How tourism and a pandemic have changed Taiwan’s street food scene

A decade ago, Shilin Night Market was one of the hottest night markets in Taipei, packed to the brim with vendors slinging out hot bites of stinky tofu, barbecue squid and copious amounts of grilled meats on skewers.

Taipei culture writer Jason Cheung, who has been meticulously documenting the night market’s history on his blog, is convinced those days are long gone. Walking down an alley flanked by food vendors on both sides, his arms outstretched, he said, “It used to be so packed, you could barely move your arms.”

These days, the market is at less than half its usual capacity. The problem is that markets like Shilin have been too dependent on international tourists.

He added, “Before Shilin was so diverse. This market is now all about tourism. Everyone sells the same things. It’s boring.”

In some form or another, traditional street food will always be around, but the problem, say locals, is that the markets are becoming more homogenous.

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