Everyone who visits Taipei wants to go to the Shilin Night Market 士林夜市. It's one of Taipei's most famous hot spots or to say it in simple terms: You have to visit it. Some people would die to spend one evening there. I heard stories of Chinese Malaysian or Singaporean men breaking up families just to visit this famous night market. Shilin Night Market is the dream land for Chinese all over the world: It's close to what English call heaven. Every Chinese man wants to eat that famous chicken cutlet, gulp down the sweet bubble tea and observe hot Taiwanese girls (me included).
TAIWANESE CULTURE: Taiwanese love to eat, eating together is the essence of the Taiwanese culture. When it comes to food, Taiwanese are very generous: "You must try this, you must try that. This is famous, that is famous, this chicken is yummy, that rice is delicious." Taiwanese will not leave you hungry, that's for sure. In Taiwan you can't find a single street, that would not have either a food stall, a restaurant or just the smell of freshly prepared food. Some people even transport their stalls on tricycles and sell food on the main roads and back streets almost everywhere you go. Taiwanese are simply amazing, when it comes to food.
OVERRATED? I'm not saying the food at Shilin Night Market is bad, but some things sold there are either normal or not soooo special, that I would break up a family for it. Most Taiwanese would not say that this is the best night market in Taiwan or Taipei, but it's definitely one of the most famous and heavily advertised ones. If you ask me, I prefer to go to Ningxia and Xingnan Night Market instead. The first time I went to Shilin, I wasn't very pleased. It was rainy and there were so many people, I felt like a fish in a tin. I had just come to Taiwan from Europe and we had a very cold winter that year (2010) and I had to spend most of the time at home. I wasn't used to so many people and frankly it made me a bit moody to be pushed from the left to the right. If you come to Taiwan for the first time, the masses at night markets are definitely a challenge. Well, 2 months later, I became totally cool about crowds and I did't let them spoil my mood.
HOW THINGS RUN: Just remember: It can get crowded. Very crowded. That's how things work at Shilin Night Market: You pass by food stalls and they keep asking you to eat at their place, they say something like: "Comeee, comeee, eat our squid soup!" I recommedn you however to keep walking and check the prices and the food they offer. When you know what you want, you'll need to wait a little. Usually most of the stalls are full and all seats are occupied. Sometimes they will find a seat for you and squeeze you in and you'll most likely end up sitting at a small corner. When you get your dish, you'll need to eat fast, they expect you to leave quickly, because more people are queueing and the owner wants to sell more food. Don't expect a joie de vivre you know from Europe, where you sit down comfortably, eat slowly, possibly enjoy a nice drink afterwards (like coffee or tea) and converse. That's NOT the case in Taiwanese night markets, so forget it! You're in Asia. A lot of people are eating out here, markets are crowded, Taiwan is crowded. So eat fast and leave fast, that's how Taiwanese do!
WHAT KIND OF FOOD IS COMMON: This part is full of traditional and popular snacks, such as the oyster omelette 蚵仔煎 (é zǐ jiēn), stinky tofu 臭豆腐 (chòu dòu fu), green onion cake蔥油餅 (cōng yóu bǐng), salty chicken 鹽水雞 (yén shueǐ jī), big sausage 大香腸 (dà xiāng cháng), thick cuttle fish soup 花枝羹 (huā zhī gēng), Taiwanese tempura 天婦羅 (tiēn fù luō), deep fried chicken cutlet 炸雞排 (zhá jī pái) and fried baozi 生煎包 (shēng jiēn bāo). There are also some non-traditional foods available, such as steak 牛排 (nioú pái), potato chips 馬鈴薯片 (mǎ líng shǔ piēn) and a meat roll 大餅包小餅 (dà bǐng bāo xiǎo bǐng).
MUST-TRY FOOD AT SHILIN NIGHT MARKET: Some of the most famous stalls are: Big Headed Dragon stall 大頭龍 selling oyster omelette 雞蛋蚵仔煎, Shilin's Perfect Spare Ribs stall 士林十全排骨 selling spare ribs in a soup, Big Uncle stall 豪大大 selling deep fried chicken cutlets 雞排 and Shilin's Traditional Shop 士林老字號 selling small roll in a large roll 大餅包小餅. Regarding snacks, I think you need to try the oyster omelette, thetempura and the stinky tofu. My favorite dish however is the chicken cutlet. There's usually a long queue, but it's worth to wait. In any case, observe every stall well: If there are huge crowds and people queueing, it must be good, so go for it.
HOW TO GO TO SHILIN NIGHT MARKET? If you want to go to Shilin Night Market, you need to take the MRT train to Jiantan MRT station (part of red line). If you go from Taipei's main station, you'll arrive in Shilin pretty quickly, maybe in 20 minutes. Don't make the mistake and go to the Shilin MRT station, which is right after Jiantan. That station is too far from the main night market area and you'll need to walk longer. The Shilin Night Market is divided in two parts. The roofed part is smaller, more crowded and is meant for tourists. It's located right next to Jiantan MRT. You just have to cross the road and you're there. The other part is located further north and it's meant for locals. That part is bigger and doesn't only sell food, there are shops, stores, bars and restaurants and mostly young people go there. I recommend you to go to both parts, although I prefer the second one more.
