Night markets -- popular venues for after-dark eating in Asia -- are catching on here
View of The Food Trust's Night Market in Philadelphia.
A dim sum booth at the Richmond Night Market in Richmond, British Columbia.
Fermented (or "stinky") tofu.
A chef preparing "Kickass Rice" -- rice with herbs and a boiled egg on top -- served with skewers of mochi -- rice cubes -- topped with cheese at the Richmond Night Market in Richmond, British Columbia.
One of the most popular booths at the Richmond Night Market in Richmond, British Columbia, sells "Rotatos" -- spiral-cut potatoes on a stick.
Japanese Pizzas on the grill at the Richmond Night Market in Richmond, British Columbia.
Squid tentacles at the Richmond Night Market.
The Philadelphia Night Market.
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RICHMOND, British Columbia -- Days after reading in the August Food & Wine magazine that night markets "promise to be the next big thing in the U.S.," I headed to one in Canada that has been big for years.
Big in that the Richmond Night Market (richmondnightmarket.com), which started here in 2000 and ran until 2007, reopened this summer on a bigger 18-acre spot in an industrial area near Vancouver International Airport. It runs weekends, mid-May into early October, and draws thousands each night.
The city of Richmond has a large population of people from China and other places in Asia, where night markets have long been popular venues for the masses to eat, shop and socialize after the sun goes down.
In fact, Richmond has another big one, the Summer Night Market (summernightmarket.com), which started in 2008 after the other closed; it's bustling, too, claiming as many as 28,000 visitors one night last season.
Naively planning to visit both markets in one night, my family and my North Vancouver in-laws -- two cars full -- arrived at the Richmond Night Market just as the doors opened at 7 p.m. on a recent Sunday. It still was brightly sunny as we followed the signs and safety-orange-vested workers' gestures into the gravel parking lot and joined the long line of people walking into what looked, sounded and smelled like a typical, if big, summer fair or festival.
Once inside, we passed the stage, where Asian teens were singing and dancing, and the booths selling cell phone accessories and other discount goods, heading straight for the food.
It was immediately clear that this was not, say, the Washington County Fair.
These 80-some food booths and trucks were selling such delicacies as dim sum, Filipino Fishballs, Durian Milk Tea, and Okonomiyaki, described as "Japanese pizza."
There were many foods we'd never heard of, much less tasted. Takoyaki (described on a sign as wheat flour and egg batter filled with octopus, scallops, shrimp, green onion, cabbage, pickled ginger and bonita flakes, topped with mayonnaise). Bakudanyaki (another savory Japanese fritter topped with various sauces and seasonings). Imitation Shark Fin Soup. Taiwanese Intestine Thin Noodle.
There were non-Asian treats, too, including German roasted pork hocks. Plus more universal fair fare, such as mini donuts and deep-fried candy bars.
The signs, sights and smells were intoxicating, and while my in-laws are vegetarian and a bit wary of "street food," the adventurous omnivores among us -- my wife and 5-year-old son -- couldn't wait to dig in.
We started with an order of "Kick-Ass Noodles" that we had read about, prepared and served with restaurant finesse by folks from the well-regarded Vancouver food truck Le Tigre. We got the rice topped with a soft-boiled egg, plus a skewer of mochi -- rice cake cubes topped with mozzarella cheese -- for $5.50.
We washed that down with fresh watermelon juice ($2.99), and then my wife had to try a cardboard tray of fermented, or stinky, tofu, which, well, lives up to its name ($6).
Our in-laws tried a Rotato, a spiral-cut potato on a stick, and an ear of roasted corn, before they called it a night.
People continued to pack in. Soon, we couldn't find an open table, so we just stood out of the way and ate a huge basket of grilled spicy squid ($6) and cold soba noodles ($3), before my son finished with ice cream ($2). The aisles were so crowded that it was hard to move, but everybody was in a good mood.
It's easy to see why night markets are popular. In Vancouver, the Chinatown neighborhood has one in the summer, too, and others pop up at locations such as the Lonsdale Quay Market.
The concept seems to be spreading. Several American cities have night markets. Pittsburgh even had one this summer. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership presented the "Project Pop Up: Night Market" on July 13, when gallery crawlers could stop in a Liberty Avenue parking lot and sample food made by Meat & Potatoes and Conflict Kitchen.
Since October 2010, night markets have been presented regularly in Philadelphia by The Food Trust. The latest one, Aug. 16 in Mt. Airy, featured some 50 food trucks and restaurants, local drinks, crafts, music and other fun. The non-profit trust plans to announce the next one after Labor Day, says Diana Iskolsky Minkus, the project coordinator for Night Market Philadelphia (http://nightmarketphilly.org).
"Our Night Markets have really made a huge splash in Philadelphia -- I don't think we ever anticipated they would get as popular as they've become," she says, noting stories on the market in The New York Times and Details magazine.
"Let hemp-tote-carrying early-bird locavores get the worm," quipped that May 2012 Details story, which presented Philadelphia's as one of the "Top Nighttime Farmers' Markets," where "you can have your pick of amazing gourmet food and a reason to stay out late: great music and drinks." The others were Los Angeles Yamashiro Farmers Market, Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Night Bazaar, New Orleans' St. Claude Night Market and the Night Market at Nashville Farmers Market.
New York City food event promoter LUCKYRICE (luckyrice.com) started a Brooklyn night market three years ago that has become the highlight of its annual Lucky Rice Festival. Earlier this month, it took the concept to Las Vegas and Los Angeles and both sold out, and the company aims to expand to other cities.
LUCKYRICE founder Danielle Chang says that while these are glitzy special events, "For Asians, it's part of the fabric of their lives" to go out at night and graze at the food stalls, food carts and food courts. That's what she did growing up in Taiwan, where, she says, people don't shut themselves up in their homes as many Americans do.
When her company launched its first night market, she didn't know of any others in the U.S., so she likes that they appear to be catching on. "I think it's a good thing, and hopefully it's a trend that's here to stay."
The folks at Le Tigre food truck in Vancouver cook their eggs in a special "circulator" for 40 minutes at 64 degrees Celsius, but founder and chef Clement Chan says you can "just soft poach a free-range chicken egg." So I did that. You can find the dashi powder at Asian markets such as Lotus in the Strip District.
-- Bob Batz Jr.
- 2 cups Japanese sushi rice
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sake
- 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 40 grams (about 1 1/2 ounces, or 3 tablespoons) butter
- 2 tablespoon dashi broth powder
- Salt and butter to taste
Rinse the rice with cold running water several times to wash away the starch.
Add all the ingredients into a rice cooker, stir, and cook until the rice is done.
Prepare garnishes of chopped fresh basil, mint, cilantro, green onion, birds-eye chiles.
Soft-poach 1 free-range chicken egg per serving.
Scoop rice onto a plate or bowl. Top each serving with 1 poached egg and the garnishes. Serve immediately.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
-- Le Tigre food truck, Vancouver, B.C., Canada (letigre.ca)
First Published August 30, 2012 12:00 am