Taiwanese Night Markets: Awake and Vibrant

Written by Jonathan Morales (Colgate University) Student Correspondent CET Taiwan, Summer 2017

The night markets in Taiwan are so alive. Being from New York City, I understand that not all cities have activities or places to eat well into the night. So I wasn’t very surprised to see that restaurants in Taiwan aren’t open too late. I still found it inconvenient, however. But my Taiwanese experience changed when I discovered the night market only two blocks from my home. The night market was literally a different world compared to how the street looks in the morning, afternoon, and early evening. At night the street was crowded and the smells were almost entirely of food. I did not know what I was walking into when I began my journey down the street.

This night market that I first went to is the Tonghua Night Market by my home, and it stretches several blocks.  My initial impression was that the street was packed with people, almost a little too crowded (and I am someone who grew up with crowds; I’m very used to them). I was quickly able to tell that the defining feature of this night market was the food. There were stores and restaurants along the street within the buildings, and right outside of them were various food stands and carts lined up along the side of the street.  In the center of the street were more stands and carts, most of which sold food. The people in the market all walked on the right when facing either direction. The food that makes night markets popular, referred to as xiaochi in Chinese (which literally translates to “small eat”), is a defining feature of Taiwanese culture. This varied type of food is a mixture of fried goods, various meats and seafood products, tofu, and more. This type of food could be a snack, or even a little more than that, but it doesn’t amount to an entire meal.

Sometimes I would walk by a food stand that sells chou doufu (which means “stinky tofu”) and I would immediately walk faster to get by the smell. Stinky tofu is considered to be an acquired taste that the majority of Taiwanese people enjoy to eat, and they are accustomed to the smell. Being a foreigner I am not used to the smell, but I think once I can get past the smell I will be able to see what it tastes like (which is a story for another day).

There were many stores selling various things, ranging from electronics to clothing. I was able to buy a nice, cheap wallet.  Later in the summer, I plan to return to Tonghua Night Market to purchase a basketball jersey that has someone’s name written in Chinese on the back, which would look very cool.

My personal favorite part of any Taiwanese night market are the various arcades and carnival games. I’ve only won a single stuffed animal from a claw machine during my time in Taiwan but I don’t think my wallet likes that I often keep trying to win another. There are also many stands that consist of shooting a BB gun to pop various balloons. Sometimes the guns look very realistic, but I assure you that they only shoot BB ammo. In order for anyone to win a prize, they have to pop a balloon with every single bullet! However, if you pop enough of them, you can get a minor prize like a deck of cards or some post-it notes that look like Taiwanese currency. Even if you don’t win, it’s still fun to partake and chat with the local Taiwanese people who run the stands! At the Tonghua Night Market, I now have a favorite arcade and mango shaved ice stand that I will always go to. Going to any night market really is the most fun thing to do in the evening!