12 ways to explore old Taipei's Dadaocheng area


1. Morning markets

Tàipíng market: This is the oldest open market in Taipei, built more than 100 years ago. The market offers all kind of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood. The food stores around the market have been offering the most delicious food for more than half of a century. Originally, it was a wholesale market.

Yǒnglè market: It was originally established around 1910, during the Japanese colonial period, when it was the first indoor market in Taiwan. It was the first time Japanese administrators organized an outdoor Chinese style market, and brought the stallholders into a cleaner and more hygienic indoor market. Upstairs on the 2nd floor is a fabric market.

2. Night markets

Níngxià night market:

Probably the oldest night market in Taipei. It's been closely connected to the local area for 100 years. It's not a tourist market. It has preserved the street food culture, with each shop specializing in one type of food, sometimes for generations (unlike Shih Lin night market). So it's the kind of night market that local people really go to for food every day. Ningxia market has more outdoor area, so if it's raining, you might prefer Yánsān night market.

Yánsān night market

The local area is a mix of commercial and residential, so the food there is for everyone, especially local people. It's very inexpensive. Like Ningxia night market, one of the special attractions of Yansan is that it's a local market, and it hasn't compromised its quality to try to attract outsiders. Yansan is mostly a covered market, so you have more protection from rainy weather. 

3. Fine street food

Food stands and shops around Tàipíng market, Yǒnglè market including: Traditional bakeries, rice cakes, sticky rice, noodles, Lǔ ròu fàn (rice with meat sauce), fish ball soup, shrimp rolls, Xiǎo lóng bāo (small steamed dumplings), other buns and dumplings (bao zi, and so on), baked white pepper pork buns, fresh kumquat orange juice, herbal tea, almond milk, almond jelly, Taiwanese sweets, and so on.

Beer garden in Māzǔ temple: There are many street restaurants around the temple, and people enjoy eating and drinking under the banyan tree in the temple yard. It's a place people have their Taiwanese style brunch, and where hard working people have traditionally gone to relax after work. There are more than 40 authentic Taiwanese street food restaurants and food stalls. It's just a place for afternoon relaxing though, as they stop serving food and drinks quite early – around 5pm

Click here to open a menu of many popular stir-fried dishes that you can print out to take with you to this beer garden or other stir-fried restaurants, so you can point to what you want. It's in English and Chinese.

4. Tea

In 1886, there were 252 tea companies in Dadaocheng exporting fine oolong tea to the US and Europe. This was 54% of the total exports of all products from Taiwan. This huge income from oolong tea exports created the luxury buildings, temples, and churches in the area, and this money even supported development of Taiwan's democratic movement in the 1920's.

Herbal remedy shop near Dihua Street, Dadaocheng, in Taipei, TaiwanWang's tea store is one of the oldest tea companies in Dadaocheng. It has been run by the same family for five generations. They are not only selling very good tea at a reasonable price, but they are also happy to share their abundant knowledge of tea.

5. Fabrics, clothes and accessories

On the 2nd floor of Yǒnglè market is a fabric market. People often buy the fabric and take it to the tailor's shops on the 3rd floor to be made into clothing. There are also many accessory shops around this area.

6. Temples and churches

Māzǔ temple was built in 1866. Mazu is the goddess of the sea, widely worshiped by southern Chinese people living on the coast. She looks after fishermen, and their families. This temple was built to bring Mazu's protection to the traders' ships as they roamed Europe, the US, south Asia and China.

Chénghuáng temple, also called The City God Temple, was built in 1856. Chénghuáng, the City God looks after everyone inside the city walls: people, animals – even the spirits. Traditionally, the City God cooperates with the Mayor of the city, who mainly pays attention to looking after the people. Many people also come to this temple to worship the Matchmaker God, and to wish for a good relationship with their future spouse.

7. Architecture

Many styles of architecture stand together on old Dihua street: Southern Chinese, Colonial, Baroque, and more Modern styles. Since Dadaocheng was the business center of Taiwan from the 1880's. Trading of tea, sugar, rice and camphor brought in huge export income. The Western-style facades on old Chinese buildings, and the old Christian churches, still tell the story of the West's long involvement and investment in Dadaocheng.

8. The old harbor

The old Dadaocheng wharf is where ships were loaded with tea, sugar, rice and camphor for export. Big modern ships can no longer sail down the shallow river, but this area is still very lively, and open to even more people. There are also sightseeing boats saling from the Dadaocheng pier down river to Danshui, and sometimes up river into Taipei.

Spending an afternoon or evening relaxing in the old harbor costs almost nothing. There is a coffee and snack van running all day long. Every evening, musicians are performing old style Taiwanese popular songs. We can feel the flow of the Tamsui river past the mountains surrounding the city, and imagine we those traders 150 years ago.

The Taipei city bicycle rental station is right in the harbor, biking along the river path is also a way to feel the past and enjoy the river scenery.

9. Souvenir shopping

Simple Leisure, Art Yard 1, Art Yard 67 (ceramics shop), Bookstore 1920s' and Nostalgic future are all very pleasant places to buy locally made souvenirs.

10. Food and herb shopping

Chinese herbal stores, cooking ingredients shops, tea shops, traditional bakeries are all a good option if you want to bring some Taiwanese experience back home.

11. Puppets

Lin Lin-Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum

Originally, the purpose of puppet shows was not to entertain people. They were actually intended to entertain the gods, to keep them happy and avoid trouble (though of course, people also enjoyed the shows). This is why puppet shows are often associated with temples.

Puppet shows and puppet theaters were introduced to the area by immigrants from China. There used to be hundreds of puppet companies nearby, so if any temples near Taipei wanted to put on a puppet show, they would come to this area to find the best performers. There are still some puppet companies in the area, but far fewer than before, as movies, television and other new forms of entertainment have become popular.

12. Exploring History

Around 1860, many British and US trading companies set up offices in Dadaocheng. They saw an opportunity to export tea to Europe and the US. Those companies encouraged the northern Taiwanese farmers to learn how to grow good quality tea, and they taught the Dadaocheng locals how to make refined tea from grass tea.

By 1886, there were already 252 tea companies exporting tea. Dadaocheng was the main port for exporting, which brought tremendous wealth into the area. Dadaocheng became the business center of Taiwan.

In fact, the temples in Dadaocheng were not only a religious center but also a business center. The three big main temples – the City God temple, Mazu temple and the Lord of Law temple – were all built during this period.

Temples were built by the local business people and had a lot of support from the traditional and export business income.

We have a tour of this area, click here to find out more about it.

Photos by Joyce Tay


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