. Secondly, there is an outdoor section where all non-food items are sold. As you can imagine, both sections are very busy from start of trade right to the very end. There are some cinemas and karaoke bars in the area but I didn’t get the chance to experience them, for I was only here for the famous Taiwanese street food!
One of the snacks I had at Shilin was the famous Taiwanese Sausage, which is actually like a hotdog, but with the sausage stuffed inside another sausage! Pretty cool! There’s plenty of other yummy delights around, and everywhere you look you will see something that appears tastier than the last thing you looked at!
Not everything you will find at Shilin is tantalising to the taste buds. For example, there is a snack known in these parts as iron eggs, which are basically old hard-boiled eggs with a distinctive dark colouring. The texture of the egg inside is very hard and unappetising. Also, you will notice pig’s blood rice cakes, which while not quite as disgusting as they sound, still highlight the different culture of the Taiwanese people compared to what I am used to back home in the UK.
Taiwan is known for many things, but among those things is CHICKEN! They love to deep fry their gigantic sized chicken portions here, and at Shilin (and other night markets) you can always be sure to see some being cooked and stored on the roadside. These large chicken pieces are among the most popular food items at Shilin, but I don’t imagine they are the healthiest snack in the world!
I fancied some squid, but these ones were way too large for liking. I would have needed a bib to consume all that – it’s not what I call finger food! Coffin toast (Guancai Ban) is another perennial favourite Taiwanese snack around these parts, although I am told it originated not in Taipei, but in Tainan. One thing I did miss from Shilin, is the lack of insects on sticks. I can remember these from Wangfujing Night Market in Beijing. Still, without seeing any fried tarantulas I still had a clear thought in my mind: Shilin was one of the best night markets I have visited on my travels thus far.
Although I came to the market to experience the culinary delights on offer here, I also had a quick look around at the non-food items, which included a lot of fabrics and fashion for the Taiwanese youth, and some rather weird-looking objects which we were encouraged to pick up and pose with! These are affectionately known as “cock cakes” or “penis waffles” and can be coated in chocolate or cream! The friendly vendors of Shilin will often let you pose with the “cock cakes” free of charge, although if you are to purchase one, I can assure you they taste delicious!
I didn’t get to try any ice cream during my foray through Shilin Night Market – maybe it was the wrong time of the year for the vendors to be selling it? Anyhow, I did see some healthy and fresh fruit and vegetables, which makes for a nice alternative to the calorific treats for which this night market is known. One of my favourite Taiwanese snacks is the gua bao, which is a kind of hamburger. I saw many freshly prepared gua bao in cellophane wrapping ready to be purchased for take away. I wish I had bought one for my ride back on the Metro!
All in all, Shilin Night Market fully deserves its praise as the King of the Night Markets. I had a whale of a time there and would go back in a flash, if I had the chance. How does Shilin compare to the other mega market of Taipei, Raohe? Well, it is very close between them, but certainly Shilin has more of a loft reputation. Whether that is deserved or not, you be the judge!
Further reading: Taiwan’s Best Street Food!