Miàokǒu Night Market 廟口夜市 in Keelung is one of the largest and most famous night markets in all Taiwan 台灣. I have now visited Miaokou several times and can attest to the incredible size of the crowds that descend on the market on weekends and holidays.
This night market is located on the eastern side of the downtown core of Keelung not far from the waterfront and the train and bus stations. It is an easy trip from Taipei of about an hour or an hour and a half depending on your mode of transportation and traffic conditions. Miaokou is also a convenient stopover on the way back to Taipei 台北 after visiting places further afield along the beautiful northeastern shore. If you venture out to Jīnguāshí 金瓜石, Badouzi, or Wànlǐ 萬里 it is effortless to stop at Miaokou for a quick bite on the return trip.
I will admit that I have become something of a night market connoisseur. It isn’t that I crave the food, which is generally unhealthy and often of questionable provenance, nor am I drawn to the wide variety of cheap, disposable goods, most of which are probably made in China. I’m not really there to shop and eating the food is just part of something greater.
What draws me to night markets is the cultural experience, the people watching, the fairground atmosphere, the quirky fashion sense, the pungent aromas, and the endless noisy cacophony. Night markets as large as Miaokou can be very overwhelming, stimulating all the senses and scrambling circuits. I sometimes catch myself falling into a state of dreamlike dissociation from reality as I stagger through the crowded lanes, assaulted on all sides by the incredible spectacle all around me.
Miaokou sprawls outward from the steps of a temple at the heart of the market—hence the name, which loosely translates to “temple gate”. The street immediately outside the temple is the most famous part of Miaokou. It is here that you will see the long rows of lanterns and numbered stalls emblazoned with quaint English and Japanese translations of the delicacies available within, many of which are certain to be completely alien to the western palate.
Most famous night markets in Taiwan specialize in some kind of food or another. Miaokou is reputedly known for its seafood—especially grilled squid and octopus, which you will see a lot of. I am no food blogger so I won’t be going into extreme detail.
I do have one recommendation of my own to make, however. Guābāo 刮包 is a kind of Taiwanese steamed sandwich typically served with stewed pork belly, sour vegetables, peanuts, and some kind of sweetener. The example pictured above, which I found at Miaokou, is actually the best I’ve had in Taiwan. This was a bit of a surprise as I lived in Tainan 台南 for a while and ate guabao regularly—and Tainan is considered the place to get guabao! If you’d like to try this at Miaokou you can find it at the southern end of the street with all the lanterns spilling out from the temple’s mouth. It is, if I recall correctly, the only stall selling guabao, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.
Miaokou is by no means the best night market around but it certainly isn’t bad—especially if you’re interested in witnessing the spectacle more than eating the food. Personally, all my favourite night markets are in central and southern Taiwan, but Miaokou is still worth a look.