Keelung’s longest-running fish market

Kanzaiding Fish Market 崁仔頂漁市場

Kànzǎidǐng Fish Market 崁仔頂漁市場 is supposedly the longest-running operation of its kind in northern Taiwan. Back in the Japanese colonial era the market was located along the banks of the Xùchuān River 旭川河 in Keelung, formerly a navigable canal running through the downtown core and emptying into the harbour. The name of the market is derived from a Taiwanese Hokkien term for the stone stairs that once lined the side of the canal; Kanzaiding literally means “top of the stairs”. The Japanese built a pier in the late 1920s, making it easy for fishermen to offload their catch next to the market, and convenient access to the railway network encouraged its growth.

The northern edge of Kanziding Fish Market
On the edge of the fish market in downtown Keelung at around 3am.
Bright lights, big fish market
Bright lights, big city fish market. The building on the right is Qing’an Temple, devoted to Mazu, goddess of seafarers and fishermen.

After the KMT took over Taiwan the fish market and the rest of Keelung continued to expand—but there wasn’t much room to grow. The topography of the area around the port is very hilly and there isn’t much space for the city to sprawl. As such, the new government undertook several efforts to redevelop the canal in the late 1950s, destroying several of the piers and filling in parts of the canal to make more room for the market, a new police station, and other buildings.

Keelung’s longest-running fish market
An immense all-night fish market in Taiwan’s seedy northern port town.

Density in the downtown core continued to increase in subsequent years, eventually leading to a far more drastic round of urban renewal. In the mid-1970s the entire length of the canal from the foot of the harbour to the back of the downtown core was covered up to create more land for development. The multi-use Sāndòng Buildings 三棟大樓, completed in 1978, now occupy this space, water flowing underground. Take a stroll to the harbour and you’ll see several Japanese colonial era bridge pylons jutting out of the sidewalk—this is where the canal exits into the harbour. Turn around and walk alongside the three market buildings and you’ll eventually reach where the fetid canal is swallowed up by the city beneath the highway offramp at Rénwǔ Road 仁五路.

Fresh seafood at Kanziding Fish Market
Waiting for customers at Kanzaiding Fish Market.

Chances are you might smell the river entering the canal at the back of the city before you see it—the amount of rotting garbage it contains is truly incredible. All that refuse collects in the forgotten spaces beneath the Sandong Buildings and, as such, there are concerns about the potential for a massive explosion from the build-up of methane and other flammable gases. Gross, huh? Nowadays there is talk about removing the aging and decrepit buildings capping the canal—but we’ll just have to wait and see about that.

Waiting for customers on the edge of Kanziding Fish Market
Waiting for customers on the edge of Kanzaiding Fish Market.
Delivery trucks picking up and dropping off around 2am
Delivery trucks picking up and dropping off around 2am. The main road running through the heart of the market is a continual traffic jam most of the night.
Wheeling and dealing at Kanziding Fish Market
Wheeling and dealing on the phone at Kanzaiding Fish Market.
A bustling hive of activity in the dead of night
Preparing the night’s catch
Fresh fish at Kanziding Fish Market
Fresh fish in baskets next to a late night eatery at Kanzaiding Fish Market.
A Giant Big Fish with an all-seeing eye
A giant big fish with an all-seeing eye.
Testing for freshness at Kanziding Fish Market
A buyer squeezes a fish, presumably to check for freshness.
Inspecting the quality of the tuna at Kanziding Fish Market
Buyers congregate to assess the quality of a slab of tuna.
Red tuna vendor at Kanziding Fish Market
Red tuna vendor on the far side of the second Sandong Building.
Making deals at Kanziding Fish Market
Making deals at Kanzaiding Fish Market.
Old brick archways on one side of the fish market
One of the buildings opposite from the second of the Sandong Buildings has old brick archways out front. This is in the very heart of the market.
Setting up for an auction on a side street
Setting up for an auction on a side street around half past two. Precisely no fucks are given around here.

