The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder. And that means there are less people at the night market, and therefore less lines to have to stand and wait in. So what better time to visit then before the end of their season? And what better day than a rainy one turned clear last minute?
It did get colder and windier as the night wore on. And we did leave scurrying, thinking we had under dressed for the temperature. But despite the conditions, many still made their way out, and there were still waits to be had, but none too bad.
So if you are thinking of visiting, I suggest that you do. There aren’t too many days left before outdoors events like this become to cold to attend. They are opened until October 10th this year, so you have two more weekends to make your way down, before you have to wait for them to reopen next year, late spring.
I brought along my two eating companions with appetites and curiosities as vivacious as mine own. Today we would be blitzing through a few stalls, and trying some the unique treats that they at the 2016 market had to offer.
We still had our zoom passes from the beginning of the season, so was putting it to good use once again. With our faster entry we were also given a coupon book. A book of coupons featuring a few of the vendor stalls. We made every attempt to use them and earn ourselves some discount, but often the requirement was a minimum quantity spend. And even with three of us in our group we didn’t have enough people to want to buy multiples of anything at any one stall. Not when there were so many different things to try and so many different places to buy from. So we ended up not using one.
We started with the traditional night market treat of takoyaki, at the stall with the same name.
$6 for 6 pieces in either the traditional octopus or shrimp, scallop, vegetable, and cheese filling. We enjoyed the shrimp. But truth is, after all the dough and toppings it really doesn’t make a difference which filling you get. It is the thick brown sauce and the tangy cream over it that you taste.
The “Po Wah dim sum house” offered some popular Chinese small plates, but none as good as you would get at a sit down Chinese seafood restaurant. And that made sense considering the mobility they needed in such a large scale operation.
We had the “Panfried pork bun”, four pieces for $4.50. It was a chewy bun filled with warm juice. It was one of those things that was best taken in as a whole bite, lest you make a mess of yourself trying to half it. If you do its juice runs down your chin and stains your blouse, true story. The bun was starchy, the filling tender, and the soup sweet.
The “Hao gao” (shrimp dumpling) was not as satisfying. The texture of the shrimp filling was off, it was pasty like a meat loaf. But at least the texture of the flour shell incasing it was good. It is my favourite part so I was happy enough with this.
“The famous popcorn chicken and fried tofu” stand had a pretty explanatory name. We queued up for the latter. I have never had stinky tofu, but know it to be quite the delicacy, if you can get past the smell. I have yet to try it as I could never commit to a whole portion for myself, and for paying for tofu when there was so much more else to try. And this having smelled it plenty of times and being curious of it, as I passed by the stalls that sold it during previous night market visits. But today one of us was a stinky tofu fan and it was as good a time as any to try this one for myself.
We asked for a portion that was half stinky tofu and have regular, but that was not a possibility. The regular tofu came in a whole block. So we went with just a small serving of the stinky for $7.50.
It was as its name promised. Cubes of fermented tofu fried to a crisp. It had a strong and pungent smell like stinky feet or a sweaty gym bag. I wonder how anyone thought to do and eat this in the first place?
As is, I didn’t find the flavour anything special. It was the brown sauce pooled at the bottom of the cardboard tray that pulled it all together. The sour fermentation and the savoury sauce paired well. And the side of pickled vegetables offered a break in taste. Overall it was decent, but nothing I need to revisit again. The flavour is one of kind, one that I couldn’t get rid of, and will forever know. And when trying it for the first time, this is something you cannot expect.
The “Squid Feast” stand offered deep fried squid served whole or cut up for more manageable eating. I of course went for the presentation of a full squid skewered. $6 for one $10 for 2. You were given four different flavour options: spicy, salt and pepper, sweet and sour, and spicy garlic. We chose the latter as it was highlighted as their “most popular” with its own heading on the menu.
