626 Night Market – July 2013

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

On select weekends this summer, the 626 team transforms the Santa Anita Race Track into a Taiwanese style night market, complete with rows of vendors hawking a variety of noms and live music performances to keep the crowds energized. The very first 626 Night Market in 2012 clearly met a real need, attracting far more attendees than the venue could handle. But thanks to this year’s planning team (including our friends Brian & Patricia) subsequent Night Markets have seen dramatic improvement. Still, the crowds are pretty epic — this past weekend brought out 55,000 Angelenos and even long distance visitors, trumping the June weekend’s record of 40,000 attendees.

Summer Garden Nights: 3 weekends (and now Labor Day Weekend as well!)

Summer Garden Nights: 3 weekends (and now Labor Day Weekend as well!)

While a night market experience isn’t quite the same unless the sun’s down, we opted to go early, right at 4pm when it opened, so we could maximize our time sampling noms. Shorter lines, less congested walkways, and plenty of delicious inventory that will certainly sell out as the night progresses? We can handle some hot summer sun for that.

Tan San Skewers

Tan San Skewers

Be sure to grab a vendor directory when you walk in. Those looking to stay green can download the PDF from their website and view it on their smartphones instead. It will help you a) identify mysterious-looking noms, b) track down your favorite noms, and c) avoid (or find, depending on your preferences) the STZ – Stinky Tofu Zone.

This is our friend Zhu. He's proud of that lamb skewer.

This is our friend Zhu. He’s proud of that lamb skewer.

The first thing we gravitated toward were these smoky, meaty lamb skewers from Tan San. Fresh off the grill, the lamb itself was a bit chewy, but the seasonings were enhanced by the charred bits from the barbecue.

Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki!

Miniyaki Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki!

There were a surprising number of Japanese food vendors, expanding the scope of the Night Market to encompass many Asian street food cultures. I was extra excited about takoyaki. I love okonomiyaki too, but I love takoyaki so much that I sometimes sing the Takoyaki Song.

Miniyaki: Wasabi Takoyaki

Miniyaki: Wasabi Takoyaki

I grabbed an order of the wasabi takoyaki from Miniyaki. 6 delicious balls of octopus-filled batter, drizzled with sweet okonomi sauce and wasabi mayo and topped with a mound of shaved bonito flakes. Whoever said “Money can’t buy happiness” obviously never spent $5 on an order of these. おいしかった~!

Brace yourselves for this next one…

Rosal's Family Shoppe: Balut

Rosal’s Family Shoppe: Balut

A common street food throughout Southeast Asia and the Philippines, balut is really tastes much better than it looks. As a kid, I used to eat this with my dad; he would let me have the hardened yolk and drink the brothy juice while he ate the duck. Martin and Zhu dug right in, though this one was a little too developed for Martin’s tastes.

Simbala: Taiwanese Sausage

Simbala: Taiwanese Sausage

The boys had grabbed refreshments from a Stella Artois booth, so naturally the next victim would be more noms that pair well with beer: Taiwanese sausages from Simbala. The texture was firmer than expected and it reminded me of a Vietnamese lap xuong. Very juicy and flavorful and also went well with…

Wei's Scallion Pancakes

Wei’s Scallion Pancake Hut

…scallion pancakes! Crispy flat discs of flaky dough layered with chopped scallions (green onions), fried on a griddle until golden brown. And for only $4? Sold!

Anxiously watching them fry my scallion pancake

Anxiously watching them fry my scallion pancake

Each pancake was made to order and arrived hot off the griddle. I watched the grill master skillfully monitor and flip eight pancakes at a time (not all at once, of course, though that would be incredibly impressive!).

Wei's: Green Onion Pancake

Wei’s: Green Onion Pancake

It was everything I had hoped for and more. They offered sweet chili sauce, garlic soy sauce, and generic unlabeled hot sauce that suspiciously resembled sriracha. I kept it simple with just a dab or two of sriracha. They were excellent plain too.

Gottsui~!

Gottsui~!

As we wove through the crowds, we noticed a distinctly long line gathering. We discovered that it was none other than my latest Sawtelle obsession, Gottsui! The guys seemed like they were having a great time. I was tempted to grab one but I think I’ll just have to make a return visit to their storefront. Really soon. また ね~!

Turkish Doner Kebab

Turkish Doner Kebab

Turning the corner, we found a selection of more international cuisines – Mexican, Turkish, Indonesian… The guys at Turkish Doner Kebab even brought out fresh spits of turning shwarma and generously offered samples for us to try. So moist and so good. Unfortunately I was getting too full to finish my own pita pocket.

Aunty Merry Indonesian Food

Aunty Merry Indonesian Food

People seemed to be raving over the grilled corn here at Aunty Merry, but Martin spotted the bird’s egg curry skewers and had to have it. Both of us noticed that the bird must be quail and well, quail’s eggs are delicious!

Aunty Merry: Bird's Egg Curry Skewer

Aunty Merry: Bird’s Egg Curry Skewer

Lightly marinated in curry sauce, these hard boiled quail eggs were tender and succulent. They lacked the punch we had expected with the curry description, but it’s possible that the creamy yolks overpowered any seasoning.

