Slithery, sauced BBQ squid tentacles; spiral, spicy potato curlicues or icy mango cubes, sprinkled with bits of chewy grass jelly. What better way to enjoy these street food treats than among a throng of thousands of fellow snackers on a clear summer night at North America's largest Night Market in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada? Richmond, a city on the outskirts of Vancouver, boasts a population of 60% immigrants -- the highest percentage of any city in North America. And fully half of Richmond residents identify as Chinese. These numbers seem to hint at good things to sample at their famous night market. Asian night markets are common in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia, to mention only a few spots. Richmond, B.C. actually has 2 competing night markets: the one I visited near the casino and "The Summer Night Market."
This market is open weekend evenings from May 18 - October 8 and estimates 30,000 visitors a night. If you think that sounds like instant crowded chaos, you need to understand that Canada is the capital of politeness. People hold doors open for you and apologize for things that aren’t even their fault. Even the buses display a SORRY sign when they are not in service. The crowd was friendly, civilized and cooperative. And given the overwhelming food choices, fellow-tasters understood there is no way to try everything. Many generously let me photograph their meals, for vicarious eating pleasure.
"Hurricane potatoes" are a Night Market classic, offered by several vendors in various flavors from jalapeno to chocolate marshmallow. These are from a stand called "Rotato" which made me laugh with a large poster illustrating alternative uses for their twirly fried potatoes on a stick (e.g., microphone, light saber, fencing sword or robot antlers).
Richmond Night Market. Photo by Michael Kalus: Flickr.com
On my visit on a September Saturday night, I explored the food fairyland with a bunch of Canadian relatives. After a short but non-stressful wait in an orderly line my cousin commented, "Canadians love lines" and we entered the market aisles, awash with smells and sounds of sizzling, grilling and chomping. But how to choose? We shared a lot. Divide and conquer.
One of my favorite finds were fish balls, called Takoyaki. These Japanese treats are traditionally made with octopus (tako) in a battered globe with a delightfully creamy center, but we also tried variations with shrimp, scallop and vegetable, topped with sweet brown sauce, Kewpie mayo and shavings of dried bonito. All were scrumptious.
Another tasty snack was also a Japanese dish: buckwheat noodles with a choice of many toppings from a stand called Soba San. They came in three different sizes with more choices of add-ons the larger the dish. When my daughter and I decided to share a small one we couldn't agree on two toppings and so the sweet man gave us seaweed, kimchi and shrimp -- all for the regular price. I told you these Canadians are nice!
Bubble egg waffles and a taro bubble tea made a pleasant first dessert, but I was craving something mango.
Bingo! Boy, did that icy mango slush with bobba balls and chewy grass jelly hit the spot!
On our amble through the market, we passed lines of patrons at stands selling Indonesian steamed dumplings, Chinese BBQ chicken knees and gizzards, Japanese Rice burgers, Korean BBQ meat skewers, filament-like dragon beard candy, and Filipino favorites. I did notice one lonely German Bratwurst stand.