I made the mistake of choosing a long weekend, and only the second weekend the Richmond night market opened for the season, to visit.
Just driving to the lot, we literally spent 45 minutes waiting in the car. 45 minutes just to move half a block. There was congestion along busy intersections and, as my guest and passenger put it, I nearly “range quit” with the total standstill. The traffic attendants tried their best, but there was utter chaos as drivers couldn’t take simple instruction from a glowing baton.
But eventually we got to our destination and parked in the secondary lot. Stopping here required a trek over rock and gravel; but as rough as it was on the soles of our shoes, it was still a better option and quicker by foot, than trying to lap looking for an empty spot closer to the market.
At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that we will be paying $20 for their zoom pass. It was already 10pm and I didn’t want to do anymore waiting. Little did I know, it would be all that we would be doing tonight.
The zoom pass allowed you to bypass the lengthy line, and those in wait to pay $2 for admission. The pass cost 10 times more, but on top of shortening your wait, it is also a pre-purchase of 6 additional visits, that were transferable. I deem my time more valuable and therefore am willing to pay $20 to save it. An attendant was selling them by the “non waiting” entry way. This little coloured card allowed 7 entries into the market in total. Each entry was claimed by punching a hole into a dinosaur stamp on the back.
This year’s theme was “Magical Dino Park”. It included robotic dinosaurs moving their horned heads and spiky tails from side to side, and letting out the occasional “roar”. All while surrounded by lush greenery and perfectly placed spot lights. The voice broadcasted over the sound system advertised the existence of these dinosaurs, and the idea that they would make an ideal backdrop for a selfie.
The voice also suggested a visit to their food pavilion. That since their dinosaurs had such large appetites, they have increased the number of food vendors to over 100 stalls. We complied with his suggestion. Wasting no time, we sped off to their food area to get in as much as we could. We hustled from one stand to another exploring all the options and picking what we wanted. However all this planning and travel, only to run out of time and have to leave unsatisfied, as they start packing up for a 12am close.
This was only my guest’s second visit to this market. He had takoyaki, meat on sticks, and squid, on his list of snacks that he wanted tonight. And apparently everyone else had the same appetite, as we were kept waiting in lines for all thee.
We made the mistake of stopping at the first takoyaki vendor, proving location is ever so important in a business. There were a few others selling seafood in dough, and even one that did the classic Japanese treat in a jumbo version. And I love food that is bigger than it normally is, or smaller than you except it to be. But sadly we stopped at the first stall we saw and had to be content with that.
At this and every other line, you queue up to order and pay, and wait even longer to claim your food. As I waited in these lines I had plenty of time to think. Plenty of time to realize that they have a good thing going on here. This tented food fair was an example of build it and they shall come. They served over priced snacks, that didn’t taste all that great. Average snacks you could easily get from the nearby Aberdeen mall (just to name one place), with no entry fee and less of a struggle to drive to and park. The same style of food for cheaper and at better quality. And there, there wouldn’t be a rush job to accommodate customers, instead they would churn out the best of whatever it was. From hurricane potatoes to curry fish balls, and they offer it all year round during full mall hours.
Yet here we were, one of the many consumers willing to travel all the way to the market and wait in lengthy lines. I guess it was the ambience, that you were paying for. The novelty of being able to walk along stalls and explore. And like drinks at a club, you know you can get a few bottles at the same price as a couple of shots here, but you are here for the atmosphere, and it made all the difference.
It is a convenient walk with all the selection side by side. That is when you aren’t pushing through crowds with your elbows pointed. This also may the closest that some get to explore a more authentic Asian food scene. And then there is the visual feast. You are treated to the show of seeing food grilled, baked, and fried before your very eyes.
The takoyaki was such an example. Massed produced on cast iron moulds, it is a step by step process that is spelled out behind plexiglass. From pouring the dough to dropping in pieces of octopus, shrimp, scallop, or cheese for the vegetarians.
These were made to order with the option to mix and match the fillings. We got two of the octopus, two of the scallop, and two of the shrimp. Everything except the cheese as we felt we wouldn’t get our money’s worth with it. They were basically $1 per ball. Although reality was we couldn’t taste the difference from one to the other. The taste was especially hidden as we had more mayo that usual. The squeeze bottle spilled open over our portion, and the clerk asked if we were ok with the amount that came out. It was a benefit to us, more mayo is always a good thing; so we were happy to accept what we were handed as is. Aside from the mayo it was a mushy ball that tasted like pickled vegetables. A hot and gooey mess that was best taken in one gaping mouthful.
