Taiwan’s Night Markets Go Global

Jun 20, 2014

Taiwan’s Night Markets Go Global

Taiwan has long been known for its night markets.

According to the island’s tourism bureau, night markets attract more than 70% of foreign visitors. The popularity of these nightly bazaars even prompted the bureau to come up with an app in which players can be virtual street hawkers in the markets.

But as Taiwan becomes more globalized, so too has the selection at the night markets.

Visitors to Taipei’s famed Raohe Night Market can still get their fill of Taiwanese standbys like stinky tofu, pork intestine soup and pig’s blood rice cakes smothered with peanut powder. But those in the mood for something a little different can now also find Italian pizza cones, French crepes and Thai banana roti.

For Kao Tzu-fang, the best way to enjoy India without leaving Taiwan is a visit to her neighborhood night market.

“I love the Indian milk tea here. I don’t need a visa or a plane ticket,” she said, while fixing her eyes on the Taiwanese man showing off his “pull tea” skill—a common Southeast Asian trick involving pouring a mixture of sweet, condensed milk and black tea back and forth repeatedly between two pitchers from a distance.

Although Ms. Kao, a Taipei resident, has never been to India and admitted she doesn’t know what real Indian masala tea tastes like, she is happy with the Taiwanese version. She said she and many of her friends rely on the night markets when craving something exotic and different.

Wearing a sweat-soaked black tank top with a towel around his neck, Tu Ming-hsiu stands in front of a smoldering hot grill each night at the Shilin Night Market, hoping the cumin-infused aroma from his Chinese Xinjiang meat skewers will appeal to passersby, especially those from the mainland, where it’s a popular street snack.

“Taiwan receives lots of Chinese tourists and many of them probably would like to have a taste of home,” the Taiwan native said, noting his business is doing “better than ever.”

Some foreign vendors are also seeking to feast upon Taiwan’s craze for exotic food. Halit Toprak, has been selling Turkish ice cream, or dondurma, in various night markets for the five years. He said selling a beloved dessert from his home country is his way of sharing his culture with Taiwanese people.

“I want my Taiwanese customers to experience the original taste, so I even get my salep [a type of flour] from Turkey,” he said, but he admits he has to dial down the levels of sugar to cater to Taiwanese taste buds.

While the globalization of street snacks is giving night market shoppers more options, not everyone embraces the foreign influence. Some fear the influx of cheesy fries, Japanese moichi and Indian chapati is spoiling the essence of something so quintessential Taiwan.

“When I was in America, I missed Taiwan’s night market food so much. But now there is all this Western food here, and it isn’t even good or authentic,” said Michael Shih, a 28-year-old manager at a startup. “People who want burgers should just go to McDonald’s or a food court, but leave my night market alone.”

Mr. Shih said one of his favorite memories growing up in Taipei was grabbing a plate of stinky tofu with a heap of pickled cabbage after an intense basketball game.

“It was dirty, cheap, and messy, but that’s what made it so good and so Taiwan,” he recalled.

Second-generation street vendor Huang Ying-tong said the invasion of foreign food in Shilin Night Market, where his family has been selling an array of barbecued grub for 30 years, doesn’t bother him at all. In fact, he said he feels it’s something Taiwan should be proud of.

“Taiwan is small island but it is a giant melting pot,” Mr. Huang said. “The constant changing selections of night market food proves just that.”



About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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