You’re known by many descriptors- but a ghost town is not usually a fitting one. Unless you’re here right now, during the Lunar New Year holiday week, when no descriptor could be more apt.
Case in point: I started writing this entry at a 7/11 on New Year’s Eve, after my quest to find any type of open cafe in my local area was a crushing failure. Absolutely everything was closed, save for convenience stores, and normally flourishing streets were completely desolate. I was thoroughly warned that this would be the case- but in slight disbelief I thought it to be merely an exaggeration. Apparently until the festive period is over, Taipei will be quiet, quiet, quiet.
Thank god I got my people fix on at Díhuà Jiē (迪化街-Díhuà Street) two days ago to tide me over. Constructed back in the 1850s after an ethnic feud, the street we see today is a fascinating mixture of both Western and Japanese influences imbued over its lengthy history. (Read more about the street’s incredible history here).
Continuing from its rich tradition, Dihua Street remains a hub for Chinese medicines and herbs, fabrics, teas, and rice. Usually, the street presents itself rather meekly to passerbyers, and a stroll would quite fittingly be called peaceful.
But in the couple of days leading up to the New Year, the street dramatically transforms itself into a heaving market for all assortment of edible treasures. Known as the most popular place to purchase New Year goods, Dihua Street draws a staggering amount of people- thousands- seeking to arm themselves with tantalising finds. It’s only at this time that the street throws any usual notion of timidness to the fire.
Entering the tightly packed crowd, we quickly discovered that little purposeful movement was necessary as the crowd was pushing forward like a conveyor belt straight down the near kilometer of stalls.
I have honestly never experienced anything quite like it there. Not only the unforgiving crowds, the cheerful and fervent calls from the vendors, and the wide-eyed and hungry locals, I was moreover taken aback by the sheer volume and variety of goods on sale.
Seafood delicacies, traditional packaged goods, dried fish, meats, fruits and vegetables, nuts, freshly fried bites, sweet snacks and hoards of candy. Decorations for the household and chances to try your luck.
And- it must be mentioned- the greatest assortment of free samples I have ever had the pleasure of lapping up. Without a doubt I am a shameless free sampler at the best of times, so to be actively encouraged to sample food from almost every single one of the stalls (yes- 800 metres worth) was a type of heaven I cannot describe.
After three hours of non-stop sampling and oogling, we felt light with happiness but heavy in the belly.
I bought a massive bag of hand-picked assorted dried fruits and vegetables to take home. The process was basically the grown up version of choosing various sugary treats at a pick-and-mix. Look at me mum, I’m a real adult!
Eagerly adding dried strawberry, mango, okra, sweet potato, radish, pumpkin and god knows what to my bag, I quickly notched up a whole TW$300 worth of dried bounty.
Finally exiting the street, ever the gluttons, we found ourselves justifying that despite three hours of straight eating, we most definitely have room for some dumplings.
The dumplings that drew our attention were from a tiny vendor already thriving with loyal customers. It seemed to be a family operation, as seated behind the stall were an old man and woman working tirelessly to make these little, delicate morsels.
Further away from Dihua street we spotted a calligrapher preparing auspicious signs to welcome in fortune, happiness and luck for the new year.
A sensory overload of the best kind, visiting Dihua Street during this time is highly recommended if you ever find yourself in Taipei in the lead up to the New Year. Especially given that I don’t celebrate myself, I feel lucky to have experienced just a small part of it on this day. The tradition of returning to your home town to reign in the New Year with loved ones, to reconnect, to feast, to celebrate new life and old and to share wishes for the coming year is truly a beautiful one.
Wishing you all a prosperous, lucky and unforgettable Year of the Monkey!
新年快樂! (Xīn Nián Kuài Lè Happy New Year!).
Have you paid a visit to Dihua Street? What memorable local delicacies have you sampled at markets here and abroad? Leave me a message in the comments below!
Where? Dihua Street, Taipei
Nearest MRT? Beimen is closest, but the street can also be accessed from Zhongshan MRT.
When to go? To experience the New Year’s market, visit in the days leading up to Lunar New Year. Dihua Street can be visited year round to enjoy a part of Taipei that has preserved its merchant traditions, so going at any time will provide a fascinating hark back to Taipei’s past.