For first time visitors in Taipei, Shilin night market is a place not to be missed. It is quite an experience, seeing all the traditional vendors while eating, drinking, and walking. For locals, it might be getting a bit crowded these days, but still a place to come back for nostalgia or the variety of snacks. I have been coming here with family and friends throughout the years, and wrote down some of my favorites.
Favorite food items
Oyster omelette (蚵仔煎)
This is one of the signature Taiwanese snacks, and its chewy texture could be foreign to people not used to it. Whenever I go to any night market, oyster omelette is a must get item. Vendors usually offer oyster alternatives like shrimp, combo (oyster & shrimp), or just egg. Some places add vegetables, and sauce could vary.
Zhongcheng hao (忠誠號) is my go-to for not only oyster omelette, but stinky tofu mentioned below. It has plenty of tables to sit down, and both items taste authentic. I remembered a few other oyster omelette vendors in the basement food court, they are great options too.
Stinky tofu (臭豆腐)
Known for its notorious smell, many cannot get past the stinky impression to try it. Based on personal statistics, less than 1% of people I know like stinky tofu and not from Taiwan. (Used to be 0% until last month!) There are different styles of stinky tofu, from fried to steamed to spicy hot pot style. My personal favorite is still the crispy version, with sauce on top and slightly pickled cabbage on the side.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been going to Zhongcheng hao (忠誠號) but there are a few other stands in the market.
Pepper bun (胡椒餅)
This is Tony’s must get night market item. The filling typically has green onions and pork seasoned with black pepper. The outside is another selling point, slightly flaky and baked in a makeshift oven. It is the best right out of the oven, with its juicy meaty filling and hot fresh bun! For anyone tired of traditional meat buns (肉包), this could be a nice surprise.
Fuzhou Shizu (福州世祖胡椒餅) demonstrate the process out in the open, making pepper buns non-stop. Its first location in Raohe Night Market is very popular, and we waited for a bit to get our freshly baked bun. There are also at least two other pepper bun vendors in the market, but they don’t seem to make buns on the spot.
Little sausage in big sausage (大腸包小腸)
Another signature Taiwanese snack, the Taiwanese style sausage is wrapped in glutinous rice in sausage form. Taiwanese style sausage has a bit sweet flavor, and in this snack they grill the sausage quite a bit so that it tastes juicy and slightly crispy on the outside. The analogy to western food is perhaps hot dog bun, replacing hot dog with Taiwanese style sausage and bread bun with rice bun.
Bin (斌), Michelin recommended stand in front of Shilin Mazu Temple is wildly popular with very long wait (we waited for more than 30 minutes). However, I found this aboriginal style stand near the east entrance also tasty with more toppings, fun tricks to watch, and shorter wait.
Shaved snow (雪花冰)
This is my favorite kind of ice products (Tony and I used to get shaved snow in San Francisco on chilly days). The texture of shaved snow is between ice cream and shaved ice, and normally in sheet form. I plainly loved the smoothly mild creamy texture, lighter than ice cream and less icy than shaved ice. There happens to be many shaved snow options in Shilin night market. I still have fond childhood memories coming to Shilin for oyster omelette then shaved snow with my family. Fresh fruit toppings are popular (mango/watermelon in the summer, strawberry in the winter), and some places have different flavors for the snow base (milk, matcha, milk tea, etc.).
Xin Fa Ting (辛發亭) has been in Shilin Night Market for around 50 years, and my parents still recall having ice there. It is a no-frills good old shaved snow shop, each table has a coin-op fortune machine. Hua Zhang Xue (花藏雪) is another newer shaved snow place with more modern menu, presentation, interior, and price.
Pan fried buns (水煎包)
There are a few pan fried bun stands in Shilin night market. Common flavors are meat, cabbage, and chives. I personally favor pan fried buns with thin wraps and lots of filling. For the vendors I have tried, all were quite similar. I usually go for ones that make the buns onsite.
Takoyaki / Octopus balls (章魚燒)
Shilin night market has some traditional Japanese style Takoyaki vendors, but these days I found a new kind of Takoyaki on the rise. The new style has a whole octopus rather than octopus pieces. The whole octopus balls are usually larger than the traditional Takoyaki. It is quite common to see octopus balls with cheese on top, some also with scallions.
Fresh baked cake (現烤蛋糕)
A relatively new night market item, fresh baked cake is getting popular these days all over Taiwan. We found this cake shop after a series of savory snacks, craving some sweets. Many ovens in action in the shop, the staff divides a giant sheet cake into rectangular loaves outside. It is a bit like corn bread and sponge cake.
I have been going to Yuan Wei (源味本舖), just a little away from the crazy road. Usually they have one or two flavors of the day, we usually get a loaf of plain original cake for 90 NTD. As a chocolate addict, I do plan on trying their chocolate flavor soon.
Chicken cutlet (雞排)
This was a guilty pleasure for my parents during their student days. Also popular in Ximending, the chicken cutlet stands are a bit smaller here. Normally they pressed the meat into slab form, fried the chicken slab, and then seasoned with white pepper and optional spicy powder. Truly tasty but probably better getting it once in a while.
The most famous and oldest chicken cutlet stand is probably Hot-Star Chicken (豪大大). Its Ximending branch (ironically under a KFC) feels much bigger than this night market stand, but this is where Hot-Star started. Jia Xiang (家鄉碳烤香雞排) is another popular one, they grilled the chicken after frying and applying their secret sauce.
When to go
Because of all the cooking actions in night market, the area is generally warmer. Summer time might be a bit rough on hot days, especially with big crowd. Weekday evenings on winter days are the most comfortable, though night market is not known for its comfort.
MRT is the easiest option, Shilin night market is just about five minute walk from Jiantan (劍潭) MRT station. It could be confusing since the next northbound MRT station is also called “Shilin.” Though even from Shilin MRT station, the walk is still under 10 minutes to the northern market area.
While new skyscraper buildings emerge in Taipei every so often, these night market stands preserve the flavors throughout decades and generations. I saw so much hard work in the vendors, preparing and cooking food without air conditioning every night of the year. Shilin night market has been here so long, went through many changes, and is now the biggest in Taipei to have almost all kinds of Taiwanese snacks. I surely come back to try more new vendors sometime soon.