＊Shi Lin Night Market
Offers Dining, Shopping and Entertainment at Cut-rate Prices
By Josephine Lin Translated by Matt Godsey and Annie Chen
Beyond a doubt, Shi Lin Night Market is one of the most famous night markets in Taipei, making it a long-time favorite among residents and tourists, locals and foreigners. Located in the Shi Lin (Shihlin) area, it surrounds Yang Ming Theater, extending in all directions as far as Wen Lin, Ji He, Da Dong and Da Nan roads.
Since it's such a huge market, almost any product imaginable, not to mention any kind of food, can be found there. The products are of good quality and quite inexpensive, so that you're sure to get your money's worth. In fact, the deals are so good that they draw large crowds even on weekdays. On weekends and holidays, however, the market becomes a veritable ocean of people, best described by the Chinese expression, "people mountain, people sea" .
Those who brave the crowds usually do so for two reasons: to shop and to eat. However, there are a few other places near the market that are worth a visit. These are noted below in the "fun places" section and, together with suggestions for food and shopping, provide a good overview of all that this fascinating market has to offer.
When you go to Shi Lin Night Market, be sure not to eat beforehand. The food there is simply too delicious to pass up. The prices are low, the servings are generous and the variety seems endless--cold, hot, sweet, sour, salty, spicy, fish, fowl; if it can be eaten, they probably have it. Don't worry about not being able to find what you want to eat. Rather, worry that you might not be able to finish everything you want.
The best place to begin is right in front of Yang Ming Theater (1F, 113, Wen Lin Rd.; tel. 02-2881-4636) at Hao Da Chicken Steak, which claims to be the originator of the chicken steak in Taiwan. When you see a line of these golden chicken steaks, you'll probably be as awed as I was by their size, about twice as big as those at other eateries. Take a bite, and you'll find the skin crispy and the meat tender and juicy. Each piece costs just NT$40. The next stand is Ten Dollar Barbecue, where they sell barbecued skewers of squid, chicken wings, bean curd and more, for NT$10 apiece. The owner covers each skewer with his special sauce, then barbecues it until its fragrance fills the air. If you're thirsty, the beverage stand next door sells herb tea, sour plum juice, star fruit juice, chrysanthemum tea and wintermelon tea. The owner emphasizes that these are all made with quality ingredients and brewed with care, making them delicious and very healthful.
Take a few steps forward and you'll find a stand that has been selling scallion pancakes for more than 20 years. These pancakes are deep-fried, and come either with or without egg. Try dipping one into the owner's special garlic sauce or sweet-spicy sauce and I guarantee that, with one bite, you'll be addicted.
Turn the corner and you'll find a stand that sells broad noodles for NT$25. They're fried until they're crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside. They have a pork and mushroom filling, and are topped with garlic, soy sauce, and chili sauce. Each noodle is about the size of the palm of your hand, so it will satisfy your taste buds without filling you up. Nearby, there are also stands selling the big, shiny barbecued sausages that can only be found at Shi Lin Night Market.
From a distance, you can see the line of customers waiting for famous Shanghai Fried Buns (sheng jian bao). These delicacies come with either a vegetable filling of cabbage and mushrooms or a meat filling of pork and scallions. As the patiently waiting customers like to note, "You haven't been to Shi Lin Night Market if you haven't had Shanghai buns." But be careful when biting a freshly-cooked bun, lest you get burned by the hot juice inside. The next stand makes a unique kind of pearl milk tea that can be highly addictive. The "pearls" are soft, chewy tapioca balls that are simply a pleasure to eat, compelling entranced consumers to chew one after another.
Nearby is an elderly couple that has been selling spring rolls for 30 years. Their rolls (NT$30 per order) are stuffed with more than 10 ingredients, including pork, cabbage, bean sprouts, fried egg and bean curd. Take a few steps forward and you'll be drawn towards the aroma of Da Xi Sha Chao Lu-Wei (stew). The addition of barbecue sauce to the stew is what makes this eatery stand out from the rest, and it probably explains why folks keep coming back for more. Ingredients are all very fresh; once they sell out, there's no more, so come early if you want some.
Although we've already described many kinds of food, our food safari is not over yet. If you walk through the next alley, you'll find a lot more waiting for you. There's fried squid, tempura, teppanyaki, Cantonese congee, flavored ice, oyster omelets and much more, and its all very inexpensive. The most interesting food here is probably the "little roll wrapped in a big roll", another snack unique to Shi Lin. The little rolls come in two types, sweet and salty. The sweet rolls are filled with peanuts, taro or jujube paste, while the salty rolls are stuffed with curry or a spicy filling. These are pan-fried until crispy, then crushed and wrapped in a spring roll wrapper, and then in a softer wrapper, creating a wonderful texture.
Hai You Si Quan Ribs on Ji He Road is very famous for its Chinese medicinal rib and mutton dishes. "We adjust our medicinal herbs in accordance with the change in the seasons," says the owner. "So you can come here in any season to eat nourishing food. The winter is an especially good time to come for a bowl of steaming hot ribs." I have to admit that the soup here is so fresh and the meat is so delicious that I completely forgot about the medicinal value of what I was eating.
