My quintessential guide to conquering the Panda Night Market. Also known as, how you strategically visit 21 stalls and try 22 items between 4 people.
I have already been to the Panda Night Market this season, the original visit was during the first weekend they were open. So today I was back for a more comprehensive look at this year’s food fair.
This was the original Richmond night market, located by “IKEA” and “Home Depot”. It was once bustling, but the excitement has since dwindled, and along with it their food pavilion. From over four row of food stalls and food carts parked in place, down to just one lane way; a result from the popularity of their rivals night markets, I suspect.
Though with less bodies and more seating, this venue has its perks. A whole area that ensures those who don’t like to be shoved as they eat, or feel the stress to stand as they eat, can call a table and feast hands free.
Today our group, as sponsored by “Chinese Bites”, included Mr. Nosh & Nibbles. We would be visiting 22 out of the 50 plus stalls, to bring you a quick guide to savoury, sweet, and all the drinks at the Panda Night Market.
Disclaimer sponsored media sampling menu. Some size may not be as it is normally.
But first, coming out of this four hour walking meal I have learned a few things. So below are my tips for dining at the night market. Forget just stopping by and seeing where the night takes you, I recommend having a game plan. Here, you are pushing and being shoved, you are lining up for hours, and you are paying exorbitant amounts for event priced items. So you might as well enjoy it all to its fullest, and below is how.
(1) Come early. We were the first patrons waiting by the entrance of the parking lot, to get in. They open at 6:30pm. We were lingering in our idling car at 6:15pm. They allowed vendors to enter to set up, we were asked to pull over and wait. Our patience was rewarded with a great parking spot within spitting distance of the entrance. The fee is $4 for the connivence, but the market is free to enter, so you save there. We strolled in as they were still inflating their air filled mascots that flanked the gateway.
We headed right to the food pavilion and were rewarded with our pick of the litter. As stalls began setting up, they were ready to serve as soon as we were ready to order. There were no lines, the food looked better as the vendors were able to take their time preparing things. And you get everything made fresh to order, seeing as it is still too early to start stockpiling cooked items, in order keep up with high demand.
And without the crowd at its peak, you have the room to eat. You are able to stand, undisrupted, in a group. Just facing each other in a circle, and bobbing your faces into your cardboard plates, like a bird drinking water. Or better yet you can enjoy your meal as a sit down, within the row of tables and chairs the next isle down. With this much available seating, no other night market can boast the same luxury.
And lastly, coming earlier gets you better photos. Less crowds equal less background noise: less faceless blurs and out of place heads and feet.
(2) Come prepared. Bring what you would need for a single person picnic. Tupperware is not only great for storing that which you can’t finish, it also makes a more stable bowl and plate to eat off of. A mental fork has the right depth and strength for stabbing and picking, especially when compared to skewers offered in pairs to replace chopsticks. And napkins and hand sanitizers help for a quick clean up in between dishes. Although we discovered that lots without tents had unmanned sinks set up with running water. And there was no harm in us rinsing off our hands there.
Having experienced the above preparedness, thanks to the planning and execution of The blogger behind “Nosh and Nibbles”; I can safely say, that I have never had a more pleasant dining experience at any night market or any outdoor food fair. He and his guest cleverly came with everything we would need to share and eat several snacks between four. If possible, thanks them, I feel we won at eating tonight. And best of all we didn’t have any of it go to waste. We planned our courses well and tasted all 22 items we set out to try.
(3) Prioritize your eating. The cost can rack up quick or you get full waiting in between servings and lines. Sharing can prevent you from spending $20 at one stall. You often come in hungry, planning to eat so much, but after a cup of curry balls and a styrofoam plate of squid tentacles you are considering what one sweet thing you can muster. Planning means you know your route and don’t waste time waking back or forth, or strolling with your back arched and your head swivelling from right to left.
And now that you are here early, make sure to take advantage of it by visiting those stands that typically have the longest lines, first. I suggest hitting up those with takoyaki, hurricane potatoes, liquid nitrogen anything, and meat on sticks first. Closer to the end of the night, these popular destinations become that last bite everyone wants.
(4) Divide and conquer. When possible, split up into teams and order a few things at once. This will save your time as a group. After you each claim your plate, gather back together and share the spoils of your combined plunder.
