Little Mekong District is a neighborhood just up (east on) University Avenue from me. It was heavily settled in the 1970s by Vietnamese, Hmong, Lao, Cambodians, and Thai (and, I suspect Karen speakers, too, since I saw at least one cultural organization for them there.) For the past four years, the neighborhood has been running a night market. I stumbled across a listing for the neighborhood night market by chance, on Facebook, I think.
I've been intrigued by night markets ever since I read the book Ghost Month: A Taipei Night Market Novel by Ed Lin, which I read in order to get a better sense of Taiwan and specifically Taipei, ever since my friend jiawen moved there. She's posted pictures of the "real thing" on her journal, and so when the chance came to go to one locally, I thought: I MUST DO THIS THING.
The problem is, of course, Shawn is not big on crowds. There is literally nothing about a night market that sounds fun to her. Shuffling through heavy crowds in the heat? Strongly spiced food? Going anywhere after 6 pm? None of these are Shawn's favorite things. But, Saturday night happened to be a night we were hosting Mason's friend Rosemary for movie night. So, when she and her mom showed up for drop-off, I floated the idea of checking out the night market. Luckily, Rosemary and Mason were game. So after we had a quick dinner here, I bundled the kids onto the light rail and off we went.
You can see from this picture that there are booths set up along the street, like at a block party or an art fair. This particular stretch featured local artists selling prints and cards and the sort of typical stuff you might see at a craft/art fair. The overcast sky does not do justice to how HOT it was. The temperatures on Saturday, even as the sun was setting were near 95 F / 35 C. Also, this does not really accurately give a sense of the crowds. In places, we were shoulder to shoulder. I ended up buying a greeting card with a funky demon-woman image on it to send to one of my pen pals (now I have to decide who gets it, Keri or Anna. I think they'd both appreciate it. I should have bought two!) We chatted with another vender because he had a picture of Grimmjow from Bleach and we had to do the nerd salute of people who are embarrassed/not embarrassed to be fans of that show/manga.
The vendors were interesting, but the real draw was the food. The first thing Mason and I had were dumplings, one of which Mason accidentally dropped into the hot sauce. The sauce was HOT, but we ate them anyway. Right after that we went looking for something cold and found shaved ice:
We saw someone doing the hand-rolled ice-cream thing, but the line to get any of that was far too long. If I had any complaint, it was the lines. The people who were smart were handing out numbers so people didn't end up blocking traffic with their queues. The place where we got the amazing dumplings did that.
There were street performers on stilts walking through the closed off streets, too. Even though we were there when it was still light out, I noticed that the performers all had lights as part of their costumes, since the night market was open until midnight. One of the performers was taking a rest against the closed street sign and I asked if I could take her photograph:
The array of food choices were staggering. There were lots of different Asian cultures on display. I even managed to find the one Japanese stall that had "walking ramen" which used dried noodles as a base (and included pineapple kimchi, which I was initially leery of, but quite enjoyed.) Mason got a park-stuffed bun (which he did not like much) and Rosemary got a chocolate-stuffed bun (pictured below), which was mucho nom-nom. Mason also tried green tea flavored hand-spun cotton candy, which he devoured:
I would totally go back again for the food. We didn't even try everything, partly because the lines for some things were unreasonably long and slow-moving. We stood in line at one place and eventually gave up because it didn't seem to be going forward at ALL. That was disappointing.
Mason also ended up bringing home a piece of carved, orange soap made to look like a koi. There were people selling clothing and the quilted bags that you often see at Hmong booths at farmer's markets, and just all sorts of fun stuff. I think, if we go next year, we'll go later in the evening. I really wanted to see what it looked like at night. It was clear that a lot of people had lights strung up, ready for dusk/evening. I bet it looked spectacular--and maybe it would have been a little less hot (though I suspect the crowds remained the same all night long.)
If I ever write Saint Paul-centric urban fantasy again, it would be fun to set a scene at the night market. People from other parts of the country tend to think of Minnesota as so very "white bread" and the Twin Cities really, really aren't. Apparently, near Fasika, also just up University from us, there was a concurrent Little Africa Night Market, which would have been a lot of fun to check out, too. We were STUFFED and hot and exhausted, though. Maybe next year.
10/10 would again, as the kids say.