Volume 22 Issue 1, January 2018
 
 

 


In Urdu poetry, the term Subah-e-Banaras refers to the alluring morning of Banaras and the Sham-e-Awadh denotes the enticing evening of Lucknow, the capital of the former state of Awadh in India. Nights of Taiwan, in the same way, can be used as a metaphor to describe the nocturnal pleasure one can only experience when roaming around in the street markets in the cities of Taiwan, an East Asian country.

As it happens, the moment the sun sets, there emerges a glittering, sparkling night in the country’s street markets that outshine the brightness of the sun and dazzle the glow of the daylight. Marked as a fun-filled, thrilling moment in the dark that carries on from dusk to dawn, the night in the urban part of the East Asian country offers the life that matters, particularly to those who believe in starting a new day when the sun disappears into the gray-blue haze.

The street markets, referred to as the night market in Taiwan, mostly operate in the urban and suburban areas. From Feng Chia Night Market in Taichung to Raohe Street Market in Taipei, there are more than one hundred night markets operating across the country known for its food festivals, traditional lion dances and dragon boat races. Interestingly, these distinctive Taiwanese attributes can be seen together in the night market that offers a taste of Chinese food and brings about a symphony of rhythmic movements performed all night long by a troupe of street dancers, while a nocturnal spark is kindled by a thrill of excitement as if one is wildly dancing in a dragon costume to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Most night markets are located in designated marketplaces and operate under municipal rules and regulations, while some markets come up on roads, streets and on roadside pavements encroached by street vendors, hawkers and fast food purveyors. Today, it is perhaps the busiest public space in the country that peaks at night and truly reflects the way the Taiwanese people lead their lives full of colour and lights and the shindig one can openly have in the dark. Trading, shopping, eating, or mere strolling hand in hand. Think of any activity one can perform at night or dream of any fun one can derive out of an open-air market and means business in every sense.

According to historians, the night market offers a great variety of Taiwanese cuisine mixed with evergreen Chinese food. In 1950, when the Chinese Civil War came to an end, General Chiang Kai-Shek brought along China’s best cooks in Taiwan who

 


introduced a new culinary culture ruled by Chinese food and beverages. In the beginning, those were mostly migrant Chinese workers who made up a large customer base of the night market, according to East Asian history scholars.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, the street food vendors introduced a range of banquet dishes, which were rather simplified in their texture as per the local Taiwanese taste. The variety as well as the affordability of food, particularly xiaochi food, was something that helped the night market become a frequently-visited place in town and it soon emerged as a favourite tourist spot in the urban parts of the country.
Interestingly, most towns were named after the dishes they were popular for, while serving of scrumptious xiaochi, or ‘little eats,’ appeared to be a big catch for the local elite who ended up gripped by the fever of Chinese food more than anything else available under the sun.

For urban dwellers in today’s Taiwan, their social life revolves around night markets. A true manifestation of Chinese culture, the night markets are quite a common phenomenon in such other East and Southeast Asian countries as China, Macau and Hong Kong. In Taiwan, night markets are found in all the country’s major cities such as Kaohsiung, New Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Taipei, Taoyuan, etc.

However, these night markets are also commonly found in those countries where a considerable number of overseas Chinese live in a dedicated place called ‘Chinatown.’ Chinatowns exist in many countries worldwide as Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, UK and the USA. Other than Taipei, some well-known night markets exist in Tanjong Pagar, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The tradition of night markets in Taiwan dates back to the era when merchants used to gather in a dedicated place to sell their agricultural products during the daytime and would sit together with the rest of the vendors all night long. Held quite regularly in corners of large cities mostly, those small local gatherings gave rise to a more formal night market, which soon evolved into an all-purpose place, operating as a trading spot for buyers and street vendors as well as serving as an ideal place-to-be where both night owls and early birds could flock together to enjoy life.
Both for the local population and visitors, a day (or night) spent in the night market in Taiwan is a time well spent.

The writer is a member of the staff.

 
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