One of the most exciting and interesting ways to sample Taiwanese food is to go to a night market. Night markets are incredibly popular in Taiwan and you can find many of them in every city and also suburban areas.
Night markets are famous for their xiaochi (little eats) and you can sample lots of different kinds of foods and drinks very cheaply. Most snacks cost around 50-70NT (around $2 USD), so you can easily sample the different dishes to find your favorites without worrying about spending too much money (this is great for those on a tight budget).
At smaller night markets you can expect to find around 50 stalls, while some of the larger ones have probably close to a thousand different vendors hawking their goods, including foods/snacks, drinks, clothes, trinkets, games, and more.
What if I Don’t Speak Chinese?
One of the really cool things about night markets is how English friendly they’ve become in the last few years. When I first arrived in Taiwan few vendors spoke English or even had English signs. While most vendors still don’t speak much/any English, many night markets are starting to incorporate English into their signage/menus. This means that even if you don’t speak a word of Chinese, all you need to do is point to the menu and you’ll be able to try out many of the unique and delicious things that they have to offer.
I remember going to night markets regularly when I first arrived in Taiwan as they are a fantastic way to soak in Taiwanese culture and try some great food. For a great majority of the regular Taiwanese food I eat, the first time I tried it was at the various night markets I went to when I first arrived, and I learned what I liked and didn’t like very quickly!
They are also a fantastic place to people watch and explore the differences in culture as they are incredibly popular with Taiwanese people (you can go any night and see friends, couples, and families eating out together). Night markets should be very high on the list of things to do for any new person to Taiwan because they are so incredibly different than what you can find in the West.
If you are in Taipei, the vast majority of people I know make Shilin their first night market stop and I also recommend it whenever someone asks me where to go. The Shilin night market is one of the biggest in Taipei and is incredibly popular with both the locals and foreigners who live here, and also with visitors. Just make sure that if you get claustrophobic easily you go early in the evening or during the week as it can be jam packed with people when busy at night and on the weekends.
I recently went to a night market for dinner near Shuanglian MRT stop in Taipei and you can see some pictures of my visit below. Google Maps also has Street View images of the night market I went to, so click on the link to go exploring!