(5) And lastly, use your drink strategically. Only add on a beverage when you get too thirsty and the food becomes too salty. This way you are more likely to finish it one sitting. Nothing is worse that eating and walking, having to hold a dish and eat with giant toothpick; while squeezing a plastic cup or hollowed out melon between your armpit, or under your breast, to free both hands.
And if you are in a group or a pair of couples, share the drink. Most places will accommodate by giving you a second empty cup. Realistically you aren’t going to be able to finish a drink yourself. Then when you don’t want to carry it around anymore, you end up throwing more than half of it out anyways. And if you managed to get down to the bottom of a cup it would be mostly melted ice awaiting you. Plus things are best when you only get a bit of it, just a taster to have you enthusiastic, not enough to grow bored of. So instead when you are thirsty: share a drink, enjoy a taste, dispose of the garbage, then eat more, and repeat.
Now that you have read over my tips, we are ready to embark on this food fuelled journey. Four hours between two banks of stands. Waiting, photo taking, eating, and repeating.
We started with takoyaki, at the stall with the same name. Even as patrons were just strolling in there was already a queue. These balls are a night market staple for me, and it looks like many others too. I try the varieties, but keep coming back to the original as my favourite flavouring. Octopus chunks baked in a ball of dough with diced vegetables. Each is made using cast iron mould and a steady pair of mental sticks for flipping them over.
The takoyaki did not disappoint and tasted as good as it always is and is everywhere. Chewy seafood, a melty doughy centre, the creaminess of mayo; and the joy of watching the pink bonito flakes wisp around from the steam, as if they are dancing. This is one of the only things that it is actually easy to eat with skewers. A poke and a jab, and you are in, ready to insert takoyaki from dish to mouth.
They also had their octopus balls available to be topped with green onion and soy, mayo, or ponzu. But this was a true takoyaki stand. They didn’t offer any variation to their base product: no vegetarian options, no ability to have shrimp or scallop instead of octopus.
The “TW traditional snacks” stand gave us more options, which could be a bad thing. With all this choice we were debating amongst ourselves. Though when in doubt, video game rules apply, the most expensive armour is always the better armour. So we made our decision here by choosing what cost the most. The thinking is that the more that goes into it, the higher cost, and therefore making it the best. This strategy had us indulging in a another night market fan favourite, “Taiwanese popcorn chicken”. These were easy to poke and eat nuggets. Each was juicy white meat hidden under an even coating of crispy breading. Salted with pepper it was a spicy and zesty bite.
Their other Taiwanese snacks included sausages and stinky tofu, candied fruits and wheel cakes with various filling. The wheel cakes were sponge cakes filled with either red bean, custard, Oreo, or peanut butter.
The “Sea Monster” stall offered deep fried squid in wholes or halves. Squid is their claim to fame, but they also offer deep fried eel and shrimp in the same way, and poached looking scallops.
After a dredging in egg and flour, the raw squid gets dropped into a vat of oil for a crispy fried coat. When I had it during my first visit, there was no complimentary sauces offered, just a mayo or chilli at an extra cost. But today the sauce was free and you had your choice between six options, including sweet onion powder and Dijon mustard. I couldn’t really imagine the latter with squid, unless you looked at it like an irregular shaped corn dog.
I was thankful for the thick drizzle of spicy mayo we ordered, because the squid truly needing a dipping sauce, something to break up the deep fry. And nothing goes better with deep fried foods than mayo. The squid was tender, easy to pull and chew through. Although you get more deep fry breading then you do squid. We actually only had half a squid, not that you could tell. There was a lot of it wrapped in parchment and tinfoil, and stabbed through with a skewer. I was happy to have not have gotten more, as we would have our whole squid later.
Trying to share and eat this it is where the forks and Tupperware came in real handy. We sawed the monster down to size and then were able to enjoy its manageable pieces, cut and ready to be eaten. Although I am sure the stand offers to cut the squid down to size for you; but no one takes it, because eating a squid whole like a bouquet is more enjoyable than doing so ring by ring, like at other stalls.
I made sure that the Korean “potato twist” stall had to be one of our first stops. This usually ends the night with a long reaching line. Looking towards the back of their stall, you could tell they knew the crowd they would be expecting. There were buckets and boxes of peeled potato, skewered and fanned out across a stick that was thicker than a skewer, but smaller than a chopstick.
