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Foods From SoCal's First 626 Night Market

Tanaya Ghosh |
April 17, 2012 | 2:07 p.m. PDT

Food Editor

The 626 Night Market overflowed with crowds, food and vendors (all photos by Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
The 626 Night Market overflowed with crowds, food and vendors (all photos by Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Southern California's first-ever Asian night market was much more overwhelming than most could have fathomed.

However, the copious amounts of enthusiasm and overflowing crowds was ultimately a positive sign for the future of the 626 Night Market.

It speaks to how great of a demand exists, and organizer Johnny Hwang and his team are quite genius for thinking to bring the night market concept to the LA area.

Wanting to show our support and witness the inaugural event, we ventured out to Pasadena this past Saturday to be part of history.

However, as we went in hungry and came out only fractionally fuller, we mostly ended up feeling like we just endured a passive-aggressive battle of the ages.

The crowds engulfed the small area already congested with booths, and there were smells of everything from strong durian funnel cake and stinky tofu to the subtler aromas of fresh-made takoyaki and curry fish balls. Sadly, we were unable to taste most of these foods in our 2 1/2 hours at the night market.

I had such high hopes for the event that I had even made a list of foods I definitely wanted to try. One such food was the popular Hong Kong street food, egg waffles. Although I was unsuccessful at that endeavor due to the waffles being sold out early on, we did manage to taste some other morsels.

After trekking out to Pasadena around 6pm, browsing the vendor booths, and taking silly pictures at the PartyLA Photobooth, we saw many people with OZERO milk teas and green tea funnel cakes, so we decided to head over to the food section and check it out. The place was already pretty densely crowded, so we stood in line for the closest booth we could reach, which happened to be Liang's Kitchen.

When we finally got to the front (there was no real line, it was just a blob of people pushing to get their order in) and actually got served, we witnessed the last 2 of the most appealing items for sale, the noodle dishes, being sold out right in front of us. Dismayed but determined not to let the past 20 minutes go to waste, we ordered the only thing that was available at the time: the vegetable spring rolls. Although they were hot with the oil still shining on them and the crispness intact, they weren't what we drove hours for. Frankly, we could get these rolls elsewhere, but they were indeed steaming hot and tasty. At that point we were so hungry almost anything would have been tasty though, I suppose. With all items being $2, it's no wonder they sold out so fast.

Then, we jumped on the opportunity to try the much-hyped Bling Bling Dumpling booth. They sold three bite-size dumplings for $5 and they were delicious! This was the highlight in terms of short line and flavorful food we actually got to taste. We were lucky, however, because a long line formed soon after we got our dumplings. We got the ginger pork and the cheddar beef dumplings, and they were both delicious. The beef and cheddar was particularly unique, and I would definitely get those again. The wrapper wasn't too thick or too thin, and the dumpling was crispy yet chewy in all the right parts. The filling inside was hot and juicy, and it was the highlight of the only two savory options we got to try that night.

As we were moving along with the dense herd of people in search for more food, a spread of sugary treats caught my eye (naturally!). Turns out they were from Cathy's Bakery, and were pretty tasty. There were red bean buns, egg tarts, black sesame mochi, and coconut-filled pancakes, to name a few packaged items. Most of them were between $1 and $2, so we got one of each aforementioned item. Since they were packaged, we decided to take them home for later, except for the black sesame mochi. It had a nutty paste inside that was tasty and very sweet, as the fillings of mochi typically are. The outside was dusted with ground black sesame seeds, and the texture of the mochi (made of glutinous rice) was soft, gooey and very fun to eat.

It seemed that every line we stood in, we eventually got word that the good stuff that was worth waiting for had run out. Thus we gave up our hopes of savory food and skipped right to a fresh-made dessert.

We sought out the green tea funnel cake we saw people wielding in the crowds, and realized it was a normal funnel cake with green tea pudding in the middle. It may have been an American fair food with a dollop of green tea flavor slapped on, but it sure was a tasty fusion of flavors! At $7 for a sizable funnel cake, it was sadly the most substantial amount of food we ate at any given booth that night.

It was also hard to savor the food while standing in the constantly pushing and moving crowd, even if we were off to the side. We then decided it was time to go. The rest of the foods we had hoped to try were both sold out and had huge lines of unsuspecting customers who had just arrived, and thus still had some fight in them to brave the crowds.

As we tried to make our escape, we were gridlocked in from all directions, with a sea of unmoving people packed closer than sardines for as far as the eye could see. After a while, someone from the back of the crowd must have become frustrated and charged through, because we all surged forward and somehow, eventually there came the end of the sea of frustrated and hungry people.

We waved the white flag, happy to surrender and go home. We went back to Cerritos, where we had boba and popcorn chicken in the comfort and quiet of a local place, quite thankful for the breathing room. We discussed the highlights of the night, and the hopeful improvements that a subsequent 626 Night Market may bring.

The event may not have been what many expected, but it was the start of something great, so long as necessary changes are made. The organizing team looks like they genuinely tried their best considering they did not know what degree of crowds to expect, and I definitely feel that they will continue to strive for excellence the next time around.

Stay tuned for updates on possible future 626 Night Markets, and also for a special series of foodie reports from Hong Kong and other parts of Asia as I report from across the globe this summer!

You can reach reporter Tanaya Ghosh here or follow her on Twitter here.



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