Undoubtedly the most well known of all the night markets in Taipei is Shilin Night Market.
It’s huge, busy, overcrowded, packed out to overcapacity every single night, and there’s an almost unbelievable amount of street food snacks to taste and experience.
Although some have said it’s become touristy and vendors may overcharge customers, for its giant scale and for its night market history, it’s still a night market you don’t want to skip when you’re in Taipei.
Shilin Night Market
Before going to the market, it’s really hard to imagine the scale of just how big and how busy the market is.
I was thinking it was just going to be a street filled with some street food stalls and some stores and a few tourists walking around enjoying the atmosphere.
It was much bigger and much busier than I had imagined.
It reminded me of Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market, but in night market form – a labyrinth of endless shopping and food stalls and massive crowds.
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The Shilin Night Market almost occupies an entire neighborhood, and there’s a huge mix of stores selling clothes, gadgets, random things, souvenirs, and then a host of food stalls and restaurants throughout the market.
You could really wander around the market for hours and keep finding new things.
Lemon aiyu jelly
As soon as we arrived at the market, being quite hot and humid in the summer when we were there, we began with a quick beverage.
On the stall you’ll see a big frog, and while what they call frog eggs are similar to little boba jellies, they also sell lemon aiyu jelly juice. Similar stalls are located throughout the market.
The aiyu juice is made with a type of fig, though to me it tasted a lot like honey, and then balanced out with lemon juice. It was served cold to make it very refreshing.
Fried fish meatballs
After walking around for a few minutes, already overwhelmed by the scale of Shilin Night Market, we headed down one of the main food streets.
The street was so packed it was honestly hard to maneuver, and to even distinguish where the line for the street food stalls started, with where just normal people were walking or standing.
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So in order to eat anything at Shilin Market, it requires you to be a bit friendly aggressive, or you’ll never get anything to eat.
We started with some fried fish balls, and the vendor asked if we wanted the spicy or the regular version. Given the choice, there’s no way I’d never not go for the spicy.
The fish balls were deep fried, then poked onto a skewer, and dusted in just a bit of fine pepper.
I’m not a huge fish ball eater, normally my wife and her sister really love them in Thailand, but I usually skip them.
However, these fish balls, especially since they were fried so fresh (since the line never ended so they didn’t need to keep any stock) were quite good.
They were hot and the texture was nice and spongy with a salty fish flavor. The skewer of fried fish balls was pretty tasty.
Pepper pork bun
Located on the main road on the outskirts of Shilin Night Market, I was actually walking past to get to a different section of the market when the barrel tandoor ovens caught my attention, and I knew I needed to eat whatever they were cooking.
Turned out to be pork pepper buns – a round of dough filled with marinated pork and green onions, wrapped into a bun, and cooked in the barrel oven.
The buns were served hot and fresh, and they were pretty good. Along with a pork filled bun we also had a sweet bean filled bun, also cooked in the same method.
However, the next day I went to Raohe Night Market and tried the Fuzhou pepper pork bun stall, and I think they may have been even a bit better than this one in my opinion.
But this pork pepper bun was still good, and worth trying when you come to Shilin Market.
Note: I missed it when I was there, but after reading more about Shilin Market I found out there is actually a Raohe Night Market pork bun stall branch at Shilin Market.
Stinky tofu (the surprise experience)
It was our first real night in Taipei when we went to Shilin Night Market.
And before I get into telling this story, I have to say that I had eaten stinky tofu before when I was in Yangshuo, China, and it was black in color. And I thought it was pretty good, I really liked it.
Back to Shilin Night Market, I saw a vendor selling tofu, which I love, and it was in big pieces and I thought it was just braised regular tofu because it was the normal brown golden color.
Somehow I didn’t smell anything (perhaps I was upwind from the stall when I ordered?).
I got my tofu, and we were filming a video, and I still thought it was just a normal piece of tofu.
But after taking my first bite, and getting a hint of a rotting sensation in my mouth, I started to suspect it might have been the famous Taiwanese stinky tofu.
After doing some research when I returned back to our hotel, it was confirmed.
The stinky tofu was cooked in a giant piece, then wrapped like a hot dog bun, and served with two skewers on each side for handling. Inside of the stinky tofu piece was a scoop of pickled cabbage and an assortment of sauce.
I quite enjoyed my surprise Taiwanese stinky tofu experience, even though I didn’t know I was eating it at the time.
There was also another type of deep fried stink tofu available throughout the market, which I tried later on during my time in Taipei, and liked even more than this version.
Walking around at numerous night markets and any markets in Taiwan, you’ll notice there are a few franchises that specialize in steak… not just any type of steak, but blow torched steak (seems to be the in thing right now).
This type of street food stall is not exactly a traditional Taiwanese food, but I thought it was pretty cool, and being my first full day in Taiwan, I needed to try it.
The steak was cut into cubes, first grilled, then finally blow torched to speed up the cooking and to give it a little bit of a smokey flavor to enhance it.
There was also a menu where you could choose which seasoning salt you wanted sprinkled on top of your steak cubes.
I chose the cumin.
After the cooking was finished, the steak was packed into a takeaway box, and served still nice and hot from the blow torch cooking.
The steak was actually quite flavorful, nice cubes of meat, cooked medium well (although I would have liked it more rare), topped in a nice and salty and cumin-y seasoning.
Being able to order and eat a little box of street food steak while walking around the night market was pretty cool I thought, even if it is a relatively new and an innovative Taiwanese street food snack.
Hot Star Fried Chicken
Probably the biggest success story to come from Shilin Night Market is Hot Star Fried Chicken.
One of the corners of the night market is home to the original Hot Star, an incredibly popular Taiwanese fried chicken brand.
When I was at Shilin Night Market, the fried chicken line literally wrapped around the side of the road and onto the main road and it appeared people were actually risking their lives lining up in the main road to wait for their piece fried chicken.
I decided not to wait in line, so when I was at Shilin Night Market I actually didn’t try it.
But I did have Hot Start Fried Chicken at a different branch in the Ximending shopping district of Taipei on another day. I’m guessing it tasted pretty similar, if not identical to the original location at Shilin?
The chicken is flattened into a chicken steak type of cut, then battered and deep fried, and finally sprinkled in plenty of salty seasoning and chili powder if you ask for it.
I wasn’t all that impressed with Hot Star Fried Chicken.
It kind of tasted like potato chips in the form of fried chicken, and the batter was a little too thick for my liking. But nevertheless, it was still kind of a tasty junk food snack, and if you want to try the original version, jump in line at Shilin Night Market.
There’s also another fried chicken stall at the front of Shilin Market towards Jiantan Street, where there was an equally long line for fried chicken.
Shilin Night Market is the biggest and busiest night market in Taipei.
And even though it sometimes has been given a bad reputation for its large crowds, touristy setting, and reports of some vendors overcharging (which I didn’t personally have any experience with), it’s still one of the best night markets to visit for its massive size and buzz of thousands of people.
In our few hours of visiting Shilin Night Market we didn’t get to explore the entire market or even come close to trying all the food available.
But even so, I enjoyed walking around, people watching, doing a bit of shopping, and of course, enjoying the food we tried.
Even though I probably enjoyed both Raohe Night Market and Ningxia Night Market a bit better overall than Shilin Night Market, this place is still a must visit night market when you’re in Taipei.
Shilin Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan
Shilin night market opening hours: 5 pm – 2 am daily
How to get there: Take the MRT Metro to Jiantan Station, and follow the signs for Shilin Night Market (which are clearly marked out from when you exit the metro). The market begins about a 2 minute walk away from the station.
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