Shilin Night Market –Taiwanese culture after dark

2013-03-14 15:45 ChineseTime

Night markets in Taiwan, especially the Shilin Night Market, are not just places to buy things to eat and drink and wear. They are also an essential part of nightlife for many Taiwanese people. Vendors selling popular snacks gather in the streets and jam into the alleys of the night markets, selling delicious food at good prices as part of the unforgettable experience of the night market. At the same time, the Shilin Night Market has become one of the leading fashion centers in Taipei, with a dazzling range of clothes for sale from both shops and vendors, and a consumer base made up mostly of students and young adults. Now, in addition to food and shopping, there are ever-changing zones offering entertainment for young visitors as well. Arcades, karaokes, coffee shops, bowling lanes, tea shops, restaurants, pool halls and movie theaters are all there for the taking.

The Shilin Night Market is located in Shilin District of Taipei and is generally considered to be the largest and most famous night market in the city. Here the local retailers and vendors begin stirring in the early afternoon, getting ready for the busiest period for the day which usually falls around 7 ~ 11 pm. Food vendors have to set up even earlier, since dinner time is their most profitable period. Here in the best-known night market, the action goes on strong until 1 or 2 am most nights.

The Shilin night market traces its roots back to 1909, when the area now known as the night market was formerly a spot near the wharves on the Keelung River. Agricultural goods produced in Shilin that were shipped to Manka and Dadaocheng were traded in this area. Trading brought boom times, and businesses and vendors began to gather around, giving rise to the Shilin Night Market.

Fire safety, sanitation and hygiene concerns led the Taipei City Government to demolish the old Shilin Night Market structure in October 2002, and vendors who had booths in the old structure re-established themselves in the new building – the Public Market containing mostly food and beverage providers as well as a few small arcades and accessory shops. This new building is right across from the Jiantan MRT Station. On the other side of the Public Market is the giant Shilin Night Market full of shops and vendors selling all kinds of items. The prosperity of Shilin Night Market is based on the special symbiosis between vendors and shops, which co-exist and cooperate to attract huge influxes of customers on a nightly basis.

Tourist flow has greatly boosted the prosperity of Shilin Night Market, especially with the opening of Taipei's MRT system. The night market is within walking distance close to the Jiantan Station of the MRT Danshui Line. The convenient public transit system makes it the best choice for a place to go for holidays and leisure moments.

Food is naturally the first thing that comes to mind when visiting Shilin Night Market. Some of the famous food stands have decades of history and have been serving the consumers with delicious food for ages. There is a long list of “must-eat” local snacks recommended by millions of local and foreign visitors - including but not limited to fried chicken steak, fried buns, fried oyster with eggs (oyster omelet), Shilin big sausage, tempura, salt-marinated chickens, BBQ, stew dried tofu, pig blood cakes, herbal-marinated ribs in soup, and stinky tofu. In fact, so many food and drink options are available that as someone once said, you should never visit the Shilin Night Market after eating dinner.

However, food is not the only source of satisfaction for the mouth here. There are a variety of desserts and drinks that will satisfy anyone's tastes. For instance, tea, lemon aiyu jelly and bubble tea are ideal summer beverages for cooling down the body. For summertime desserts, shops in the streets of the night market serve plates of shredded ice topped with various flavors like chocolate, fruit and milk. In the winter, some of the shops offer hot red bean soup with taro jelly that is both delicious and warming. Been curd pudding is also a signature dessert among dessert shops in Shilin. It can be both hot or cold, depending on the customer's taste, and ready to be mixed with green beans, red beans, Job’s tears, and pearl tapioca.

Many people, whether local or foreign visitors, go to the night market to shop and hunt for bargains. Indeed, there are “dollar-shops” selling household goods and stationery where customers can find various nicely-made, stylish, practical and well-priced items. Lines of customers are common in these shops.

Shopping for clothes is another common reason for visiting the night market. As students and young adults form a major portion of its customer base, shops and vendors that sell trendy, fashionable clothes establish themselves in the night market to wait for an opportunity to serve customers. You'll find shoes, boots, socks, stockings, scarves, coats, jackets, T-shirts, sweaters, jeans, pants, bags, sneakers and shirts at good prices in the Shilin Night Market. In fact, if you're not satisfied with one shop, there are always other shops offering what you're looking for. Besides, the Shilin area is now one of the youth fashion capitals in Taipei, because it attracts crowds of visitors that have led many businesses to establish a base there, like those specializing in Japanese or Korean fashion. Just be careful when you shop - it's always a good idea to check at least three stores before making a decision.

The increasing popularity of the Shilin Night Market as part of Taiwanese nightlife culture has attracted entertainment service providers to join in this “prosperity” circle. Today, besides shopping and dining, there are also entertainment options such as KTV (Holiday, for instance), arcades (like City Jungle), restaurants, billiards, bowling, tea shops, coffee shops, movie theaters (the Yangming Theater) and Internet cafés. Other services, like nail care and hair salons, are also available in this nightlife area. Thus the Shilin Night Market is no longer just a market. It is also a unique metropolis in Taipei that crosses cultural dividing lines while still maintaining symbolic economic relationships.

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