Naturally it was a difficult task eating the whole squid on the stick. It took a combination of tearing with finger nails and teeth to hack our treat down to size. The squid was crispy on the outside and an easy chew on the inside. I didn’t get much of the garlic power or spicy chilli sauce that was shook and squeezed over the squid. I would have liked and rathered some mayo instead. Deep fried foods pair well with a solid creamy dip.
We were eating as we explored and decided to stop at “The Taiyaki” stall for something sweet. I liked their slogan, “it’s your lost if you don’t try it the 1st time”, and “it’s my fault if you don’t come back the 2nd time”. Sadly I would not be back a second time. It was a great visual and concept, but disappointing in execution.
The queue for this was deceiving. Located on a corner, there wasn’t a line to pay, but a tremendous wait to pick up. But at least you got to enjoy the show of them being made to order before your eyes.
“Taiyaki” literally means “baked sea bream”, a Japanese fish shaped cake made with regular pancake batter. It is often filled with savoury and sweet ingredients, but today our options were limited to the dessert verso of taiyaki.
They use specialty cast iron moulds. Batter gets poured in half way, then the intended ingredient finds its way in the centre. A whole kit kat stick, or a scoop of either red bean or custard. Then more batter over top before the mould snaps shut and and the cake is pressed and baked.
We went for the extra embellishment of having each one topped with ice cream. You choose your filling and the topping. The names for the latter were very misleading. The “matcha” was not powder, but just green tea koala biscuits, the “Oreo” was two cookies sticking upright, and the “stik-o” was a chocolate filled wafer stick. These with a scoop of grocery store bought bulk vanilla ice cream was not worth the extra $1. The regular for $4 taiyaki would have sufficed, except they were hardly filled, and it was more batter than the name sake filling guaranteed.
We had the Kitkat taiyaki topped with vanilla icecream and oreo cookies, and red bean taiyaki topped with ice cream and a wafer stick. The dessert seemed lazy, where it could have been so much more, and much more special. I wanted it to look like how they did on the employee’s uniform tee shirt. I expected soft serve ice cream and rainbow sprinkles at least.
It was getting colder and we were looking to warm up, so here we stood at the “Benkei ramen sho” stand. I had recently been to their store front, so it was interesting to see how they transition their traditional ramen outdoors, and out of kitchen for the night market. (At least I think they are affiliated.)
They offered four different types of ramen: shoyu, shio, miso, and spicy miso. With each you had the option of a small or large, with their prices varying based on broth. Our small spicy miso was $6.75, versus $9.50 for the large.
Similarly above, it looked like a quick wait, but it was a short line on one side and a halting pause on the other. We had so much time that we filled it by visiting other stands for food, then returning back to this one to wait some more. But once again you got a show as you loitered. Behind plexiglass they torched slices of belly, boiled corn, and stewed pork. Bowls were prepped with ingredients like an assembly line and to it the noodles and broth was poured over.
Our portion looked good and it had the warm effect that was desired. But we felt deceived, given the size of the bowl and the amount of broth, you would expect more noodles and toppings to fill it up. At least it was tasty. The broth was rich, the noodles were chewy, the corn added some sweetness, and the greens some freshness. It had a good flavour and we had no complaints. Considering their cramped work space, without the convenience of a kitchen, this was an impressive operation. The price was a little high, but the cost was definitely going into the labour that is required to prepare every element of the dish and to bring it all together.
The “Big G large fried chicken” offered chicken in two different formats and other deep fried sides. Their claim to fame is a flattened out slab of chicken that is larger than your face. You are encouraged to purchase this marvel and hold it over your face, as the girl featured in their awning did.
I have had it before and the meat didn’t taste any better pounded flat, so we stuck with their “Chicken bites” instead. They were easier to share and had an enjoyable texture. Crispy skin covering juicy white meat. The chicken was heavily seasoned and had a strong spicy garlic smell and taste. They were a tasty and fun to pop into your mouth snack.
And this year’s most trendy treat at the night market is the “raindrop cake”. A translucent gelatin/agar dessert made famous with videos of it jiggling online. They are served only at the “OD” stand, which takes the time to explain what this is and how it originated.
