The Night Markets of Kaohsiung

The Night Markets of Kaohsiung

Note: This post was written on January 12, but due to technical difficulties it couldn\’t be posted under my name until now.

The first few days that Maddie and I have spent in Kaohsiung, Taiwan have been a whirlwind. Thus far, we have explored the district that our hotel is in and the area around the school, which are only about fifteen minutes apart, and spent several days in class at the school both meeting people and observing classes. I think that the most unique experience that I have had in Taiwan up until now was in the night markets on the first night that we arrived.

We were fortunate in that one of the teachers from the school, Bob, generously offered the show us around the market. Without him we would have been at a complete loss as to how to even begin exploring the area. The night market is about a half square block filled with rows upon rows of vendors standings selling anything from food to tea to clothing organized into aisles. Each aisle was lined with vendor carts, each selling some type of food. There was such a wide variety of options that it was nearly impossible to even know where to start. These markets happen every evening from around 5pm to about 10pm. They are quite common in Taiwan and there are multiple scattered across Kaohsiung. This one that Bob brought us to was one of the main markets that many tourist come visit. During the day they are seem like ghosts towns, with each cart stripped to its bare metal structure. At night however, it is a completely different story. They are well lit up and packed with people just about every night. They seem to be a common place for people to stop by and grab dinner on their way home from work.  

Almost all of the products are fried, which means that it is very hard to tell what it is exactly. Something that looks like a piece of fried chicken could actually be a mushroom, or something that appears to be strip of beef could be a piece of mystery meat. Given that our Chinese is basically non existent, everything we chose to try was a risk. Bob expressed that in order to fully experience the market, you had to be willing to throw things out if they weren’t to your liking, otherwise, you could miss out on many local delicacies.

With guidance from Bob we managed to avoid the duck bills, octopus tentacles (sometimes with suction cups and all), and other unique choices and tried some of the best dumplings I have ever had. I have no idea what was inside them, but they were unbelievably delicious. Maddie and I have since returned to the market to get more. We also tried duck, which is quite popular and common here, pork ribs, and fried mushrooms. All of which were delicious.

Another interesting nuance of the night market was the smell. A popular item in Taiwan is a food called “stinky tofu”. You can smell the stinky tofu carts from at least thirty meters away. It has a strong odor that is unmistakable for anything else. I have been told that if you can actually eat it, it takes pretty good, but getting to that point can be quite difficult for people not accustomed to that powerful smell. Bob told us that some students used to eat stinky tofu for lunch in classrooms, but the smell would linger for so long that they had to ban it.

There is one station that greatly intrigued us on the first visit that have yet to visit. It seems to be a make your own stir fry station where you can fill a bowl which whatever ingredients you like and then tables are set up with a wok where you can cook it yourself. I think that will be our next adventure into the chaos that is the night market. We may have to watch a few people do it before we do so we understand how it works.

Overall this was a fantastic experience for our first night in Taiwan. These night markets are quite common and are an important part of our cultural education. I am very looking forward to seeing and experiencing so much more in the next two weeks!