This guest post is from North Carolina author and sculptor Joel Haas (featured previously at Neatorama), who is traveling in Taiwan and taking plenty of pictures. Whatever they are, a night market is NOISE and COLOR!!
Part flea market, part carnival, part food court, part social nexus, a "night market" is where vendors set temporary booths along a street and sell from about 5:30 PM until about 2 AM. All Taiwanese towns and cities have night markets. The most famous and largest is Taipei's Shilin Night Market. Imagine the NC State Fairgrounds, arenas and all, turned into a giant flea market and then doubled or tripled in size. Pack it with people and illegal vendors setting up shop in the middle of the aisles. Until I was nearly run over, I had forgotten it is okay to ride a bike or motor scooter through the night market aisles. The only thing stopping traffic in some areas is the utter crush of people. Most places in the night market resemble the midway at the state fair on a record day. The smell of "stinky tofu" (fermented tofu) fills the air so you know you're in a true Taiwanese market. You can buy everything to eat from steaks to jellyfish to candied tomatos to tea jelly; cotton candy to squid; tripe to exotic fruit. Shop for clothes, luggage, underwear (remember the people who needed waistband amplifiers?) or books. Power tools or bok choy, a night market's got it all and probably more. Grannies shoot baskets at one of the numerous arcades.
"Buddha Head" fruit on sale--Joy's and my favorite. Called "custard Apple" in English. It is unknown in the States as it doesn't ship well.
I couldn't resist buying a package of this stuff. It's very thin and dry. Quite tasty, actually.
Here is the "cherry shrimp almond pig dried meat" sheets and the Buddha Head fruit I bought.
Fried chicken is widely served, but is cut into pieces and sold like McNuggets. She will season it with local hot sauces. None of the cuts of chicken--or any other meat is familiar in style to Westerners.
Fresh lettuce is washed behind the scenes and the water dumped into the central gutter.
A used book stall.
Little girl has her juice while waiting for fried chicken.
Your choice of "black glutinous rice" or "ovary and digestive gland" steamed dumplings.
Tomatoes, not apples, are candied here and sold on a stick for 90 cents US note the bubbling pan of red sugar to the right. Strawberries are often candied as well. A shooting arcade is directly behind the girl--she'd better not back up too much!
There was a huge, separate arcade for fortune teller booths--English language booths shown here. You might be a visiting foreigner, Japanese, etc. and want your fortune told, so the lingua franca would be English. The fortune teller mall management handles all the billing, scheduling, etc. There are PLENTY more fortune tellers freelancing along the aisles.
The regular Mandarin and Taiwanese fortune teller booths.
A typical crush of people along the aisles. Here, I am just coming into one of the main aisles.
Another set of fortune tellers--the customer sits before them, palms out and the fortune tellers use chopsticks to rapidly tap a large gold colored disk and constantly consult a table of numbers as they tap to read out somebody's future.
I had a very popular drink--tea jelly with milk and shaved ice and lime or lemon juice. As you can see in the background there were a lot of vendors offering this drink--- costs $US 1 for a 12 oz cup.
The red bean paste "hockey pucks" shown here with a wider variety of fillings.
Prawns on a stick, wrapped in dragon whiskers noodles and deep fat fried prawns in whisker noodles
Sugar cane vendor. He puts a length of cane through a crusher to produce a 16 ounce cup of hot or cold sweetened water guaranteed to put your pancreas into shock if you drink it all.
A cheap date--it's very popular to pay a few cents and "fish" for crayfish or minnows-- usually an entertainment for small children.
Some sort of gambling game using tiles and a huge bingo-like card tiles and cards
Pinball machines--actually made with pins and marbles.
24 hour foot massage--you can buy a 45 minute or a one hour massage--designed to make you howl and cure a panoply of ills.
Dumpling dough being torn into small sizes from the long ropes of raw dough. They'll be steam cooked and look like the dumplings on the left.
Like the red bean "hockey pucks," a pancake like batter is cooked in a half mould and then-- as seen here, shrimp, eggs, onions, etc, added to the "cup." Then they'll be sealed with another half dome of batter and filling to make a ball. (see far right)
The cotton candy man stays busy.
Not everybody works hard--the cotton candy vendor brings his dog and an old couch on the back of his scooter.
Next to the cotton candy man, Dad and son have friendly game of cards while Mom keeps an eye on the stand.
Joel Haas is a sculptor from Raleigh, North Carolina. You can see his works at his website or at Neighborhood Sculpture Walk, and read stories at his blog. Part two of Joel's adventures in Taiwan will be online tomorrow!