The nicer weather has encouraged the opening of the newly branded “Illumination international summer night market”. This has replaced the “Panda night market”, located by the old Richmond “IKEA”, behind the “Home Depot”.
It is no easy task competing against the much larger Richmond night market. The sheer size of it, with all its parking space and the ability to spend hours exploring the many food and gift stalls. But here is their attempt.
Whereas the “Panda market” before use to be free admission, “Illumination” is now charging a $3 entry fee. However this opening weekend, in order to celebrate their rebranding the fee was waved and the city came in troves to take advantage.
“Illumination is an apt name for the outdoor concession and shopping experience. They have down sized in vendor stalls and booths for games, in order to create displays of lights at either ends of the market. Wire and bulbs behind chain separated partitions, that don’t look like much in the daylight, but come alive with twinkling leds, once the sun sets.
This visual strategy is a good one. The market runners have created numerous reasons for patrons to visit outside of just eating a purchasing. They have given the people more opportunities for a selfie, many more Instagramable photo ops, and ways to leave their mark. The hallmark of any millennial deemed success.
There are background walls with quotes, lit up trees and flowers, a garden of butterflies and faeries, and a gathering of twinkling gems and jewels. They have also have created the opportunity for visitors to pay to write a wish on wooden charms to hang on a Japanese style fence. And to pay to tag pink, white, or red locks with hearts on them, to leave your “love”, on a fence that spells out the letters “L-O-V-E” in block letter and lights.
To see all the above during the day and how they looked at night; and to see all that we found note worthy and worth trying, watch my vlog of the night with the link below.
We came early and took advantage of there being no lines and us being the first to order. We were strategic and hit up the vendors that would have the longest queues once the market was in full swing at 7pm. Most of the vendors were ones I remembered from the years before, there were a handful were new ones, and even more yet to open for the season.
We were given a sample of some cured meat, shaved straight from a pig’s hoc. They were a new addition to market this year and made their presence known through their distinct music.
We bee-lined it to the twist potatoes stall without a wait. No line meant we had the ability to watch our potato go from spud to spiral on a skewer. Then continue to watch as it took an oil bath, and got a rub down with powder and a drizzle of sauce. We went for cheddar cheese and ketchup and it tasted like kraft dinner with chewy potato.
Next we rushed to the only takoyaki stand at the market for some shrimp battered balls, instead of the traditional octopus. They were still piping hot as it had us breathing out with mouths forming an “O” around the breaded ball, as we ate.
We visited the double sized dim sum stand twice. Once for the pork dumplings served on a skewer with sweet soy sauce.
And again as our last dish: some curry fish balls, out of convenience. We were still hungry and everything else required a lengthy line to pay, then another line to claim your purchase. We actually left the market after having to push our way down the lane of food vendors on each side. Often stopping, not being able to go with the flow of a non-moving mob.
As for the balls themselves, they were super spicy. They had us rushing to the squeezed lemonade stand and ordering a strawberry flavoured lemonade to quench the heat.
At the “love <3 me” stand we ordered one of their radish cakes, that was more like a ball. Served in a cone shaped paper cup and marked with a branded flag, the details won me over before actually taking a bite. Crunchy julienned radish and cubes of ham hiding in a shell of flaky and chalky pastry. I loved the presentation more than its taste. It could have used a sauce on the side, or some creamy dressing inside, for a more memorable flavour.
At the “cheese potato” stand we had their “explosion pulp chicken” for a steep $10. This is a fillet of chicken breaded crispy. When you rip into it, a sea of yellow liquid pools out. The filling looked and tasted like watered down cheese powder. It was interesting, but not as tasty as you’d want it, having to pay $10 for it.
But my favourite stand was the young woman painting with sugar. Specifically she used a ladle of warm sugar syrup and poured it out into the desired pattern, over a clean board. She did this with speed and the precision of trained hands with much practice.
The stall offered $5 for a spin. Paying the fee and spinning decided what shape she would paint the sugar in. From swords and beets, to birds and butterflies. If lucky you won yourself a $10 design. These were mostly animals of the Chinese zodiac along with crabs, ducks, cranes, and fish. I bypassed that game of chance and decided to just pay $15 of one of their ultimate designs. I went for the Phoenix, having seen the dragon being made for the customers before, and knowing that you can win the dragon with a lucky spin as well. But the only way to get the Phoenix is to pay for it. And that I did with no regrets. (Her awe inspiring skill makes it on to my video in full.)
I don’t know how the glass-like candy balanced on the skewer like it did. We were so scared to walk pass the crowds, clutching on to the stick so tight. After all our photo taking, there was no hesitation to take a bite and crack into this edible work of art. It was a little brunt tasting, but realistically you aren’t purchasing this for flavour, but for novelty and show.
We were finished with the market long before the sun set, so sat in our car waiting for dusk, and for the market to come alive with lights. We then walked the expanse of the lot again, appreciating the displays in a whole new light, literally.
Faerie and butterfly garden.
Jewelry and gems display.
Good luck charms for you to personalize, at a cost.
To watch the food only version of my night market vlog, click the link below.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
We had a nice time and were happy to have gone. However given the trouble and time it takes to travel and find parking here, visiting for 25 food stalls and 30 everything else vendors; I prefer the expanse and variety of the other Richmond night market, to get more bang for my buck. Especially as both charge for entry admission now. And truly after you take advantage of every photo op and take all the selfies in front of every led flower and every teddy bear statue, you don’t really need to come back to do it again. Don’t deny your cravings.