Travel Guides

Shilin Night Market 士林夜市

August 05, 2010

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Shilin Night Market 士林夜市.

This is the largest and most well known night market in Taiwan. Beware, this is not for the faint heart.Even my mom rarely comes here and she loves street food. She always says “人山人海”, which means “People mountain, people sea.” Anything can be found here. Food, clothes, fashion accessories, make up, electronics, pets.. Yep. There’s even a street here called “Pet Street.” If you have a soft spot for little furry creatures, like me, it’s like heaven. They have baby dachshunds to baby malteses, which I think are the most precious things ever. Shilin has a carnival-like atmosphere, with numerous arcardes, claw machines, KTV, goldfish/shrimp catching games, and rifle shooting games. One of the many nights that I came here, a film crew was shooting a European movie in the middle of the night market.

This stand has been here since the first time I came back to Taiwan, about 10 years ago? My mom told me she use to always come here when she was in college and the stand was here even before then. About 40 years? You can either get a freshly fried & sugared doughnut, or donut twist, or their famous 雙保胎 Shuangbaotai, “Twins.” Which are two identically fried beignets that are stuck to each other.

The donuts are super light and warm from the fryer with a generous dusting of granulated sugar.

Skewered sugar coated strawberries.
Usually it’s sugar coated tomatoes. This is one of the old traditional Taiwanese candies that my parents use to eat when they were little kids. The sugar coating is made from pure sugar syrup without any artificial coloring. Traditional candies have a round appearance which means meaning of “satisfaction” or “completion”. The bright red color means “happiness”. And the maltose is characterized with “sticking together forever”. This sweet treat implies the idea of “sweet love”.

臭豆腐 Stinky Tofu
Fermented fried tofu topped with pickled vegetables. For those who can stand the smell, it’s delicious. It actually doesn’t taste the way it smells. The tofu has a slightly chewy texture with a crunchy crust. It is marinated in vegetable and shrimp broth for months until it finishes it’s fermentation. This is very popular in Taiwan and can be found at almost any night market.

蚵仔煎 Oyster Omelet
Egg omelet filled with oysters and topped with a red sauce. Starch is added to the omelet batter to give a thicker consistency. This is also very popular in Taiwan. Global Views Monthly magazine chose the oyster omelet as the snack that best represents Taiwan. I actually don’t enjoy this as much as others. I like my foods to have a crunchy texture with lots of flavor.

豪大大雞排 Hot star fried chicken
The line for this stand can reach over 30 people at night but if you go in mid afternoon it’s only a short 5 minute wait. This place is rumored to the original big chicken stand. The chicken steak is about 4″ x 11″. The meat is super tender and juicy with a crunchy crust. You can also get a sprinkle of cajun spice.

芒果奶酪冰 Mango shaved ice.
My favorite dessert in Taiwan. You can get many different toppings and different flavored ices. The one I had here is milk flavored. The mango in Taiwan is amazing. It is much larger than the ones in the States, which are half the size and half the sweetness.
They top it with a sugar syrup and condensed milk. Sometimes it even comes with a scoop of mango ice cream. As if the mango flavor wasn’t intense already!

Shrimp catching game.
You get 7 fishing sticks for 100 nt. The trick of the game is to catch as many shrimp as you can before the hook at the end of the line breaks. Whatever you catch is what you eat.
The hook breaks away pretty easily. I was only able to catch 4 shrimp with 7 fishing sticks. I think the owner felt sorry for me so he caught one for me.
When you used up all your sticks, the owner counts your shrimp and skewers them. [I’m not very sure if PETA would approve of this].

After a hefty dusting of salt, you place them on the bbq rack to cook. Beware, the amount of salt they put on there is insane. My lips felt like prunes after eating 4 shrimp.

Fruit stands.
They have everything from the common apples, bananas, pears, and grapes. But they also have exotic fruits like dragonfruit, guava, pink guava, milk pineapple, wax apples, lychee, and sugar apples.
Sugar apples have a sweet to light flesh that tastes like custard. Wax apples actually don’t taste like apples at all. Its outer appearance resembles an apple but flavor is similar to a pear with a watermelon liquid-flesh ratio. They are the highest price in the market .

酸梅 Dried plum.
Plums are dried under the sun and then sprinkled with either a sweet seasoning or tart seasoning. Peel off the flesh from the seed and enjoy this treat.
Plums are high in fiber so it helps the functioning of the digestive system. They have the reputation of being a dieter’s “best friend”.

愛玉 Aiyu Jelly.
This jelly is made from the F. pumila var awkeotsang fruit. The seeds are placed in a cotton bag to extract a slimy substance which is then allowed to set in the refrigerator when it turns into a jello. This jelly is usually served with honey and lemon. It is a very popular refreshing drink in the summer.

Fresh coconut juice.
Step 1 Use butt of knife to create hole at the tip of the coconut.
Step 2 Use knife to widen hole.
Step 3 Insert straw
Step 4 Enjoy

青蛙下蛋 Frog eggs.
Not the real ones, of course. They are very similar to the black, chewy tapioca balls except they are darker in color and resemble frog eggs, hence the name “frog eggs”. It is served cold with Aiyu jelly in a lemon drink. Very refreshing.
You can also get them with shaved ice.

BBQ king crab.
The crab head is stuffed with meat from the legs, ham and cheese and then placed over the grill.
The smell is incredible but I haven’t gotten a chance to try it yet.

麻糬 Mochi.
Freshly made mochi balls made right before your eyes, dusted with peanut powder. You have a choice of a peanut filling, red bean filling, or sesame filling.
Never again will have I have prepackaged mochi.

One foot long ice cream.
I’m not kidding you. Look at the picture yourself.
My close friends always keep me away from self-service ice cream machines. I am notorious for making 5 inch and more ice cream cones. But one foot? Crazy. I’d like to give a go at that machine.
You get a choice of vanilla, chocolate, mango and taro.

火鍋 Hot pot.
Even though temperature in Taiwan during the summer is unbearably hot and humid I still crave a pot of steaming hot pot. You get to choose from 20 different kinds of hot pot soups. Ingredients? Entirely up to you. 100% customizable. They also have 10 different kinds of condiments.
You can also get a side of bbq beef/pork/lamb with caramelized onions.
Don’t worry about the heat. These restaurants have plenty of A/C and cold drinks.

If you are fluent enough in Chinese you can try and bargain with the vendor. More than 80% of the time they will lower their price significantly. My friends and I had one of the vendors fooled til we slipped with some English. Our cover was blown but luckily he was wanting to make a quick sale so we got a good price. A lot of foreigners come to this night market so don’t worry if you don’t look like a local.
To get here, get off at the JianTan MRT Station not the Shilin MRT Station. It sounds confusing since the night market is called Shilin but back in 2002 the old Shilin market was demolished by the government due to safety, sanitation, and fire hazard issues. So the new market is closer to the JianTan MRT Station. Get out at Exit 1 and the night market is right across the street. Just follow the crowd of the smell of food.

Location: MRT JianTan Station, Exit 1.


Jane Ko is the Austin blogger behind A Taste of Koko, Austin's top food and travel blog featuring the hottest restaurants and weekend getaways. Jane has been a speaker at South by Southwest (SXSW), Texas Conference for Women, BlogHer, and more on entrepreneurship and social media. She lives in Austin Texas with her dog and cat.