Taiwan is well known for its street shopping and day/night markets. More than just shopping for clothes, cosmetics or electronic items, you will discover the traditional local culture. The Yongle Market is one of the oldest markets here.
On my left, a shop full of spices, powders and herbs catches my eye. Sitting cross-legged, several men are mixing the ingredients in many pots with extreme dexterity. “It’s a Chinese medicine that they are making in a pharmacy,” explains Franck, our guide.
When you enter a Chinese pharmacy in Taiwan, you could very well feel that you are in a small, natural science museum. In a number of well-organized and labelled drawers, you find a large number of products, derived from plants, minerals and animals, and each element has its own speciality. Among the unique medicines that you can find here, are cinabre and amber, which help calm you down, peach nuts and chardon to boost blood circulation, bile of a bear to ease pains and of course, ginseng to improve the heart.
It is very interesting to observe the composition of each prescription given by a Chinese doctor. The pharmacist chooses ingredients from numerous drawers, even though none of the drawers is labelled and hence, the pharmacist has to know what is stored where and what the effect of each of the elements is, by heart. The patient takes the exotic melange, makes a soup with it and drinks it.
New flavours for the curious palate
It is almost noon, by now, and the restaurants in the Yongle Market begin to emit their delicious flavours. It is easy to eat well in Taiwan, without needing to dig too deep into the pockets, especially, in small restaurants and the street vendors. Among the local delicacies are Luobatang, a white radish soup, served with pork and rice, and Bazang, sticky rice garnished with mushrooms and pork, wrapped and steamed in leaves.
In all markets and on the streets, hawkers offer delicious soups and meals at very attractive rates. One should definitely try another Taiwanese speciality, the Jiaotsu, a big stuffed ravioli. Don’t despair if you are a vegetarian, as I am; there are options galore. Besides some Indian restaurants, normally located in big cities, the Taiwanese cuisine also has a number of vegetarian dishes and even the hawkers offer some, such as grilled maize, vegetable wraps and dumplings.
Must-Visit Markets in Taipei
- In Hsimenting, on the Junghua Road, Sector 1, many boutiques sell clothes and footwear for women, cheap souvenirs and electrical devices.
- A little farther, at the crossroad of Hsuchow Road and Jungshan S. Road, is the Chinese Handicraft Mart, where one can easily find high quality handicrafts for reasonable prices. Along the Jungshan N. Road, many shops are reputed for their costumes, shirts, tailored clothes, gifts, handicrafts, English books and copies of porcelain objects and paintings.
- In the neighbourhoods of Sihlin and Tienmu, in the north of Taipei, bamboo and rotin furniture, pottery and copies of antique works can be found and heavily negotiated upon. They are located on Jungshan N. Road, off Sector 5 and 6.
- In Dinghao, all around Jungshiao E. Road, Sector 4, between Fushing S. Road and Kuangfu S. Road, one can find many art galleries, jewellery shops and boutiques selling international brands, majority of which are made under license in Taiwan. In the labyrinth of the streets in Dinghao, many street vendors sell novelty ornaments and jewelleries, while the authentic jewellery shops offer exceptional jewelleries in gold and in other precious stones.
- It is also possible to get a certificate of authentication. In the jade market, which is put up every weekend, along the Jenai Road, under the Chienkuo Flyover, one can find a range of oddities and different objects in jade. The ones, who do not shy away from a little adventurous trip, will be surprised to discover interesting offers for jade products. The porcelain makers at Peitou, in the north of Taipei and at Yingko, in the south-west of Taipei, take the tourists for a visit to the factories and sell their products at reasonable prices.