They had begun frying the rods in pairs, the skewered potatoes started moving between vats of oil, and then onto a cooling pan. From here it is dipped in powder and coated with a sauce, both are of your choosing. Four types of powder and five types of sauces. Their station was set up to dab and drip. A lengthy dish filled with either white or yellow cheddar, sour cream and onion, or BBQ. After a solid coating of any, the excess is tapped off and the twist is brought over to their saucing station. Salted ketchup, spicy Korean, salt and vinegar, garlic mayo, or wasabi mayo. The skewer is sauced horizontal over a wire grate and paper towel. It is to catch any of the drippings that doesn’t make its way on to the potato. When done you are presented with a stick of twisting potato rings, double the height of your head.
This one was also hard to share, but really, who can commit to a eating a whole potato in one sitting. Here is where we used the Tupperware as a dish again. We pulled the potato off the stick and ate it as softer potato chips. It was still tasty despite losing its novelty. Our chosen flavouring of white cheddar and garlic mayo was an amazing combination. I would have also liked this flavour pairing over popcorn. I live by the motto that anything that f*cks up your breath just tastes good. The potatoes were crisp at the edges and chewy like the scallop potatoes in the middle. This was definitely one of our group’s favourites.
The “Twist Potato” stall also offered Korean fish shaped waffles at their “Korean Waffles” annex. This was at a separate, but ajoining booth; operated by a separate, but equally dedicated employee. Each waffle was pressed in a cast iron mould, but there was enough prepared ahead of time to be served right away. Kept warm by in a specially designed heated metal rack. This rack also allowed the waffles to stand upright, making for a better visual presentation.
Available in Bavarian cream, chocolate, and the traditional red bean. The fish shaped waffle was still piping hot when we got it to share. We singed fingers as we ripped the waffle apart and milk chocolate filling oozed out. The waffle had a crispy exterior and a chewy fried middle, like the starchy sesame balls at dim sum. It was chocolate gave it its sweetness and dessert feel.
After trying “Twist Potato”, I could see why the other potato on a stick stall wasn’t as busy. It offered night marketers a second option, but now having tried both in one standing, I could not only taste, but see a huge difference between the two. Most people would never get one of each from both places, so would be content in having which ever one they lined up for.
Walking into the food area, the “J&J original hurricane potatoes” where the ones you come to first. However the “Potato Twist” had better real estate, and I could see them being chosen more often because of opportunity. They had the more prominent location on the corner by the stage, and their wares spanned three stalls. They also had more employees working to churn out sales, and a girl in a red apron passing out samples in the isle. And not to mention, the twists simply tasted better with well cooked potato fries, and an even coating of both powder and sauce.
Both vendors sold for the same price point at $4.50 each, or two for $8. Where the twist potatoes dedicated themselves to the perfecting of their one item, the hurricane offered more. Hurricane potatoes were forced to share the deep fryer and cooking area with fried chicken. They also have yam and zucchini hurricane options for a sweeter and more leaner vegetable. I would have liked to try these as well, especially if they can get zucchini dry enough and fried with a good crunch.
“Hurricane potatoes” claimed they were the original concept, the first to do whole potato fries on a stick. Although I was less impressed with their set up and product. They offered five more seasonings and sauces than the other place. And they even had a laminated menu card to pass out to customers waiting in line, knowing what you want ahead of time speed up the process. You had your choice of two topping and it could even be two powders or two sauces. Different flavours like onion, dill pickle, hot sauce, ketchup in both powder and sauce, and even the option for cinnamon and sugar for a more dessert-like feel.
We went for the jalapeño powder with their spicy and sweet “tiger sauce”. Just looking at the potato skewer that came out of the fryer I knew it wouldn’t be the same. It was strung on unevenly with gaps, this would cause the potato to be fried unevenly with sections burnt.
Then the powder and sauces were also applied unevenly. There was not enough powder in their trays. Being able to see the bottom of their tinfoil covered dishes meant parts of the hurricane felt un seasoned. It went similarly with the saucing, which they drizzled straight over the floor. They didn’t have a designated grate or a special area to catch any access or debris, so my worry was over healthy and safety, and what if an employee slipped on the pile of excess sauce that continue to gather throughout the night. And then the clerk only drizzled our tiger sauce on one side of the potato stick. Unless the intention was one vertical half had the jalapeño and the other the brown drizzle.
