For many first-time visitors to Taiwan, the sight of streets lined with vendors has them reaching for their cameras. Locals react differently: Often, the smells wafting from such places make their mouths water.
In the days of yore, Taiwan's temples served as social and business hubs as well as their religious centers, so it's hardly surprising that some of the island's oldest night markets are associated with places of worship. The most famous of these is Miaokou Night Bazaar in Keelung – miao means “temple” and kou means “entrance.” This market developed around Dianji Temple and is now much better known than that shrine.
Big-city night markets emerged as social institutions in the decades after World War II. Taiwan was rapidly industrializing and hordes of country people moved to the cities to become factory workers. Many of them lived in cramped dwellings that lacked electric fans let alone air-conditioning. Night markets were popular because it gave these blue-collar folk somewhere to go on sweltering evenings. Of course, being able to fill their stomachs for a few dollars was also an important attraction.
A number of night markets have evolved into tourist destinations in their own right. Taipei's Shilin Night Market, which is unusual because it's housed inside a permanent building, falls into this category. Just a few minutes' walk from Jiantan MRT Station, this night market features more than 500 vendors, many of which stay open well after midnight...
The full article appears in the July/August 2011 issue of Unity, the inflight magazine of UNI Airways.
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