Things to do in Taipei, Taiwan: Morning Markets
Taiwan's morning markets are ignored by most travel guide books, magazines and websites. But, if you really want to understand local culture, a walk through a morning market can teach you far more than a day at some sterile, packaged tourist attraction far away from real people's lives.
In the West, many people shop for food in giant supermarkets just once a week. But in Taiwan, most families shop for fresh food in the morning markets two, three or even four times a week, that's how they get the freshest ingredients. Taiwanese people really care about fresh ingredients, for health and taste reasons, and because small homes don't have storage space – they want vegetables the day they are picked, noodles the day they are made, fish the day they are caught, and so on.
In Taiwan, most supermarkets are much smaller than in the West, their fresh produce is not very fresh, and they are rarely busy before noon, because everyone goes to the morning market. (There are a handful of more Western-style places, like the expensive supermarkets around central Taipei and some giant stores, like Costco, in the suburbs).
The street department store
Actually, local people visit morning markets for many reasons, not simply for food. The market is like a department store on the street.
As well as fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, or seafood, you can see many other products. There's freshly prepared home-made food to eat or take away: noodles, sushi, snacks, desserts, buffeterias, dumplings , or pastries. Every stand in every market has its own original style and flavor, not like the boring standard flavors you get in fast food chains and shopping mall food courts.
Many housewives love to shop here, as there's a plentiful supply of housewares, women's fashions, kids' clothes, sports wear, women's underwear, shoes, cosmetics, or even jewelery, everything is affordable.
The free street theater
Sometimes I came back from the morning market without much shopping at all, but with a very lively spirit. I see all the stallholders are trying hard to sell their goods. They're constantly smiling, laughing, shouting, yelling, or even screaming to get customers – they enjoy performing on this stage. These people's passion for life moves me.
Feeling free is another thing that attracts me to shop in the morning. No suits, office clothes, high heels or hand bag. I am in my sandals, shorts, T-shirt, with a big shopping bag. I love the people behind the stands, their skin is dark, muscles are strong, they don't follow the latest fashions or styles, they talk loud and don't care, but they're friendly and very alive. The morning market might be not the coolest, cleanest place to shop. But I love it, love the way it's so earthy.
When to go
If you like to experience the morning market, weekend would be the best time to see everything. As shopping in the morning markets has became one of the most common family activities. Morning markets are flooded with people, the best supplies are waiting for the shoppers. You will find the most lively side of local people.
Of course, if you enjoy a quieter visit to the morning market when it's less crowded, then weekdays are good, but most of the morning markets are closed on Monday.
Markets don't have fixed opening hours, and individual stands will open at different times, and even close early if they're sold out. Normal morning street markets will be most active between 7am and 11.30am – the stands will usually be completely closed by midday.
Here's a list of morning markets in Taipei. The list includes addresses in English and Chinese, and the published opening time.