Either way there was not enough of either and it tastes like we were just eating potato. Whereas the other booth heavily coated both sides with both flavours, and were better for it. This was a disappointing showing from the original version. They had such promise with so many additional bells and whistles.
Liquid nitrogen and the show it puts on is all the rage, and at “Shake Shake Fries & Watermelon Drinks” they use it in their beverages for a little theatre.
Of note, I don’t think I actually saw anyone order fries for them, and other than in their name there was no mention of fries on their lean photo filled menu. Not that it felt like it was missing. They had plenty to offer between fruit juices in whole fruits, smokey drinks, and juices in lightbulb shaped glasses.
We got a fresh watermelon juice with bo bo balls to share. The juice was available in its melon rind, a plastic cup, or bulb. We went for cup, not knowing we would be able to enjoy the whimsy of whisping smoke when dry ice meets wet water. This reaction happened in a separate clear plastic cup punctured with holes. The full cup of juice was stacked into it. The slits in plastic allowed the smoke to escape via four vents.
All their fresh fruit juices are blended then set with a skewer of two watermelon cubes. They also give you the option of adding aloe vera, coconut jelly, or bo bo balls to it; at no additional charge. The last option is juice filled balls that burst with flavour when bitten into. The same feeling you get from fish roe, but in a sweeter and more fulsome way. The water melon juice was fresh and chunky, a great refresher with the added sweetness and texture from the popping bubbles.
I would later come back for another drink, just to be able to have it in a glass shaped like a light bulb. The bulbs even included the screw on metal bit and its end. You drank from the bottom, which perfectly fit one of those thick bubble tea straws. Outside of freshly blended watermelon and pineapple juices, they also offered clear soda juices in orange, fruit punch, ice tea, white calpis, and black calpis. These were the perfect clear coloured drinks that allowed the highlighting of the glass bulb’s hidden feature. Like a real light bulb, this too lit up. With a push of a button at its “bottom”, a blue coloured LED highlighted your beverage with an internal glow. I used this sparingly as the glow wasn’t visible in day light and there didn’t seem to be a way to switch out the batteries when they died. It was a feature best used at dusk.
I choose the clear colour of the white calpis and some more orange bo bo balls, to best highlight the lights when I learned about it. The drink was tangy and the fizziness of it made the balls rise to the top. It was harder to drink them through the straw this way, but it was a great visual.
And you can’t have some bubbles tea-like drinks without considering some bubble waffles. The “Ying Kee” dessert stall offered them in original egg, chocolate, or matcha flavour. We went for the green tea flavoured one and was able to watch the gentleman under the tented booth make our item to order. He poured the dyed green batter into the specially designed cast iron mould. He then flipped it 180 degrees, to create a capsule of dough with a hollow centre.
We got it warm and chewy in a paper bag. Each round was easy to tear, they had a bit of crisp to them before leading to an eggy centre. The green tea flavouring was mild, the bitterness of the tea balancing out the sweetness of the batter. It is most recommend for those who like a less sweeter egg waffle.
They also offered young coconut juice, though realistically you can buy it from any ethnic grocery stores for cheaper. Although here they do take the painstaking work of opening it up for you. And you get to enjoy the novelty of drinking out of a whole coconut, at an outdoor event, under the rays of a hot sun. It makes you feel sort of tropical.
At the “Shanghai special” stall we had the “pork schnitzel”. “Schnitzel” is meat pounded into a thin sheet with the use of a meat tenderizer. It is then coated with flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs, before being fried. It originated in Austria, so was a little off to find it here at a Shanghai themed stall. Another anomaly was their combo offering their breaded chicken fingers with a side of poutine. Though garlic dry ribs, crispy wontons, and spring rolls did make more sense.
I have never liked schnitzel. I like my meat juicy, and this is suppose to be on the drier side with an equally dry, but very crispy breading. Also pork tends to be a drier red meat if not prepared well. So it tasted like how it should, but it just isn’t for me. It also didn’t help that the sauce that came poured over it was strong with vinegar. I would have preferred mustard and horseradish with pickled vegetables to go with this, more of the traditional German condiments. Though, only after did we finished our portion did we realize that they had a tray of help yourself condiments to dress your food as you liked. This would have come in handy for me.
