Shilin Night Market is indisputably the most famous night market in Taiwan. Not only tourists, but locals too flock here for a vibrant night filled with superb food, dazzling clothes and amusing games. There are two sections to the market; one section is housed in the Shilin Market Building, while the other section is on the open streets. At Shilin Night Market, traditional and classic foods are showcased you’ll be able to get a gist of Taiwanese Street Food at a glance. Let’s start off with things to eat at the Shilin Market Building first !
The vendor will provide you with 7 fishing sticks @ NT100, each comprising of a stick connected to a small hook via a piece of thread.
2. Paper Pork （猪肉纸）
I would say this is a variation of “bak kwa”, only this is almost as thin as paper, drier and crunchier, but just as addictive. The paper pork comes in a few flavors including original, seaweed and black pepper.
While you are busy hunting for food, do take note of these two red-brick buildings on the same floor. They look old and they are indeed more than a 100 years old built by the Japanese during their occupation. These two buildings are now classified as historical sites in Taiwan.
In the same building, head over to the food court at the basement.
3. Stinky Tofu （臭豆腐）
Some call it putrid, some call it heavenly. It’s an acquired smell. There’s a stinky tofu stall as you descend from the B1 entrance to the basement. It’s so smelly pretty much everyone that walks pass this stall covers their noses. Other than the intolerable / wonderful smell, the dish is truly delectable that’s crisp and puffy with a punch from the pickled vegetables.
4. Oyster Omelette （蚵仔煎）
A simple egg omelette transcends to an ultimate delicacy with the addition of oysters. The starchy omelette is mixed with vegetables then topped with sweet chili sauce. You may ask for oysters only, or prawn only, or mixture of both.
5. Fried Bee Hoon （炒米粉）
The fried bee hoon is basic with a splash of braised minced pork. Try it for the texture as it is very much different from the Malaysian ones with an extra tad of springiness. Oh, and the vendor has their unique way of labeling their chili sauce. The chili sauce on the right says “This one is spicier”.
6. Seafood （海鲜）
A typical store like this would carry a good selection of seafood. Sea snails, prawns, scallops, baby soft shell crabs, etc. Most of them are in the range of NT 150 to NT 200 per plate.
Can you imagine these baby abalones are only NT200? Can’t imagine how much this plate of abalone in Malaysia would cost. The items are mostly deep-fried or grilled. While you are not getting the “feeling-the-liveliness-in-your-mouth” kind of freshness because the items are prepared from a frozen state, the price is sure uber-affordable.
7. Taiwan Beer （台湾啤酒）
Taiwan Beer is light and refreshing. I think ladies would resonate with me on this while gentlemen might think it is too light. Nonetheless, tick this off your checklist if you life goal is to savor every beer in all the countries you travel to.
Best yet, beer comes in fruity renditions too. Take your pick – orange, grapes, pineapple or mango (image credit http://www.twbeer.com.tw/). PS: Don’t drink and drive.
8. Big-Bread-Wraps-Small-Bread （大饼包小饼）
I really don’t know what to call this besides translating directly from its mandarin name – 大饼包小饼 (NT 35)。 The vendor lays a piece of capati-like-pastry (but thinner ad softer) on the wooden board, places the brown crisp bread on the capati, hammers it to pieces, adds a sweet topping (red beans, peanuts, sesame, coconut or yam) or savory topping (curry, meat floss or black pepper) and wraps up the whole ensemble.
9. Fresh Juices （果汁）
With advanced agriculture, fruits are exceptionally sweet in Taiwan. Pineapples don’t even have the slightest hint of sourness; lychees are grown with puny seeds to maximize flesh volume and bitter gourds are not bitter. If you can’t decide which one to drink, try the classic papaya milk drink. For the adventurous, try the bitter gourd juice or the custard apple juice.
10. Aiyu Jelly （爱玉）
Most of the drinks stores would have this. It is made from fig seeds. Upon washing of the seeds, a gelatinous jelly is formed, best eaten with sugar syrup and a drizzle of lemon juice. Aiyu originates from the Chia Yi / Alishan region of Taiwan.
