Night market culture is remarkably prevalent in many major cities throughout Asia. No visit to Hong Kong is complete without an evening stroll through the so-called “Ladies Market” in the Mong Kok neighbourhood. Shilin Night Market in Taipei consists of an overwhelming sprawl of retail shops and street vendors. That same kind of culture was translated over to Richmond several years ago and it has since become a summertime tradition.
Also known as International Summer Night Market, Panda Market (12631 Vulcan Way) is only open for two more weekends. If you haven’t had a chance to make it out this summer — and even if you have — there’s still time to indulge in some of the amazing “street food” available at the market. Not sure where to begin? Here are a few choice selections.
Made with a wheat-based batter, Takoyaki are seafood balls cooked in a special pan to form a spherical shape. The original version is made with octopus (“tako” means octopus in Japanese) and is typically topped with bonito (dried fish flakes), aonori (green laver seaweed), tempura crumbs, Japanese mayonnaise, and a special takoyaki sauce, which is similar to tonkatsu or teriyaki sauce.
Over at the main takoyaki stand near the centre of Panda Market’s food section, you can opt for a few other variations beyond the original. Shown above is the negi ponzu ($6.00 for 6 balls), made with a citrus-based ponzu sauce and topped with green onion. Not a fan of chopped octopus? You can get shrimp or squid for the same price.
While dim sum is typically more of a brunch or lunch item, it is commonly enjoyed throughout the day in many other parts of the world. Embrace that all day dim sum mentality at Top Wok where you can find such classics as Har Gow (shrimp dumplings), Siu Mai (pork dumplings), BBQ pork buns, and chow mein.
One of the more popular items on the menu is the bowl of Curry Fish Balls ($5.50, above). The regular curry has a light kick to it with a relatively thin consistency, delicately coating each fish ball with just enough flavour.
For those with a more fiery disposition, a “super spicy” curry fish ball is also available for the same price. A bowl of each will contain about ten fish balls and is conveniently consumed using the provided skewer.
Deep Fried Squid Tentacles
Also available from Top Wok are the Deep Fried Squid Tentacles ($7.00, above) coated in a saltier batter that isn’t spicy at all. The crunchy exterior contrasts the tender, chewy interior beautifully for an indulgent deep-fried snack. You can also request some Thai sweet chili sauce on the side to kick it up another notch.
With all that spice and deep fried goodness swirling around in the mouth, you’ll want to reach for some liquid refreshment. Over at Orr Street, you’ll find a selection of Bubble Tea ($5.00) on the menu. Shown above is the common standby of mango milk tea with pearls. Some other flavours, all of which are also available in slushy form, include strawberry, coconut, chocolate, red bean, passion fruit, lychee and green apple.
Operating alongside Orr Street is Pie Pie, where you can find Okonomiyaki Japanese pancakes ($6.00). Using a batter similar to that of takoyaki, okonomiyaki can be made with chicken, beef, pork or squid before being topped with seaweed, mayo and tonkatsu sauce. Eat it with a fork and save a dollar when you pair it with a bubble tea of your choice.
Twist Potatoes and Taiyaki
Strolling through Panda Market, you’ll surely encounter more than a few other visitors walking around with a spiraled potato on an elongated skewer. The twist potato may be a common sight, but don’t overlook the other delicious treat sold by the very same vendor.
Also known as taiyaki in Japanese, Korean Waffles ($1.50 each or $5.00 for four) are fish-shaped cakes that come with your choice of custard, red bean or chocolate inside. The custard is similar to a Bavarian cream, while the red bean offers a more traditional Asian sweetness.
BBQ Meat Skewers
In all my years of visiting the night markets in Richmond, I’ve never ordered the Halal BBQ Skewers ($7.00 for 3, $11.00 for 5, $15.00 for 7) from Xin Jian A Fan Ti. That mistake has since been rectified. While barbecued meat on a stick is common just about everywhere, the unique blend of spices here is really something else.
The lamb skewer (centre and right) was especially juicy and succulent with what tasted like a cumin-based spice rub. Chicken skewers (left) and “crazy fried chicken wings” are also available.
Whether you come for a late night snack or your visit really is for your dinner, the night market is a great place to sample an assortment of small dishes in a casual open air atmosphere.
Panda Market runs until Sunday, September 11. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from 7 pm to 12 midnight and on Sundays from 7 pm to 11 pm. Admission and street parking are free; lot parking is a $4 flat fee and is accessed via River Road. Keep in mind that most vendors are cash only, but there are ATMs on site if you find yourself coming up short.