The physical booth is worth mentioning. The customer facing presentation included a net strung with seashells, despite not having any seafood on the menu; and the counter used the love-ability of the minions to attract attention. I responded better to the reassuring thumbs up of the Chinese chef in uniform on their awning.
The roti at “Be Fabulous” was some of the best I have had. It was traditional Malaysian style with a crispy light grilled dough, you pulled piece by piece. Taking a chunk, you dip it into a thimble full of curry. Though I guess given the sun and the heat you really didn’t want that much more. It was a sweeter curry with a growing after note of spice. I could have eaten a whole plate of roti and curry. And at $3 for one, this was one of the more inexpensive items at the market.
As a whole they had one of the most affordable booths. And even more so when they marked everything down to $3 a plate. This included their BBQ meat balls, bacon wrapped pineapples, Indonesian corn cake, and a whole grilled quail. If I wasn’t getting full I would have also gotten myself a quail. And if you wanted a dessert from them, they can make a sweet version of their roti filled with fruit.
It was only at the “Be Toasty” stall that I realized, how many booths sold more than what their name advertised. And in this case, more than half of their offering isn’t even in the same wheelhouse as their title. Here they had only two options for toast: a sweet custard and a savoury tuna French toast. They also offered Swiss style chicken wings (not quite sure what that is), deep fried bananas, and whole deep fried prawns on a skewer. Although, as interesting as the prawns looked, skewered through from head to tail; I don’t think I would have the patience to de-shell them in this stand up and eat setting. Though I guess since they are deep fried to a crisp, you can probably get away with eat them exoskeleton and all.
We had the Hong Kong style sweet French toast and it took a while to come. We watched other patrons order and get their snacks before we did ours. And when it finally came, we were a little disappointed. It was one and a half slices of bread used to make mini triangle sandwiches, that oddly cascaded in size. The slices of bread were smeared with sweet custard before taking a dip into the deep fryer. They was served with a side of condense milk for dipping. This helped give it some flavour where the custard was hidden and the eggy nature of fresh toast was missed. Although this is Hong Kong style French toast, and I guess they do it differently.
“Pie pie okonomiyaki” offered Japanese savory style pancakes in chicken, pork, squid, beef, or veggie. It was a one woman show behind the counter, so luckily it wasn’t that busy. It gave her time to chop our order of chicken into tiny cubes, pan cook it, then add it to the her premade pancake batter. The batter is cooked in a separate pan and comes out the perfect circle.
Each variation is dressed the same with mayo, finely diced dried seaweed, sesame seeds, and bonito flakes which comes from fish. The pancake ate more like a pizza, cut into triangles and heavy with ingredients. It tasted like takoyaki but less gooey and more fluffy like a buttermilk pancake.
I was pleasantly surprised by the meat skewers at “Halal BBQ”. I have had many dry meat skewers at many markets over the years. Most of the time, there isn’t time and care put into cooking of these. Especially when the goal is to collect as much money, and churn out as much product, to not keep your customers waiting. I guess in the long run overcooked meat is better than raw, undercooked meat. But this would be the first time I did not have overcooked skewers at a night market. In fact I would also consider this some of the best meat on sticks I have ever had, period.
We shared two kebabs of chicken and two of lamb. They were flavoured the same, and each piece of meat was as juicy and as tender as the one next to it. My only issue was that the amount of spices used was overwhelming, although that is more to do with my own personal preference.
The stand drew a crowd. Not only was the grilling done right up front, but the fan they used to blow away smoke from the grill, helped to spread the scent of it across the food pavilion. You would follow your nose back to their offerings. The staff also wore unique sequinned hats to unify them and spoke into microphones to broadcast their wares and announce when orders came to pass.
There were two competing “BBQ Squid” booths with the same name. What set this one apart was the possibility of a squid barbecued whole and the matching aprons each employee wore. Red and blue homemade coverings featuring a red cartoon squid on the front.
We went for whole squid, but were disappointed that it wasn’t served whole. Out of connivence, once cooked they use scissors to cut the squid down to manageable pieces. It did help us to share and eat it later. But as a visual eater I was happy to have been able to captured some photos of it in its entirety, turning a deep reddish colour over the fire of the grill.
