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All photos by the author.

The 9 Best Foods at Taipei's Night Markets

Tiffany Ran

How to eat your way through the city.

All photos by the author.

This spring, the Michelin Guide will launch its first guide to Taiwan’s capital city Taipei, but if you ask any local where to eat, they’ll point to their night markets as the heart of the city’s food scene. Even at times of economic hardship, Taiwan’s night markets have stood for abundance. They’re places where anyone from celebrities and politicians to urban workers and students can—and do—eat to their hearts’ content.

At these markets, rows of sweet sausages grill in the open air, locals sit on plastic stools on street corners enjoying bowls of noodles, and in the cacophony of sights, sounds, and neon the unmistakable smell of stinky tofu lingers. The markets specialize in x iao chi, which translates to small bites; vendors at over a dozen night markets in Taipei continuously adapt their xiao chi offerings to keep with the growing influences—including immigration, tourism, city rezoning, and perhaps more notably, social media—on the city’s street food scene.


The Classics

Push through the aromatic fog of stinky tofu and look past the you-can-find-them-everywhere dishes like fried pork chop on rice, thick oyster noodles, and sticky red braised pork feet, and you’ll find some underrated heavy hitters still enjoyed and kept secret by discerning regulars. These recommended xiao chi are available at many night markets across Taiwan, but the suggested locations are where you’ll find the lines (addresses provided where possible).

Gua Bao
Gua bao gained fame in the States in large part thanks to Eddie Huang; at his New York restaurant Baohaus, he serves these steamed buns with a variety of fillings from the classic braised pork to fried fish with tartar sauce. In Taipei, the original reigns supreme; the pillowy bun is stuffed with a savory slab of red braised pork belly, then topped with pungent pickled mustard greens, sweet and crunchy peanut sugar, and cilantro.

Where to Find Them:
The gua bao at Shi Jia Gua Bao ( No 21-1 Tonghua Street, Da’an District, Taipei City Taiwan) at the Linjiang-Tonghua Night Market comes in a variety of flavors like roasted chicken, crab salad, or various cuts of pork. Or, stick with the OG at Lan Jia Gua Bao ( 3 Luosifu Road, Lane 316, Section 3, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan) at Gongguan Night Market where you can choose between the fattiest or leanest cuts of pork belly, or a 50-50 mix of both.

Four Gods Soup
Four Gods Soup

Four Gods Soup is named after the four key medicinal ingredients used in this soup, but take one glance at the bowl and you’ll know you’re in for some intense flavors. Its rich broth surrounds a mix of lean pork, small intestines, and Chinese barley. An unapologetic earthy hit of medicinal herbs tempers the gamey flavors of the small intestines. This soup is as effective for health as it is for hangovers.

Where to Find It:
Two pork dishes become BFF at Gongguan Night Market’s Lan Jia Gua Bao, where hungry students from nearby National Taipei University stand in line for Lan Jia’s signature combo of gua bao and Four Gods soup.

Ice Cream Wrap

Ice Cream Wrap
The combination of taro, pineapple, and peanut ice creams, peanut brittle powder, and cilantro wrapped in a crepe seems like it was invented for Instagram, but it’s been around for decades— taro, pineapple, and peanut make up the trifecta of Taiwan’s most traditional dessert flavors.. An vendor uses a wooden grater to scrape powdery flakes off a large block of peanut brittle. The peanut fluff acts as a bed for three scoops of ice cream which are then topped with cilantro and wrapped in a tender crepe. Most vendors today still offer the same ice cream, made the old-fashioned way by Ah Zhong Ice Cream, without cream (before dairy was readily available in Taiwan), to be more of a rich, creamy sorbet.

Where to Find It:
Hidden in the middle of a tightly packed street at the Linjiang-Tonghua Night Market, and many other touristy areas.

Large sausage wrapped small sausage.

Large Sausage Wrapped Small Sausage
The large sausage wrapped small sausage's name belies its genius. It’s a char-grilled sausage nested in a larger, slit-open sticky rice sausage, topped with pickled mustard greens and a brush of sweetened garlic soy sauce. This filling bite is usually served in a paper bag for easy, on-the-go snacking.