The clerk recommended that I try the traditional version of it with black sugar syrup and soy bean powder. But for those looking for more familiar flavours, they also offer it with red bean paste and matcha powder or condense milk and cocoa powder. Your choice is important because the agar is flavourless and the powdered topping and the sweet syrup is what gives it any flavour. But what the actual “cake” contributes is its jello/jelly like texture. It is amazingly smooth and fun to sip in between clenched teeth.
I would never pay for a milk shake like these, but my guest don’t make the ones I do; so she was interested in the “Australia Visa” booth and their “freak shakes”. But sadly, it turned out to be the worst thing that we ordered all night.
Their offerings were displayed on their awning. A photo of a milkshake and its name. But with an oranging light bulb and no description of what went into it, you had to ask to learn that “Hope” is green tea, “Puppy love” is strawberry, “Sunset” is mango, and “Black Forest” is chocolate without cherries, which is deceiving given its name.
My guest choose the latter and was utterly upset that what she got was not a milkshake. It was literally store bought chocolate milk and whipped cream with a chocolate drizzle and Oreo crumbs over it. It at least could have been made mixing cocoa powder and milk for more effort and a better flavour.
In hindsight, I don’t know why we didn’t ask to have our money back. You were paying for the plastic mason jar that you got to keep. But not the ability to choose which saying you wanted on the cup.
And although it looks great in photos, having the chocolate sauce drip onto glass made it extremely messy and not very practical for drinking out of. The vendors stood and watched as my companions wiped all the chocolate off with wads of one ply napkins. They spent 6 minutes cleaning and stirring before they even took a sip. Needless to say, they didn’t finish it. All that was left with was the $8 plastic mason jar, that didn’t seem worth it. Once again, the worst item of the night.
We stopped a the “Sawadika Thailand fried ice cream” stand because my guests have never had anything like it, so I wanted them to try it. Little did I know that the wait would be so long. But once again, the ability to watch servings of it being made from start to finish was appealing.
You choose your flavour between Peach, Strawberry, Passion fruit, Lemon, Oreo, and Kiwi. I started off with the lychee for its more unique flavour, but ended up with a kiwi for its great colour.
They begin by pouring cream over their freezer top. It is the opposite of a stove top, where instead of heat to cook, you get ice to freeze. To the milky batter your flavour choice is added. The Oreo was two full cookies chopped super fine on the spot. The passion fruit and strawberry flavourings were both syrups. And the green of kiwi looked like a gel. Using two spatulas they mix everything together and whip up the texture using a series of chopping and flipping motions. This happens a few times to get the desired solid texture from a liquid. This texture is achieved through much man power, two people working non stop. Their wrists must hurt after the market closes. They worked plenty for the $6 we paid, and I felt like it was worth it for the show alone.
Finally the ice cream is spread out one last time over the freeze fry pan. Then it is scraped off into rolls. The rolls are then placed upright in a plastic tub for serving. The end result is an ice cream with a unique texture, it is tacky like gum, but melts in the heat of your mouth, like any self respecting ice cream should. We joked that it would be easier to take in with fork and knife. The kiwi flavoured reminded us of the “green” from the store brought rainbow flavoured ice cream. An enjoyable childhood sweet flavour, but nothing like kiwis.
And to end our night I grabbed a bag of doughnuts from the “lil fellas” mini doughnut truck to go. Sadly, they too were disappointing. They looked and tasted under cooked, which was painful, considering that they were asking for more money here, than what they were being sold for at the PNE. Then again there was a doughnut stand offering these miniature cinnamon and sugar rounds around every corner there, and here there was just the one truck. They also didn’t travel well. The paper bag didn’t let them vent and by the time I got home condensation had made the soggy.
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 definitely be back next year. The Richmond Night Market is a summer staple. Every year I look forward to trying any new unique treats, and having all this variety all under one setting. Plus it’s fun to walk off your heavy meal by exploring the other vendors selling non edible merchandise. Don’t deny your cravings.