Thursday, March 27, 2014

Taiwan Travelogue: Shilin Night Market (士林夜市)

Taipei comes alive at night; filled abuzz with blaring sounds from the scooters/motorcycles whizzing past on the road and chitter chatter from the crowds on the streets.
Bright neon lights lit up the streets and the steamy mist danced in air amidst the sea of white and yellow lights on the narrow alleys filled are just another common sight to add to the picture, and when you hear loud voices battling against each other in a seemingly possible shouting match, you know you are in the right place.

Night markets are common sights in Taipei; or even Taiwan in general and they are so blended into the country's culture that they formed the local lifestyle altogether. There is nothing surprising to see another street filled with food and clothing stalls, even if it was just an ordinary neighborhood street. The night markets here are nothing different from our own local 'pasar malam' (also night markets, pronounced in the local Malay language), where the food stalls with an occasional clothing or other goods' stalls wedged in between flood the entire street while the patrons wade through the narrow roads made even more of a tight squeeze with the flow of traffic (filled with people) in two directions.
Occasionally, there are even those who seemed lost in their direction and turned towards the opposite direction, creating a traffic uproar in the somewhat unspoken system.
Yes, such was the scenario in a typical night market.

There is a long list of night markets in Taiwan, and while I am not exactly a fan nor a regular of night markets(back here at home), I did put down a couple of night markets to check out while I am in Taiwan. Reason being; this is simply what the locals enjoy as part of their lifestyle and when you are in a foreign country, do what the locals do. In Taiwan, if the locals enjoy their night market activities, then I just have to see for myself the way the Taiwanese do, and just join in the fun?
The first one on the list, and perhaps, the most popular of them all which we have heard of even back home, is the Shilin Night Market(士林夜市).

It is perhaps one of the largest night markets in the city too; and the most well-organized and structured of them all. Running along several streets in the Shilin district of Taipei, the night market covers two main sections; with one along the street of the Yangming Theater towards the Cicheng Temple on Danan Road. Part of the stalls were housed in the Old Shilin market building; started in the year 1899, where restaurants and food eateries were neatly organized side by side in a food court style - known as the Shilin Food Court.

The food court is well-organized with tables and seating areas designated for each stall; though limited for the patrons to enjoy their meal in a proper manner, instead of balancing their food while wedging through the massive crowd on the streets. Then again, that is a choice as there are those who enjoy munching on their snacks from the brown bags or skewers with a drink in their hand, and stopping by in between the stalls for more food, or even for a mere peek at the clothes, shoes, bags or trinkets on bargain.

The crowd are noticeably from the younger generation; mostly students who make their way to the night market as there are several schools located in the vicinity and the crowds grow considerably as the hours wade deeper into the night. Peak hours would approximate around 8.00-10.00pm; where most of the students would have got home from school or any schooling activities.
Of course, the other group who formed part of the crowd would be tourists from other countries; i.e, yours truly.

The night markets in Taiwan, in general, start as early as 4.00pm though, and if you are there at the early hour, you might be able to catch the stalls setting up but then again, you might miss some of the action taking place during the peak hours. However, the limited movement and the anxiety of being pushed or wiggling with that tiny weeny space to breathe, not to mention bodily contact with so many complete strangers is not exactly a pleasant experience to be relieved either.

You get the drift; and the alleys are just space-friendly, where you could find yourself almost pushed to the edge sometimes, and on the verge of falling off course, but then, you won't be able to do so since there are stalls who are your protectors. The stall owners and the bright lights will be clear reminders that you are to be back on track.
It helps that one ought to be wary of their belongings, especially when in such large crowds, and make sure your bags are all within your sight. Though it is still considerably and moderately safe, it does not harm to keep those security rules in check, at all times, when traveling to a foreign country. After all, foreigners are often the best preys for the baddies.

Shilin Night Market is famous for the street food; which is boasted to be mostly found or made famous by this night market and not in others and you will be bawling over the many different types of food, though at some certain points tend to be repetitive, appearing from each of the stall lined on the streets and alleys.

You will definitely be satisfied, in some way or another, by the interesting sights of the food or even the various aromas coming from the food which were being cooked or grilled at the stalls.
One thing though; if you have a sensitive tummy like mine, you might want to watch what you eat around here, and I must warn you, there are certain scents which are not entirely pleasant, although it can be rather subjective to individual; take for instance, the Stinky Beancurd/Tofu.

Gosh, I could be running away from it for more than a mile but given the limited space here and the haphazard way the streets are structured, I had to pinch my nose and hold my breath whenever I got a whiff of it in the air. There are some who loved it though; I mean, the taste, rather than the pungent smell of rotting bean curd which were deep fried before being served with their special sauce.
Yes, this Stinky Beancurd happened to be one of the many reputable food around here in this night market.

Scenes in Shilin Night Market:

Shilin Night Market is a vibrant moving picture in action; with the myriad of colors and scenes thrown together in a maze of intersecting alleys all over the place.
It is a fascinating sight indeed, and even if you are not into the food or any street shopping, take in the  scenes unraveling from the interaction among the crowd of night market enthusiasts, tourists and the street vendors; each playing their role to make up part of the stories taking place here on a daily, or rather, nightly basis.
To a certain extent, I did find the night market was tad a bit overrated in its popularity and reputation, or perhaps I am just not one for night market though it was still quite an experience. However, I will be sharing more about the other night markets in my upcoming posts; other less famed night markets which were just still good, if not better, though in anonymous fame in their local neighborhood.

If you are one for night markets and street food, then I am sure this is definitely the place for you. However, with the fame of this night market being echoed everywhere, it is still worth dropping by if you are in Taipei to see for yourself, and say, "Hey, Shilin? I have been there and checked it out"
Yeah, that would indeed make the itinerary more complete when you have at least been to one of the touristy or famous places, right?

To be continued with more Shilin's food....

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