Sunday, August 4, 2013

626 Night(mare) Market

Imagine the crowds at Disneyland immediately after the fireworks show. Except without the cast members directing the flow of foot traffic. And the majority of people are Asian....hungry Asians.

I've heard of the 626 Night Market in college, but I never made time to go. Until my mom e-mailed me about it and got me super pumped! So tonight around 7:00, Josh and I arrived at the Santa Anita racetrack and braved the crowds.

2 words to sum up our experience: Lines. Stinky.

What do I mean by that? Well, there were quite a few items I wanted to try, but lost my appetite when I saw the lines wrapped around the corner. Plus, when we did stand in line, it was so crowded that we were often pressed up against the people around us because others were trying to cross through the line. So not only did that stink, but it was also literally stinky. Stinky tofu, that is! Wafts of the pungent snack permeated throughout the event. I didn't mind it that much because it just smelled like strong fish sauce to me. But it made Josh nauseous to the point of wanting to wretch. And he wasn't the only one. One little girl held her nose and exclaimed, "It smells like feet!!"

After about 2 hours, we only managed to try 3 things. Kind of silly, I know. But after a while, a lot of the booths seemed to be selling similar things, or it made more sense for us to just remember the names of places we wanted to try and visit their brick-and-mortar restaurants in the future.

Here's what we tasted:
Dragon's Whisker Candy, $5. Something I'll always remember from my first vacation ever in Toronto when I was 7 years old. Apparently they had sesame + peanut, just sesame, just peanut, and strawberry (which I didn't see available so maybe it was sold out?). I got the sesame + peanut. Overall, they were tasty, but tiny and seemed like they might have been sitting around for a day or two. You can watch them make the candy fresh, but the cashier gives you a box from a stock of pre-made ones. On the plus side, this made the line short!
Takoyaki from Takken, $6 for 6 pieces. These were pre-made as well, and surprisingly crispier than I remembered takoyaki being traditionally. They kind of reminded me of hush puppies. Luckily we were able to find a bench on the outskirts of the event to sit down and enjoy.
Mini donuts from Astro Donuts, $6/dozen, $4/half dozen. They didn't allow us to mix flavors in a dozen, so we got a half dozen of the strawberry, and a half dozen of the french toast. Although the line was long, it was so fun to watch these cute mini donuts being made.

They use a really neat funnel that "poops" the donut batter out (as Josh described it).
Then the guy manually flips some over with a spoon, while others float onto grated platforms and are automatically hoisted into either the next frying area, or a basket to catch the finished donuts.

I know it's hard to see the donuts, but it was just so crowded that I didn't have the space or patience to take a better photograph. And we wanted to eat the donuts while they were hot! The french toast donuts were topped with cinnamon and maple syrup, and the strawberry ones had a lite strawberry frosting. Now, remember how I said the deep fryer was so cute and fun to watch? Well, we realized that it wasn't too great at quality control. Since the machine automatically flips the donuts through the series of deep fryers while the guy is concentrated on manually flipping over the rest of them, several of our strawberry donuts were undercooked. I'm sure it happens at other booths too because they're all working so fast to complete orders. Anyway, the donuts were cute, but I'd rather spend my money on a full size (and fully cooked) donut.

Here what else I wouldn't have minded trying, if I was willing to spend a few more hours waiting in line:
  • Fried yam balls from Fried Yam Balls (creative, right?)
  • Tornado potatoes from Swirl Treats or Hotato Potato (a.k.a. Sharknado potatoes as my friend/coworker Kristine called them. She arrived at the event just as I had left.)
  • Sesame filled Hong Kong style egg puff from Puffect Bakery Cafe (cutest name ever!)
  • Lamb skewers (there were several booths serving this, but all were packed)
  • Soft shell crab taco from Haiku Kitchen (this was centrally located in the stinky tofu danger zone)
  • Sugar cane juice from Cold Cane Labs
  • Korean pancakes from Melts in Ur Mouth

Before we left, I insisted we get a picture together to commemorate the night. I think this captures it all, especially Josh's distaste for stinky tofu and our general impressions of this crazed event (which, to be fair, probably does capture the chaos of an authentic Asian night market).

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