Tea Lane: Candied Hawthorn (or Haw) Berries

Tea Lane: Candied Hawthorn (or Haw) Berries

Now these were something I did not expect to find on a skewer. Hawthorn berries are often used in Chinese candies, most memorably the chewy red discs packaged in paper tubes that I knew as “haw flakes.” This was my first time trying the fruit itself, and it was just as sweet-tart as I expected. The hard candy coating was done well – not sticky at all.

Starry Kitchen

Starry Kitchen

We made our way around the ring of food trucks which featured the usual suspects – Grilled Cheese Truck, Lobsta Truck (one of our favs!), Ludo Truck, and many more. But then I spotted Starry Kitchen. Okay fine, I saw the dude in the banana suit long before I even saw the banner.

Starry Kitchen: Pandan Churros with Kaya Cream

Starry Kitchen: Pandan Churros with Kaya Cream

Genius. Pure genius. The pandan churros tasted exactly like my memories of buying freshly pressed lá dứa waffles at Van’s Bakery back home in the OC, but in bite-sized, chewy+crispy stick form. The kaya coconut cream was so deliciously sweet and fragrant that I scooped out every drop with my last churro. So freaking good.

CoCo Tea House

CoCo Fresh Tea

The guys all made a boba stop to get a milk tea from CoCo. I noticed they had recently opened a location at the Olympic Collection on Sawtelle, but apparently they have over a thousand locations, 900 of which are in China alone! Crazy!

Thoke: A Burmese Kitchen

Thoke: A Burmese Kitchen

Of course we had to circle back to visit Thoke. There we found some familiar faces, our friends from camp! Jason and Sherlock were busy manning the fryer, serving up some hot egg rolls and curry potato samosas.

Thoke: Curry Potato Samosa

Thoke: Curry Potato Samosa

One bite and you’ll be hooked after hearing the satisfying crackle of the golden brown pastry shell, but it’s the flavor-packed curry potato filling that really makes it an awesome addition to the variety of street food at the night market. Kudos!

Grilled Octopus

Grilled Squid and Octopus

I REALLY wanted to get one of these, but it was already 7pm and the lines were quickly building at every vendor’s stall. The aroma of grilled squid and octopus legs wafted through the air, a welcome change from the… pungent stinky tofu.

Last Stop: iSweet Snow Ice

Last Stop: iSweet Snow Ice

I saw snow ice and had a feeling it would resemble Blockheads Shavery. We decided to go simple and get a watermelon snow ice, plain (no toppings).

Zhu and the Watermelon Snow Ice

Zhu and the Watermelon Snow Ice

I always worry that watermelon desserts will get their flavor from the artificial stuff, but luckily, summer is the perfect season for the real stuff. The snow ice here was fluffy and really carried the essence of real watermelon, down to its gentle sweetness. Really a great way to end a prevening of nonstop nomming.

626 Night Market: Summer Garden Nights is an awesome event, and we’re glad we got to visit and try delicious noms from so many awesome vendors. If you have not yet checked it out or if you’re still traumatized from the very first one, mark your calendars for August 3-4th AND the newly added Labor Day Weekend!

Bring cash, wear comfortable shoes, and go early or prepare for 30+ minute waits. Admission is only $2 before 6pm, $3 after, and parking is absolutely FREE. What are you waiting for? 626 Night Market is the largest Asian night market in the US!

UPDATE:

GIANT BOBA!

GIANT BOBA! (via 626 Night Market FB page)

Interested in being part of the World’s Largest Cup of Boba?! Check out their Kickstarter and the potential unveiling at the August weekend of Summer Garden Nights! 320 gallons of milk tea in a 6 foot tall plastic cup — it’s definitely going to be a sight to see!

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Check out 626 Night Market: 626nightmarket.com

285 W Huntington Dr
Arcadia, CA 91007

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Day Two: Seattle – Dim Sum and Henry’s Taiwan for Christmas

Food Adventures, Seattle

What we hadn’t anticipated about holiday travel was just how many places would be closed on Christmas Day. We asked around for ideas on what to do, and the general consensus seemed to be “Go to Chinatown.” Sounds like a plan!

Christmas morning, while children around the world are eagerly tearing up wrapping paper to uncover their presents, we stood outside of a cramped doorway packed with others who apparently had the same idea that we did – DIM SUM. Harbor City Restaurant and its neighbor Jade Garden Restaurant are local favorites for this weekend brunch of sorts. Did you know that dim sum is thought to have given rise to the Western concept of brunch? Who would’ve thought that thousands of years of traditional ‘yum cha’ with hot tea and dumplings would one day evolve into pancakes and French toast. But I digress.

