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China Daily Website

Eat, Drink and Play

Updated: 2012-08-20 10:59
By Eric Jou ( China Daily)

"Many people head out to night markets and dine directly at the food stands or stalls," says Lin. "In doing so, they can chit-chat with the stall owner, and these conversations give a sense of familiarity and belonging, and that makes night markets places that people feel at home."

Lin's Ningxia Road Night Market, like many of Taiwan's night markets, started out as a place where people gathered. Some of the more famous night markets began life on streets in front of temples.

In the case of Ningxia Road, the night market began during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) when vendors gathered to sell iced tea and various snacks inside what was called the Yuanhuan Gardens.

The gardens were by a busy six-way crossroads and became a popular spot for people to gather, a fact that enterprising businessmen soon noticed, and started selling refreshments.

During the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the Japanese built up the area surrounding the gardens and the vendors were forced to move to a nearby street - Ningxia Road.

When the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan, they began regulating street hawkers. Currently, all hawkers in Taiwan have to be licensed or risk breaking the law.

While night markets operate legally in public space, their existence hasn't exactly been easy.

According to Lin, night markets operate on a fine line. While they boost the local economy of the neighborhood, they also draw the ire of residents who want a peaceful night's rest. The typical hours of a night market start at 6 pm and end around one or two in the early hours.

And then, there are some that have faded and disappeared due to various reasons, such as botched attempts to improve and relocate them.

Taiwan's most famous night markets, the Shilin and Shida night markets, have become shades of their former glory. The Shilin night market, located in a snake-like alley lined with residential developments, was forced to move the majority of its food stalls indoors, making it lose much of its appeal.

Shida night market, also located in another residential area, also felt the effects.

According to James Parng, chief of the Longquan neighborhood and Shida shopping district, Shida night market has shrunk from having about 300 stalls to a little more than 180. He says the drop has affected business, but only because the market is now smaller.