Night Markets in Taiwan are about more than just the food. They are an event; a place for families and friends to gather. The food is sold fresh and cheaply, making the markets a convenient way to dine daily. In Taipei the most well-known Night Market is in Shilin, an area popular with expats. The food stalls are intermingled with fashion stores and juice bars. The food is just as cheap and tasty as found in other night markets but I noticed there were more items with Western twists.
In Hualien, however, a smaller city 200 kms south of Taipei, I felt like I got to experience a Night Market like a local. Mine was the only Western face I saw in the whole of Ziqiang Street Market (not that anyone batted an eyelid). Luckily for me I had two Taiwanese guides who were able to help me identify the different snacks on offer. Here’s what delights I discovered.
First up we went to the market’s most famous barbecue stall and selected some skewers to be cooked on the grill. A tin tray is provided for you to put your choice of meats and veg in. The stall holder will then take your tray and replace it with a ticket. They grill the items there and then and you come back to claim your cooked items within a few minutes (or longer if visiting at a busy time). Each serving costs less than 50p and contains several skewers. My favourite was the asparagus wrapped in bacon and small squid balls. I wasn’t so much of a fan of the chicken bums and pigs blood rice cakes but I gamely tried them all!
The Zigiang Night Market is also famous for its ‘coffin boards’ – thick bread that is deep-fried, hollowed out and filled with meat and veg. It’s like french toast and South Africa bunny chow combined – delicious but as likely to lead to an early grave as the name suggests.
Hardly any part of an animal is wasted in Taiwan and, just like in China and Hong Kong, chicken feet are a popular snack. Although I don’t find them very appetizing to look at, once deep-fried they are rather tasty to nibble on. More so than the pig’s ear which I also tried ( and don’t plan to ever do so again!).
Japanese cuisine has had a huge influence on Taiwanese food and sushi and Japanese style fish balls are also popular at the Night Market. There was one sign I could read though that reminded me of many menus I had seen in Ireland. It said ‘Cheese Potato’ and sold exactly that – gooey cheese served on potato. There was a bit of sweetcorn and spring onion thrown in for good measure, but mainly it was just cheese and potato! Unexpected but good.
Juice bars are just as popular in Taiwan as Bubble Tea. With such a large range of fruit and vegetables grown locally there are more flavours of smoothie on offer at the Night Market than I have ever seen before. It was a little overwhelming for me to decide, so I ended up with just a banana smoothie, but it was a really good one.
The Night Market is a sociable place and there are seating areas dispersed throughout for groups to sit down and dine. I spotted families enjoying steak on a hot plate whilst others shared a hot pot of broth. For younger children there are also games and arcades to keep them amused.
Ziqiang Night Market is one of Taiwan’s smaller markets but this makes it far less overwhelming for a first timer. Make sure you visit on an empty stomach though – there are so many new and wonderful foods you’ll want to try.
At the intersection Of Ziqiang Rd and Heping Rd, Ji’an Township, Hualien County, Taiwan
Flights to Taipei via Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific start from £839 in Economy and £1399 for Premium Economy. Click here to read my review of the Premium Economy flight. To book visit www.cathaypacific.co.uk.
I travelled to Taiwan in association with Taiwan Tourism UK. You can find more information about my trip, as well as regularly updated insider tips, on the Taiwan Tourism UK Facebook page.