Market dishes up cultural concoction Carnival of food and crafts gains place in city’s urban fabric
LOS ANGELES — In the crowded 626 Night Market, Stanley Cohen was enjoying his grilled squid, a popular Chinese dish, with a cup of Boba milk tea.
It was his first visit to the Chinese food and culture carnival, which was launched in the United States five years ago.
“My Chinese friends and I drove six hours from San Jose to Los Angeles today to enjoy this well-known 626 Night Market and try all the Chinese food here, it really doesn’t let me down and we had so much fun tonight,” Cohen said.
“626” is the area code of San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles, a region with lots of Chinese. From dozens of booths to hundreds of vendors, in five years the night market has become the largest of its kind in the US and a part of the urban cultural landscape in Los Angeles.
More than 50,000 people every year flock to the night market, which is set up temporarily during the Independence Day weekend outside the famous Santa Anita Park, a horse racing track that opened in 1934.
Chinese night markets have a centuries-long history, originating in the late Tang Dynasty in China, and have since spread to many countries and regions in Asia such as Malaysia, Thailand and the Korean Peninsula.
At a typical night market, people can eat local popular foods, shop for goods and watch shows performed by folk artists. Also, the night market used to be an important part of the spiritual life for people in the past.
At the 626 Night Market, in addition to a rich variety of gourmet foods, the organizers have also invited some Asian artists popular on YouTube to put on a talent show.
Some artists even make typical Chinese crafts on the spot so that the visitors can watch.
“It’s not just about the food, it’s more about the memories for us,” said Gary Cheng, who is originally from China’s Taiwan. “I have been coming to the night market for five years with my family, it makes us think of our lives in my hometown years ago.”
“Some popular food will be sold out if you come late, so this year I came very early with my friends, so we can share and try more food,” said Rachel Ruano, who added that she has many Asian friends and is obsessed with the region’s food.
Moreover, Ruano said she enjoys what one could call the “eating while strolling” style of the Chinese night market. Different from local regular restaurants and parties, there are neither chairs nor tables in the market.
“This is a great experience to know more about Chinese and Asian culture. The grilled sticks, the fermented tofu and the Boba milk tea, all these are part of Chinese culture, which are something we cannot have in a regular Asian restaurant,” Ruano said.