Although if just to order and eat, I would get the “squid mix” plate next time. This is an order that included deep fried and barbecued squid together. Although considering that we already had half a deep fried squid I was happier to have more of the chewy BBQ texture that I prefer. It was well sauced with salted soy and a sweet and spicy chilli sauce.
The “MangoHolic” banner claimed them dessert specialists. Their orange coloured booth was the shade of ripened mangoes. It featured their house mango shaved ice and their fresh mango slush. We ended up getting the former and lapping it all up. Ironically, if you were at this stand and didn’t want anything to do with mangoes, they also had strawberry substitutes and red bean ice cream shaved ice.
This was a heap of shaved ice, like an Asian snow cone, flavoured with condense milk and topped with sweet mango cubes. It was easy to eat with melted ice cream, that towards the end it drank like a watery milkshake and quenched our thirst going down.
Chimney cakes are a newer dessert trend to reach Vancouver. And tasting the ones from the “Top Dough” stall, I can’t believe they are not more popular. “Chimney cakes” or “Kürtőskalács” (their original name) are a cake specific to Hungarian-speaking regions in Romania. It is also referred to as a “split cake” as you are able to peel the layers of this treat apart, ring by ring. To get it this way, the dough is divided into strips and then spun/wrapped around a truncated cone–shaped baking spit. The cake is coated in granulated sugar and roasted over charcoal, while being basted with melted butter. This step is is done until its surface cooks to a golden-brown. During the baking process the sugar stuck on each tube of dough caramelizes and forms a shiny, crispy crust.
It was quite the show to have them spinning before us. The original is served bake with its hollow interior smeared with Nutella. This resembled more of a piece of tubing, equal in diameter through and through.
We went for the upgrade chimney cake that was shaped like a cone. The narrow end is plugged up with a dollop of chocolate; and after a smearing of Nutella, the cone is filled with whipped cream and topped with a strawberry. Shame the fruit was so tart in comparison to everything else. The pastry was good on its own, I don’t think it needed the chocolate, and certainly not the whipped cream. I would however have liked to see it used as an ice cream cone with your choice of soft serve. The cake was crisp on the outside with crunch from the layer of sugar. An it was almost flakey on the inside, but with a bread-like texture. I would definitely like to visit their standalone store for a full experience of this. At $5 for the hollow and $7 for the cone I could see the price equating the value and workmanship of each authentically baked piece.
The most original tonight was the cheese tarts from “Simply Original tarts and shimmery beverages” stall. The tarts had a required baked time so we were left waiting for a fresh batch of them, and they were well worth it.
They didn’t look like much behind their glass shield. A pool of yellow or purple in a crust of pastry. But what hid behind this dull appearance was two bites of tasty. The yellow was their original cheese tart. It wasn’t savoury as I imagined the cheese to be, or eggy like the tart as a whole reminded me of. Instead the yellow filling was a melding of creamy cheesecake and luscious custard in one, set the backdrop of a buttery tart. The purple was their summer lavender flavour. Lavender in colour, and not enough in flavour. It was light and floral, but lost all its sweetness and cheesiness in flavour. I still enjoyed it none the less. So much so that I wondered what other flavours do they offer and if they had a store front to sell them from.
We started getting into dessert territory and snacks you would find at a carnival or country fair; with deep fried Oreos, giant pretzels, and mini doughnuts. And the best part is, anything we couldn’t finish from here on out, was relatively easy to doggy bag, and decent to have the next day.
The deep fried Oreo cookies were from “CoCoRo” booth. They declared themselves the “heart of Japan”, as they offered various popular Japanese street foods. Gyozas, Japanese seafood pancake (okonomiyaki, like the one we had earlier), takoyaki, fruit blended frozen yogurt, and deep fried ice cream and chocolate bars
The Oreos came in a group of four with your choice of having it with or without bottle chocolate sauce. I was expecting something crunchy on account of the deep fry. But this was cakey. The heat from the hot oil melted the cookie middle into more of a cream. It filled the breading like a deflated doughnut with cake batter.
The “Freshly Squeezed Lemonade” stand would be our second drink break, it is also available at fairs and outdoor events. Their drink comes in three sizes and costs a dollar more to move to the next size up. $4 for small, $5 medium, and $6 large. They of course had the regular lemonade, but also used syrups to pump a little extra flavour into your beverage. Passion fruit, lime, cherry, and we had strawberry. It’s acidity made a great palette cleanser and quenched our thirst without making us more full.
