Friday, July 22, 2011

Taiwan's Night Markets

Packed with vendors selling traditional snacks and low-priced merchandise, the Taiwan island’s ever-popular night markets are bulwarks against the relentless tide of modernization.

Taiwan_night_Market, ball bead

For many first-time visitors to Taiwan, the sight of streets lined with vendors had them reaching for their cameras. Locals react differently: Often, the smells wafting from such places make their mouths water.

In the days of yore, Taiwan's temples severed as social and business hubs as well as religious centers, so it is hardly surprising that some of the island’s oldest night markets are associated with places of worship. The most famous of these is Miaokou(廟口) Night Bazaar in Keelung (基隆) – miao means “temple” and kou means “entrance”. This market developed around Dianji (奠濟宮) Temple and is now much better known than that shrine.

Big-city night markets emerged as social institutions in the decades after World War II. Taiwan was rapidly industrializing and hordes of country people moved to the cities to become factory workers. Many of them lived in cramped dwellings that lacked electric fans, let alone air-conditioning. Night markets were popular because these gave blue-collar folk somewhere to go on sweltering evenings. Of course, being able to fill their stomachs for a few dollars was also an important attraction.

A number of night markets have evolved into tourist destinations in their own right. Taipei’s Shilin (士林) Night Market, which is unusual because it’s housed inside a permanent building, falls into this category. Just a few minutes’ walk from Jiantan (劍潭) MRT Station, this night market features more than 500 vendors, many of which stay open well after midnight.

Surprisingly, Taichung’s (台中) biggest and best night market is found out in the city’s northwestern suburbs. Named after the adjacent university, on a typical evening Fengchia (逢甲) Night Market feeds a large part of the campus population, plus thousands of others who come by bus, bicycle or motorcycle. Driving a car to any major night market is inadvisable because of heavy traffic and parking difficulties. To reach Fengchia Night Market from downtown, take city bus no.22 or 25.

Unlike Shilin and Fengchia, both of which have been going for decades, Garden (花園) Night Market  in Tainan (台南) has a mere 12 years of history. Nonetheless, on the days it opens (Thursday, Saturday and Sunday), Haian (海安) Road Section 3 is without doubt the most crowded and exciting evening spot anywhere in the former capital. If you love bustle, you will find it a dandy place to spend an hour. This market isn’t easy to reach by public transportation, but a taxi from downtown won’t cost more than NT$100.

Kaohsiung’s (高雄) main night market is within walking distance of the train station, and stone’s throw from Formosa Boulevard KMRT Station (leave by Exit 11). Open from dusk till midnight every day of the week. it’s more international than many of its counterparts. Turkish ice cream and Pakistani curries are available, as are sushi, sashimi and Japanese-style seaweed wraps filled with salad or roe.

Each part of Taiwan has its signature foods, and night markets are excellent places to sample these dishes. At Shilin, for instance, there are dabingbaoxiaobing. The Chinese name means, “small bun wrapped inside a large bun”. The former is a kind of deep-fried dumpling filled with red beans or sesame that’s wrapped inside a floury pancake.

Fengchia Night Market had notable local delicacies such as Fengyuan (粉圓) meatballs (Fengyuan sanjiaoyuan). They differ from other meatballs in that they are bite-sized, shaped like tiny pyramids, and red shallots are added to the pork.

Taiwan’s southwestern coast is dotted with oyster beds, so it’s no surprise one popular specialty in Taiwan’s Garden Night Market is oyster omelet (ezijian). This gooey concoction, made by adding starch, green vegetables and sweetish red sauce to eggs and oysters, may not be your thing. But what makes night market so wonderful is that you can be sure something delicious awaits you – and that hunting for it is going to be a lot of fun.


Taiwan_night_Market03
Beside the delicious foot, there are many funny game in Taiwan’s night market. Fishes the goldfish is one of the popolar game.

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The Bracketball arcade game game in Taiwan night market.

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