I’ve visited Taiwan many times and I’ve always liked the place. The short flight from Hong Kong makes it ideal for a weekend jaunt, during which you can get good food at reasonable prices, meet friendly people speaking with gentle, lilting accents, and, of course, visit the National Palace Museum, in Taipei.
Then there are the island’s many night markets, though some may be of the opinion that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. There’s some truth to that, but my partiality towards Taiwan’s night markets stems from my nostalgia for the pasar malam.
As a child in Singapore, going to a neighbourhood pasar malam (“night market” in Malay) was a treat,
but now they have all but vanished, appearing only on festive or special occasions, with neat rows of stalls that are subjected to stringent health and hygiene standards, which is no bad thing, I suppose.
The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendour is a memoir by Meng Yuanlao, a refugee from the Northern Song capital of Bianliang (present-day Kaifeng), after it was overrun by Jurchen invaders from the northeast. Among his detailed accounts of everyday life in Bianliang during the Xuanhe reign (1119-1125), Meng describe a night market near a bridge that sells all manner of snacks.
He lists several dozen sweet and savoury foods, some costing fewer than 15 coins each, including two kinds of iced desserts, which suggests that Bianliang was quite an affluent city where even commoners could afford to buy ices on the street.
The market would stay open until the third watch (11pm-1am in today’s reckoning), again attesting to the wealth of the city, which had enough oils and candles to allow people to keep such late hours.