“Mr. Pretzel” sold soft pretzels that were hand rolled. They were moulded and folded behind glass for those passing by to watch. And in my opinion, such show features are my favourite part of street food, that and their portability. They had both savoury and sweet pretzels. The savoury included salted pretzels, ones topped with sesame seeds, and Parmesan cheese. And if you wanted something more hearty they also used their pretzel dough to wrap hot dogs for a different bun and wiener pairing. The list of sweet pretzels had cinnamon and sugar, Nutella, and caramel.
We shared a savoury “Neapolitan” pretzel with Parmesan cheese and Italian spices. Not to be confused with the brining together of strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate ice cream flavours as one. But both Neapolitan ice cream and pizza refers to the food originating from Naples, Italy. The pretzel was what I expected from a top notch baked bread product. Salted tough skin, revealing a chewy yet fluffy centre. Half the fun of eating a pretzel is working your way around the knot.
Mini doughnuts are the hallmark outdoor snack. You find them at carnivals, circuses, car shows, and sports rallies; so it’s no surprise that they make an appearance here. What is a surprise is the fact that they are done up with more than just a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar. Although I did make sure to get a bag of the regular to take home. They aren’t as good a day old, but manageable after a whirl in the microwave.
$5 for a dozen of their mini doughnuts in cinnamon sugar or icing sugar. $3 more a dozen of their speciality doughnuts with toppings like “Oreo”, “birthday cake”, and “Reese’s pieces”. The “Oreo” was a drizzle of icing sugar and a sprinkle of ground up Oreo cookies. The “birthday cake” was icing sugar piped over the doughnuts, and then the whole thing dusted with rainbow coloured sprinkles. It seemed like a novel idea, but after trying the embellished doughnuts, I wouldn’t want more again. The classic tasted the best and the extra sweetness and crumb of cookies seemed unnecessary. It didn’t add value to something already so tasty.
Another easy to travel and take home treat from the night market is bubble tea. The perfect way to wash down all the food, and clean the palette to a more neutral state.
“Totoro bubble tea” had your typical extensive list of bubble drinks. Surprisingly they just stuck to selling drinks and had no snack options. Not that anything else was needed, and not that their menu was considered small by any means. Green tea, milk tea, black tea, specialty milk teas, and slushies. About 16 options under each heading, 80 possible drink choices total. But I think when it comes to bubble tea most people have their top three favourite flavours and stick to it.
We got their “House green milk tea” that used powder. It was as expected. The thing about bubble tea is, you order what you know so know what you get. And they don’t often mess drinks up, unless it’s too sweet or not sweet enough, or if they give you pearls when you asked for coconut jelly.
Similar but different was the list of drinks at “Orr Street”. Their menu was a shorter tally of slushies and milk tea; with a larger emphasis on their fruit flavoured teas. We got the one thing that stood out as a difference between the two: the “Mango lassi”. Lassi is a popular traditional yogurt-based drink from the India. It is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and sometimes, fruit. The traditional version is a savoury drink, salty and sometimes flavoured with ground and roasted cumin. The sweet lassi, like this one, contains sugar/fruits, instead of spices. The mango was a refreshing note in this creamy drink. It reminded me of the “YOP” yogurt beverages, but with the consistency of an ice cream made milk shake.
And thus ends our time at the night market. This was an amazing sponsored event hosted by @chinesebites.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I will most definitely be back to the market this summer. I enjoy the novelty of the experience and the cheap jewelry and socks they boast. And when I return, I undoubtedly will swing by the food pavilion again, so I undoubtedly will see myself having some more food then. Maybe I will hit up the handful of stalls I have yet to experience on this trip. Including a hot dog vendor, one selling Indian curries, a dim sum stand, and a booth offering cotton candy spun before your eyes and and old fashioned ice cream. It would be a crushing shame to see them close down anytime soon. I know they have some steep night market competition, but no one likes a monopoly and everyone wants options. This is the night market vibe in a smaller volume, within more manageable setting. Don’t deny your cravings.
PANDA NIGHT MARKET
12631 Vulcan Way, Richmond BC, V6V 1J7