If you were to ask someone more scientifically inclined, they’d inform you that the first day of summer isn’t until June 20th this year. That’s the day of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. If you were to ask a parent, they might tell you that summer officially starts when the kids get out of school. But for many of us, the season gets its unofficial start when we can gorge ourselves with all the delicious food at the night market.
The Illumination Summer Night Market (12631 Vulcan Way) celebrated its grand opening weekend earlier this month with over 18,000 people in attendance on the Saturday alone. Previously known as the International Summer Night Market, and as the Panda Night Market, this year’s night market (one of two in Richmond) is proving to be bigger and better than ever. And that means there’s plenty for all the voracious foodies in the area to enjoy.
Fusion food creations continue to increase in popularity throughout Metro Vancouver and this blending of culinary culture is certainly present at Illumination Summer Night Market. Bi Bim Rito offers Korean BBQ in a cone for $8 to $9. The burrito reference may be a little misleading, as it is more like a wrap than it is like a Mexican burrito.
Choose between BBQ beef, pork belly, chicken or prawn. This is then accompanied by sauce, veggies and fresh salad. Upgrade to a supreme version for $3 more to get grilled vegetables in place of the green salad. You can also opt for a whole wheat wrap for 50 cents more.
Historically, the night markets in Richmond have been very Asian in their offerings. You see a lot of influence from the night markets of Hong Kong and Taiwan, for instance. This has continued to shift over the years to be more inclusive and more international. A great example of this is Jamon Pata Negra with its Spanish style charcuterie.
To get a taste, grab a Iberico ham sandwich ($5). The ciabatta-like bread offers a great crust with definite chew. Of course, the cured meat is the real star of the show here. Iberico ham is traditionally made from the Black Iberian Pig native to Portugal and Spain. The ham is sliced thin and has a similar taste and consistency as prosciutto. For something more substantial, consider one of the charcuterie plates.
While the inclination is to think that “street food,” like that served at night markets, is meant to be mostly handheld, as would be the case with a Korean wrap or a Spanish sandwich. Not so! Available from at least a couple of stands are spicy Szechuan cold noodles ($4.50). Care for a little heat?
We’ve definitely seen an increase in Sichuan/Szechuan cuisine in Richmond these last few years and this is understandably reflected in the night market offerings too. The yellow noodles themselves have a rather humble appearance. They cling together and offer a satisfying chew, topped with sesame seeds and tossed with hot chilies.
The night market represents a great opportunity to try some more unique food items. Over at Backyard Cuisine by Mr. Zao, you can get watermelon pudding served inside an actual watermelon ($14.50) or indulge in the delicacy of bird’s nest with rice wine (one for $23, two for $45) without having to sit down at an actual restaurant.
The item that caught my eye was the Romesco fish roll (one for $7.50, two for $14). The orange-red tinge led me to believe that this was a spicy dish, but it turned out to be much more mild and almost sweet. The rolls of fish are gently dressed and steamed for what may be one of the healthier food options at the night market. The fish is tender and juicy.
No visit to the night market would be complete without some dessert. You could certainly grab some bubble tea, fresh fruit slush, or maybe one of the flavoured lemonades (including a soda option for a fizzy treat) at the next stall over from SweetFish. We’ve seen taiyaki (fish-shaped cake) before — and that’s still available from the stall at the other end where you’ll also find the popular hurricane potato — but SweetFish steps it up a notch with ice cream taiyaki (one for $6, 2 for $10).
Choose from anko (red bean), vanilla custard or chocolate Nutella, all of which are then topped with vanilla ice cream and served with a crispy wafer straw. These taiyaki are substantially larger than their non-ice cream filled counterparts and they are open on one end to hold that scoop of ice cream. A perfect way to cool down on a hot summer night.
Just make sure you eat it quickly! When the ice cream starts to melt, it can quickly become quite the messy (but still delicious) treat.
One thing is for certain. This night market is a lot busier than it was last year and for good reason. With the fun light displays perfect for Instagram selfies, two stages for featuring entertainment, fun carnival games and other attractions, and a large eating area filled with food vendors (and tables), it’s a great place to spend a few hours.
Illumination Summer Night Market runs until September 10. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from 7 pm to 12 am, and on Sundays from 7 pm to 11 pm. General admission is $3 per person and the on-site parking is free. Turn right onto River Road from Number 5 Road to access the main entrance for parking.