1 Shilin Night Market: The part for touristsCan you take the noise and heat of Taipei's famous night market
The roofed part of the Shilin Night Market is the one, that's usually heavily advertised and attracts mostly foreign tourists. It's not my type of market, but if you're new in Taipei, I think it will be very convenient for you, because you'll see a lot of food at one place and in case of rain, you'll be fine. If you don't mind huge crowds, pushing people and strong smells, you will enjoy this part a lot.
Let me show you photos and a video from my 2010/2011 visits:
Huge crowds are usually gathering in front of the market.
The next thing you'll see are games that are commonly played at amusement parks.
This part can get much more crowded on Friday nights.
POPULAR SNACK: FRIED CHICKEN CUTLET 豪大大雞排
This is one of the most popular stalls at the Shilin Night Market.
Big Unlce's huge fried chicken cutlet.
POPULAR SNACK: OYSTER OMELETTE 蚵仔煎
POPULAR SNACK: STINKY TOFU 臭豆腐
Duck's blood on the left and stinky tofu in the soup. I must say I have a hard time eating duck's blood, it's so soft like jelly. It's not my cup of tea. The taste is plain, though.
Yes, I'm Western and I eat stinky tofu. What's the big deal? It tastes normal. I like tofu in general, so this one is nothing special. And once cooked, there is no bad smell. I usually need something more than just the tofu to make me happy, I'm a meat guy.
POPULAR SNACK: TAIWANESE TEMPURA 天婦羅
POPULAR SNACK: TAIWANESE SAUSAGE 香腸
This area is full of Taiwanese sausages, but they don't taste really good, I don't recommend. It looks tempting, yeah, but the taste is too sour for me.
POPULAR SNACK: CUTTLEFISH SOUP 烏賊湯
The famous cuttlefish soup. The soup is yummy, the cuttle fish is very chewy. I love the soup, but that meat needs to be chewed like there's no tomorrow. I think Westerners won't like this dish too much, but Taiwanese love chewy.
2 Shilin Night Market: Near the temple
The part where Taiwanese like to flock
The second part of the Shilin Night Market is located in numerous streets and lanes north of that main tourist night market, which is basically a big squarish building. This part is also full of tasty food, but it's way bigger. It's good, if you know where to find the best stalls and restaurants, but there's a lot to explore. I hope my post here will help you to get some basic information. Besides food stalls and restaurants, there are plenty of shops, interesting bars and much more. Let me show you some photos I took during my visit of this part. It was around 4pm when we arrived there (hence the bright sky), and that's usually the time when most night markets in Taipei open.
RECOMMENDED FOOD AND STALLS FOR THIS PART: The food is more or less similar here, but there are also some interesting dishes to try. You can find a lot of fruit juices, bubble tea shops and fried baozi stalls here and they're usually quite decent. The Dongshan Duck Head is a famous fried duck stall and Ah-Liang's Flour Noodles 阿亮麵線 are famous (found near the Ci Xien Temple 慈諴宮). My favorite shop is Shin Fa Ting 辛發亭 and it sells shaved ice cream, a must try dessert, if you come to Shilin (read more below).
POPULAR STALL: DONGSHAN FRIED DUCK 炒鴨
The origins of the Ci Xian Temple 慈諴宮 date back to 1796. It's one of the oldest and most impressive temples in Taipei. Read more about it here (in Chinese).
POPULAR DRINK: PAPAYA MILK SHAKE
POPULAR SNACK: TEMPURA AND OYSTER OMELETTE
Especially the tempura was very yummy: I highly recommend it. Omelette was normal.
POPULAR DESSERT: SHIN FA TING'S SHAVED ICE CREAM 辛發亭
After trying so many "little eats", my girlfriend and I wanted to have something sweet. We found a nice ice cream shop somewhere hidden in a small lane and it turned out that the place is quite famous. It's called Shin Fa Ting 辛發亭. They make a specially thin ice cream called shaved ice. It was simply divine. See some photos (and read more by clicking on the link below):
✰ See more photos and read my review of Shin Fa Ting>>
After that we headed back to the station. Along the way we saw some interesting shops:
IN CONCLUSION: The Shilin Night Market is huge and you have a lot to explore. I only showed you a fraction of the food you can find there. Of course you'll find most of the typical Taiwanese night market foods like fried corn, fried noodles, crepes, all sorts of rice, dumplings and soups. But I really recommend the chicken cutlet, fried buns and the shaved ice. I think most of the Western tourists would like these 3 dishes. This night market is not only good to try the various foods, you can also shop, go on a drink or just observe people. Young Taiwanese love to go there, especially a Friday night will be full of young people (if you want to see cute Taiwanese girls or a handsome Taiwanese guys, you will find them here). Whatever you do, just enjoy yourself and visit with someone, it's always fun to share food with friends.
SHILIN, WHAT ELSE? The Shilin area of Taipei city is huge and has two stations. Jiantan is also close to the The Grand Hotel and to the National Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine, two famous sights of Taipei City. You can have a nice afternoon trip by seeing these sights and then visiting the night market in the late afternoon (they usually start operating at 4pm and are open until midnight). There is also a Modern Toilet restaurant near the Shilin Night Market. I have been here as well as in the one in Ximending. Here's a photo for you:
✰ Read about my Modern Toilet experience in Shilin here>>
[This post was UPDATED on 31th July, 2011]