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Taipei’s Night Markets Tantalize Travelers

Night Markets are a staple of large urban centers in Asia. In cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok, residents and travelers alike flock to the Greek-style bazaars each night to buy food and all manner of consumer goods. It is commerce in its purest form.

While the night markets in those other cities are exciting, particularly for a first time visitor, they do not quite brim the vitality of the night markets in Taipei.

The night markets in Taipei are robust and ribald affairs, wildly unpredictable and, in some spots, not for the faint-hearted. A visitor will see many of the goods you’d expect at an outdoor market. There’s no shortage of plastic toys, knockoff purses and ceramic figurines being sold by kindly senior citizens. But that is tempered by the countless bootleg CDs and DVDs that sit piled up in front of a vendor who looks like he’s had a scrape or two (or seventeen) with the law.

In one section there might be women pass out sweets and sugary pastries in a genial attempt to lure visitors to the markets to their stand. A little further away there might be jovial chef more than happy to create a dish from scratch while you watch and wait. And then you might turn a corner and be greeted the Taiwanese version of carnival freaks—the men who trade in snakes. They will serve them to you as dinner, or let you watch as one swallows a rodent whole, or perform other snake-related charm. As you scurry away from the snakes, you pick up an odor that you can’t quite place, it’s from something called “stinky tofu.”

You think, rightfully, that there have to better food options than this. Someone insists you try the beef soup, and as it slides down your throat you realize it might be the best soup you’ve ever tasted. Realizing that there’s no hope of finding something to eat that could be considered even remotely healthy, you succumb and begin sampling local delicacies. Some you can’t wait to try again. Others you hope will be erased from your palette forever. You’re not quite sure where some of the food came from and to be honest you’d rather not know.

The free-wheeling nature of Taipei’s night markets allows for barter and negotiation on the matter of price. But as hard-headed as you might be in your attempt to get the best deal possible, equally persistent are salespeople who teem the market’s corridors. But visitors shouldn’t be surprised by the industriousness of the Taiwanese. After all, there was a period in the 1970s and 1980s where it seemed like every electronic device in the world was stamped with a “Made in Taiwan” sticker.

Visitors can choose from among at least six different markets that sit in the shadow of the world’s second tallest building—the Taipei 101, which stands at 509.2 meters (1,671 feet). All of the markets are within a short walk of a subway stop. With a population of approximately 2.6 million people, Taipei is not as large as some of the bigger cities, but that does not mean visitors should not expect a crowd. You just will not be as cheek-to-jowl as they would be in, say, Bangkok.

Crowded or not, an evening spent under the bursting neon of Taipei’s night markets will be one that you and your taste buds will never forget.

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