At a few of the following stalls there weren’t many, or any lines to order, so you think there wouldn’t be much of a wait. It isn’t until you look down and realize they are calling number “45” and you have “20”, that you realize you are in for a long haul. And often the food does measure up to the time you have spent idle. Especially when you are staring at a cup of shrivelled and skewered mystery meats.
The “Super BBQ meat” stall had its own corner with two different booths focused on barbecue on a grill. One specialized in meat, the other seafood. We thought we were clever by dividing and conquering, queuing to get something from each of the neighbouring stalls. However both took about the same time, and had us stationed there for over 30 minutes in wait.
We started at the meat vendor, paying $10 for four skewers, of our choosing. So like the balls above we got to try one of each, and like the balls above, they all basically had the same taste. AAA steak beef, lamb, honey garlic chicken, and prawn. They were all seasoned in the same zesty Indian spice, it came with a grainy and mustardy pungent-ness.
They also had jumbo skewers, and as I mentioned above, I love it when food is bigger or smaller than necessary; but thankfully we skipped this option, as we didn’t need more than the four shrivelled up chunks we got per stick. This was disappointing at $2.25 per skewer, and what felt like a 10 minute wait for each.
Our order of squid was just as disappointing. They seemed to be dredging and deep frying tentacles in mass quantities, yet it was being seasoned and served cool. But people seemed happy with what they were having, and as a result they ran out of the full deep fried squid on a stick and tentacles skewered.
We went for the sweet chilli version of deep fried squid, and the sticky mess got everywhere, from my clothes to my hair. I would later wash and a chilli flake would fall out from between damp strands of hair. But it was the sauce that was the only thing to give the chewy, throughly batter bites any real flavour. They were over fried and oily, and after a few I was done with the taste.
I needed to cleanse the accumulation of grease in my mouth, so stopped at the jerky stall. “BKH Jerky”. I have driven past their store front before and been curious, but what cinched it for me now, was their banner advertising the fact that they have been on “Dragon’s Den” (a reality show where entrepreneurs invest in local Canadian business for both parties to make millions).
They were flipping sheets of reddish meat as you approach the stall. They had regular, curry, or spicy flavoured pork or beef jerky, and the choice of jerky short ribs. I went for the regular beef for the first taste.
It was a steep price at $7 a slice. I agreed with the customer in front of me in line, but not enough to voice it like he did. The prices were listed on the tent and you know what you are going to get by coming here, so you can’t really be surprised or complain.
The jerky was cut into manageable sized chunks with scissors, for easy on the go eating. It had a nice chewy texture with a sweet sticky glaze. A hearty snack that I would have preferred to rip tiny bites off of on whole sheet of meat. I would definitely considering buying a pack to graze on at home. And it would probably be at a more reasonable in price.
My guest on the other hand was thirsty. He went for a bubble tea at “Bubble Gallo”, after I convinced him to, over a can of coke. When in Rome… Taro with pearls. It was your standard powdered beverage with milk and tapioca.
My last food stop was at the “lil fella’s” mini doughnuts truck, to take some desserts home. This was the quickest line I was in, and I got the doughnuts right away. Though they weren’t very busy to begin with and they were closing the market for the night. Also this wouldn’t be what you come to the market for. If you are like me, you look for the unique, the more uncommon the better. You can find mini doughnuts at every fair and the on occasion sporting match.
None the less I was pleased with the speed of delivery. Warm doughnuts meets paper bag and my hand, all at the regular pricing. They were fluffy and crunchy with cinnamon sugar, I got exactly what I expected.
After this we were left with 30 minutes to take in as any of the sales booths as we could. We did this rushed with the announcer reminding us the market would be closing in 30 minutes, every two minutes. We were able to take in the cell phone stands, the anime memorabilia stalls, I stopped to admire jewellery and hum and haa over nail art supplies, and we also found the nut and fruit booth we were in search of.
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.
We have our zoom pass, good for 5 more visits, and it is as good enough of a reason as any to come back. If anything, we would visit just to get your money’s worth. We decided it was best to return in summer, to let the season’s beginning die down and the novelty wear thin. Then there will be less people, less lines, less shoving, less waiting; more eating, more shopping, and maybe even a game at their carnival portion. Don’t deny your cravings.