Where to Find It:
The most popular night market in Taipei, and naturally a go-to location for the classics, is the century old Shilin Night Market where it’s easy to get lost in a maze of vendors and the market’s underground food court. Look for Guan Zhi Ling Large Sausage Wrapped Small Sausage, 25 Wenlin Road, Shilin District, Taipei City.

Nutritious sandwich

“Nutritious Sandwich”
Definitely don’t ask me why a sandwich made with crispy fried bread is called the “nutritious sandwich.” This now-classic sandwich was an innovation born after World War II: Taiwanese vendors, lacking ovens to make traditional American sandwiches for the visiting naval sailors, made a panko-crusted frybread sandwich stuffed with sweet Kewpie mayo, ham, tomatoes, and cucumber or pickles.

Where to Find It:
The nutritious sandwich is a signature of the popular Keelung Night Market situated by the port that greeted navy sailors and seafood enthusiasts alike. Walk down the main drag highlighted by two rows of bright yellow lanterns. Grab seafood and other delicious snacks to eat while you wait in line—because there is always a line. 200 Rensan Road, Ren’ai District, Keelung City, Taiwan.

New Innovations

Black pepper buns.

Black Pepper Buns
Around 3 PM on weekday afternoons, an hour before most night markets are set to open, a line is already forming out the gates of the Raohe Night Market. People arrive early for the black pepper buns, juicy pork and green onion filled buns dredged with sesame, pressed against the clay walls of a hot oven and baked until crispy. The black pepper bun originated in Fuzhou, China and gained popularity in Taiwan where many vendors are of Fuzhou ancestry.

Where to Find Them:
Fu Zhou Shi Zu Hujiao Bing, at the gates of Raohe Night Market (No 249 Roahe Street, Songshan District, Taipei City) and luckily, a second location at 13 Chongqing South Road, Section 1, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City

Stinky Tofu Fries

Stinky Tofu Fries
You might recognize stinky tofu by the smell, but you may not recognize it at this stall in Roahe, where it’s served cut into French-fry-shaped batons, fried crisp, and covered in sauce. True believers opt for the “nacho cheese sauce” to bring out that extra funk, and then chase the whole thing with housemade kimchi, but other options include Thai spice, honey mustard, wasabi pepper, or tartar sauce.

Where to Find Them:
So far, these are pretty much only available at Roahe Night Market, but that will likely change soon.

Frog Placed in Milk.

Frog Placed in Milk
When dairy finally made its way to Taiwan, milk took off like wildfire. It became so popular that it even takes the place of bubble tea, in the form of a drink called Frog Placed in Milk: Straight cold milk poured over warm, black sugar–soaked tapioca bubbles. No frogs are harmed in the making of this dish; the tapioca pearls' resemblance to frog eggs gives the drink its name.

Where to Find It:
After a satisfying gua bao and four god soup meal at Lan Jia Gua Bao at the Gongguan Night Market, a dessert of Frog Placed in Milk at Chen San Ding (Luosifu Road, Lane 316, Section 8, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City) can be found directly across the street.

READ MORE: A Brief Guide to Fan Tuan, the Delicious Rice Rolls of Taiwan

Hot Star Fried Chicken

Hot Star Fried Chicken
Fried chicken has always been popular in Taiwan in the form of small fried chicken poppers eaten with skewers. When Hot Star came on the scene, it debuted spicy fried chicken steaks larger than a human face. The marinated chicken breasts are pounded out into large steaks, then dredged, deep-fried, and seasoned heavily with a secret spice mix which lends light heat and spice.

Where to Find It:
The Hot Star Fried Chicken stand at Shilin Night Market (113 Wenlin Road, Shilin District, Taipei City) is the original Hot Star stall, but its success led Hot Star to do what few night market vendors have been able to do: Expand. Hot Star Fried Chicken has franchises in locations across the world throughout Asia, Australia, Canada, and Los Angeles.