While Kanzaiding originated as a simple fish markets along the sandy riverbanks of this historic port town, its modern incarnation is more like a grim urban dystopia: all asphalt, concrete, tile, plastic, metal, and flesh, human and otherwise. Many of the small businesses of the market operate out of the ground floor of the three Sandong Buildings now covering the unseen channel—and many more can be found along buildings on the surrounding streets. Long after dark, as the day’s catch arrives by truck, the streets become incredibly congested with vehicles of all kinds, wheeled carts, baskets, styrofoam containers, refrigerator units, tables, scales, and people—so many people. And to think, this place only gets going after midnight!

Kanziding Fish Market at half past ten
Kanzaiding Fish Market at half past ten. The streets are almost completely deserted and many business owners haven’t arrived yet.
The deserted streets of Kanziding Fish Market at 11pm
Early deliveries begin around 11pm. There are few signs that this will become the busiest and most crowded part of a booming fish market mere hours later.
Fresh fish arriving at Kanziding Fish Market around 11pm
Shipments arriving around 11pm.
Delivery trucks offloading at Kanziding Fish Market
Delivery trucks offloading at 11pm.

From what I’ve read and seen there is a nightly rhythm to the business of the fish market. Shops begin setting up around 10pm, the first shipments arrive around 11pm, and business commences around midnight. Wholesale buyers swoop in around 1am to make big purchases at a discount, clearing space in the crowded market, but the night is only getting started. Rush hour begins around 3am and rapid-fire auctions continue until dawn. After sunrise the vendors clean up, the shutters come down, and the market disappears, much like the hidden river beneath it all.

Perusing the offerings at Kanziding Fish Market
Perusing the offerings at Kanzaiding Fish Market.
Fish balls and other hot pot goodies at Kanziding Fish Market
Fish balls and other hot pot goodies.
Buckets full of sea vegetables at Kanziding Fish Market
Buckets full of sea vegetables.
Styrofoam bins full of fish
Styrofoam bins full of fish.
Offloading tuna from a truck
Offloading tuna from a truck.
A basket full of small squid
A basket full of small squid.
One of many fish at Kanziding
One of many fish at Kanzaiding.
Kanziding Fish Market from within
Kanzaiding Fish Market from the ground floor of one of the Sandong Buildings.
Wandering the crowded streets of Kanziding Fish Market
Wandering the crowded streets of Kanzaiding Fish Market.

By day there are few signs of the late night business that sprawls through the streets of the downtown core. I have been to Keelung many times and had no idea how much activity took place on these dark streets until I booked a hotel and spent the night in the city on a whim—an experience I previously wrote about in this article. If you also spend the night you’ll have no problem finding the place—cross the downtown core and you’ll be drawn to the market like fish to an angler’s glowing lure.

The bridge pylon marking the hidden river
The bridge pylon marking the hidden canal flowing beneath the Sandong Buildings.
There is almost no trace of Kanziding Fish Market by day
There is almost no trace of Kanzaiding Fish Market by day. This is the heart of the market!
A Disappearing River in Keelung
Where the canal disappears beneath the streets. The stench around here is atrocious. Those pillars support a highway offramp visible in the next photo.
Back of the Sandong Buildings, Keelung
This is the back of the Sandong Buildings, right where the canal vanishes beneath the road surface seen in the previous photo.
An Old Bridge Pylon Next to Keelung Harbour
A closer look at the old bridge pylon. The photo is straight; it’s on a strange angle.
Kanziding Fish Market Stone Marker
Dedication stone for the fish market, something I only noticed on subsequent visits.

Unsurprisingly, almost nothing has been written about this old market in English apart from an intriguing piece by Benoit Girardot, which I recommend you read. For further commentary in Chinese and many more photos have a look at these blogs here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


  1. Wow, I am impressed that you know about this intriguing piece I wrote several years ago! This night I spent there is really an extraordinary memory, I had no way to express it but write a fictive story, and I’m not really whether I even conveyed some of the atmosphere there. Anyway your article is interesting and it’s nice to know more about this place’s history! And great photos as usual :)

  2. I have to agree with the posts above, very interesting place and great post. 3am, my god, why can’t it be like that here? ;)

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