Dim Sum Staples: Cha Siu Pao, Chicken Feet, Har Gow

Harbor City has one cart that holds most of the steamed items, and the waitstaff brings out the stirfried, fried, and baked items on trays in batches as the kitchen rotates through its repertoire. We ordered the staples: har gow, cha siu pao, chicken feet, turnip cake… oh my! The har gow had a nice and sticky wrapper the way I like it, and the shrimp filling was moist and succulent. The cha siu pao, touted as some of the best you could find in Seattle, were hot and fluffy. The barbecue pork filling was a little sweet for my liking, but the texture was perfect. And the chicken feet, if that’s your thing, were flavorful. The turnip cake (below) was crispy on the outside and had bits of lap xuong (Chinese sausage) throughout the turnip dough/paste.

Turnip Cake and Bor Lor Bao

We noticed a lack of our favorite steamed dish – xia chang fun (steamed rice noodle sheets with shrimp, served with a generous drizzle of sweet soy sauce), so we asked our server and she very eagerly brought out our request straight from the kitchen. Ask and you shall receive, indeed! It was warm and fresh with the familiar slippery texture.

Xia Chang Fun

We usually forgo the assortment of entrees and deep-fried offerings, but a pleasant surprise was the crispy shrimp and tofu – a cube of tofu topped with a dollop of shrimp paste, all battered, deep fried, and served with a sweet and sour sauce. Yum! They were wonderful and fresh, but be careful because they come out of the kitchen piping hot!

Crispy Shrimp and Tofu

For dessert, we had the usual – bor lor bao, dahn tat (egg tarts), and mango pudding. After polishing off the last savory dumpling, I dove in a bor lor bao (pictured above). Translated as “pineapple bun”, these baked goodies don’t actually contain pineapple (although some do) but are named for the way the top crust crumbles and looks like the pattern of a pineapple. These were filled with a sweet egg custard. Not the best I’ve had but they certainly satisfied my craving!

Mini Egg Tarts

The dahn tat here are smaller (and cuter!) than those at some other dim sum places. It has a great flaky crust to custard filling ratio. I could eat a dozen more of these!

Mango Pudding

Just as how no dim sum experience for me is complete without bor lor bao, so does Martin feel about ending his dim sum meal with mango pudding. The mango pudding here has bits of a chewier mango jelly, and the main pudding has a more ripe mango flavor and a less from-the-box taste than other places. And of course you can’t go wrong with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk!

As if that wasn’t enough to fuel us for the rest of the day, we wandered around and ended up stopping by Purple Dot Cafe. Rei had taken me here years ago when I visited, and I still remember her excitement over the black-and-white checkered jello. What brought us in, though, was the Hong Kong style milk tea and a dessert missing from Harbor City: sweet steamed tofu. Freshly made silken tofu topped with a simple syrup and ginger concoction, it’s the perfect way to truly complete a meal of dim sum.

Sweet Tofu

We realized that dinner would be hard to come by later on, so we planned ahead! First we stopped by A Piece of Cake; we had passed it on our walk between the station and Harbor City and marveled at the cake displays through the window. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go inside and take home a slice! My eyes darted around at the sheer quantity of beautifully decorated cakes, my stomach growled and my mind became increasingly overwhelmed by the choices.

Such a beautiful cake display at A Piece of Cake!

Finally, I saw it — the green tea honeydew mousse cake — and I just knew it would be the one. Martin already had his heart set on the mango pudding cup, so it was an easy transaction. Dessert in hand, we hopped down the block to Henry’s Taiwan, a place known to the locals as serving up some of the best night market style food. I opted for the must-try dish — beef shaved noodle soup. I asked it spicy and for the noodles to be kept separate so they don’t expand and get mushy before I get the chance to enjoy them. Martin perused the menu for some time before settling on the Shanghai wonton soup and an order of sticky rice from the dim sum offerings.

Beef Shaved Noodles

Christmas dinner in the hotel while watching The Travel Channel might sound less than ideal to some, but I think Martin and I made the best of it and ended up having a great evening. Our room came equipped with a microwave to reheat our meal and a set of table and chairs at which to enjoy it. My soup already smelled amazing but wow, I could eat those hand-shaven freshmade noodles with just the broth all day long and be happy as a clam. They were generous with the beef, which was fatty and cartilaginous just like Mom would make. The dessert was delicious as well — the cake was moist and the layers of creme were not too sweet, just the way I like it. Martin seemed to enjoy his mango pudding, but I think it could have used some condensed milk to make it even better.

Green Tea Honeydew Mousse Cake and Mango Pudding

All in all, we had a very merry Christmas with good food and good company. Despite most places being closed for business, we managed to uncover some great finds in Chinatown, a very worthwhile second day in Seattle.

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Check out Harbor City Restaurant:

707 S King St
(between S 7th Ave & S Canton Aly)
Seattle, WA 98104

Their hours are crazy – opening at 8:30am every day and not closing until midnight on the weekends.

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out Purple Dot Cafe:

515 Maynard Ave S
(between King St & Weller St)
Seattle, WA 98104

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out A Piece of Cake:

514 S King St
(between S 5th Ave & S 6th Ave)
Seattle, WA 98104

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out Henry’s Taiwan:

502 S King St
(between S 5th Ave & S 6th Ave)
Seattle, WA 98104

See their Yelp reviews here.