And yet, only a fraction of the food available at Shi Lin Night Market has been described. There are also exotic dishes like frog eggs, octopus balls, Dongshan duck head, spicy bean curd, and Three Brothers Dou Hua (sweet bean curd snacks). There's Xin Fa Ting flavored ice on An Ping Street, a 30-year-old store that sells every possible kind of flavored ice. There's also a cheap and delicious hot pot store on Wen Lin Road. The list goes on and on. But, unless you have an enormous stomach, there's no way you can try all of these foods in a single visit; you'll probably have to come back several times. And, if you're a light eater, you might consider bringing some friends with hearty appetites so that you can at least have the vicarious pleasure of watching them chow down.
There are a number of schools near Shi Lin Night Market, so students are the main customers for the many inexpensive, high-quality products available. Everyday items such as clothing, shoes, accessories, toys and CDs--pretty much anything you can think of--are sold here. There is a great deal of competition between stores selling the same kinds of products, so you should remember to compare prices before buying to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck. Shoes, clothing and accessories are all of the latest styles, making this a great place to make yourself chic and beautiful for as little cash as possible.
You can also find everything you need to prepare for a change of seasons. In the winter, you can buy everything you need to fend off the cold--a windbreaker, scarves, socks, hats and boots. It doesn't matter if you're male or female, young or old, everyone can find a wide selection that suits them, both in size and style.
You really don't know know Shi Lin Night Market if you think it only has roadside stands. There are some very famous brand-name stores that sell heavily-discounted, off-season products, including the Esprit store on Wen Lin Road, across from the gas station. Half of the first floor sells Red Earth cosmetics, while the other half and the entire second floor are devoted to off-season clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories, with a fairly complete selection. Last year's products are sold at 65 percent off, and those from the year before last start at just NT$50. But the best part is that you get to try on all of the clothes. If you look carefully enough, you'll probably find something that's just right for you.
Mo Man Dun, also on Wen Lin Road, sells athletic gear and has low prices for brand-name athletic clothing and shoes. If you're in the market for some new sports shoes, it will certainly be worth your while to check here first. Take a few more steps down the street and you'll find two well-known stores, Baleno and Bossini, selling clothes that are still in fashion for less than 50 percent of the market price. Many other stores at Shi Lin Night Market also sell their products at prices that are far below those found elsewhere, partly because they want people to come to the market and partly because they need to compete with all the other shops.
Fashion accessories, especially those from Japan, are popular items here. The main market for these is on An Ping Street, to the left of Yang Ming Theater. All the hottest products can be found there and the variety of toys, bags, stuffed animals and cell phone decorations is simply mind-boggling. If you walk down An Ping Road, it won't take long to figure out what the most popular product happens to be at the moment. At present, this seems to be the "momo" bear from Japan and a certain rabbit from Korea. There are numerous shops selling cartoon products, including a three-floor store named "Kitty Cat" which has every kind of stuffed animal and doll imaginable. It sells a lot of Hello Kitty products which are imported directly from Japan and can't be found anywhere else, including Lavender Kitty from Hokkaido, Hello Kitty with leopard-skin clothes and Hello Kitty in traditional Japanese dress.
Recently, more and more people have become interested in traditional Chinese clothing and there are several stores catering to that fad. There is also an interesting store on the corner of Wen Lin and Ji He roads that sells only Coke and Swatch products. The owner, an avid Coke and Swatch devotee, is willing to either directly sell his products or trade them for other Coke or Swatch merchandise. His store has almost 2,000 Swatch watches--both the latest and earlier models--for sale, making it even more comprehensive than Swatch specialty stores, which only carry new watches. There are even some rare watches that were produced in limited numbers.
In addition to all the shopping and food, Shi Lin Night Market also has movie theaters, video arcades and KTVs. On both the right and left sides of the Ri Yang Department Store on Ji He Road there are arcades featuring weightlessness and virtual reality machines. You can experience this cutting-edge technology for a mere NT$100. If you come early before the market opens, head over to the FINS Taipei Sea World on Ji He Road for a look. After your visit to the market, and you've had your fill of eating, drinking and shopping, you can head up to Yang Ming Mountain to enjoy the night views and take a dip in the hot springs. Or, try your luck at bolwling at the Yuan Shan bowling alley. There are also the grounds of the art museum nearby available for a peaceful stroll to finish off your evening.
With so much available in almost every category of dining, shopping and entertainment, there is little doubt that Shi Lin Night Market will continue to provide an endless supply of attractions and discoveries for all visitors, whether you're a jaded veteran or a first-timer.
There are several ways to get to Shi Lin Night Market.
You can take the MRT Danshui line to Chientan Station, or take bus 216, 217, 218, 203, 224, 266, 269, 277, 280, 308, or 310 to the MRT Chientan Station, Min Chuan University, or Xiao Bei (Hsiao Pei) Street. Or, of course, you can simply take a taxi.