Moving onto the streets,
11. Oyster Mian Xia / Mee Sua （蚵仔面线）
Oyster Mian Xian / Mee Sua is an iconic Taiwanese street food. The gooey, bonito -laced noodle soup with oysters that impart a note of umami is a national favorite. Ah Zhong Mian Xian in Ximending is particularly famous with patrons willing to queue; but seriously, it doesn’t really matter where you eat this dish because it won’t go wrong.
12. Pepper Pork Bun （胡椒饼）
There was a queue even when it was raining. After trying the bun, I understood why. The crispy bun envelopes a heavenly bolus of juicy, peppery, succulent minced meat that’s to die for. After one bite, I was a follower. The bun reaches your hands as soon as it leaves the oven it’s almost too hot to hold. Eat the bun as soon as possible because the bread gets a bit soggy with the heat after sometime. You can also find the original branch at Raohe Night Market.
13. Phallic Symbol Ice Cream / Pastry / Soap （大雕冰/大雕烧/大雕香皂）
Sex Sells. It doesn’t matter when, how, what, where, it just sells, even when it’s in the form of food. Nobody could keep a straight face while walking past this store. The ice cream ones are of course to be consumed right away while the long lasting ones such as pineapple pastry and soap could be brought home as souvenirs to generate some giggling.
14. Honey Barbecue （蜜汁烧烤）
15. Braised Food with Shacha Sauce （沙茶卤味）
Taiwanese braise anything and everything. Chicken wings, chicken innards, pork balls, bean curd, eggs, pig’s blood cake and vegetables are classic items on the braising menu. The soy sauce based marinade differs from stall to stall; some makes it with an additional herbal accent, while some makes use of “shacha sauce” like this particular one.
16. Giant Grilled Squids (大鱿鱼）
17. Fried Mackerel Thick Soup (魠魚羹)
The mackerel fish slices are coated in spiced batter, deep fried, and dunked into a vegetable-based thick soup with a note of sweetness. The fish slices amazingly taste quite like deep-fried chicken. Imagine poop-corn chicken (咸酥鸡) but now it’s made with fish.
18. Giant Sausages （大香肠）
Now sausage lovers can get overdosed with sausages because these sausages now are twice as big. Another popular item from a sausage stall would be “Big Sausage Wraps Small Sausage” (大肠包小肠), an ensemble of a glutinous rice sausage wrapping a small meat sausage.
19. Shaved Ice （雪花冰）
20. Three-Kinds-of-Ice (三种冰)
Before taro balls and herbal jelly became systematic and SOP-ed to form franchises like Snowflake and Meetfresh, the stores were typically your neighborhood dessert stores by the roadside and they all had a generic name called Three-Kinds-Of-Ice, where you would choose three kinds of topping (or more at an additional price) to add on to your shaved ice / herbal jelly /green bean soup. Trying a traditional one in Taiwan is much different from say, Snowflake. It reeks nostalgia and it’s easy to add too much topping with a myriad of topping all laid out in front of you.
21. Bacon wraps （培根卷）
22. Cow Tongue Pastry （牛舌饼）
23. Tanghulu – Sugar Coated Fruits (冰糖糖葫芦)
Traditionally, sourish fruits are coated with rock candy syrup. The syrup forms a hard coating and as you sink your teeth into it, the combination of crackling sweetness and palate-teasing sourness will win you over.
24. All the Other Things You Didn’t Get to Eat
Of course it’s not possible to eat everything at the market in one go ! There are bound to be something that you swore to yourself that you will come back again for. Perhaps that ferocious soup with snakes and turtles;
or that Hot Star Fried Chicken you might have already tried in Malaysia and decided to leave your stomach for something else;
Shilin Night Market Official Website
Getting there : via Jiantan MRT Station. You’ll be able to see the market once you exit the station.