626 Night Market, Part 2

I’ve done a lot of pieces on night markets. When I was in Taiwan, I hit up five night markets in the 2-3 weeks I stayed there. I’ve covered the 626 Night Market before it debuted and I tried one out for size in New York. 

In short, 626 Night Market II was great. I’ll admit the food wasn’t mind-blowingly or comparable to the likes of say, Rao He Ye Shi… but that’s to be expected. There were some misses, but there was a lot of hits as well. The $5 average price was bearable, but the real winner of the night was the vibe: plenty of walking space and a beautiful atmosphere underneath the Pasadena City Hall. Here’s the full piece. 

DSC_0123.JPGThey got it right the second time around. Recovering from their first event, the organizers of the 626 Night Market impressed and pulled off a true night market experience — stinky tofu smell and all. Whereas the first iteration was a logistical nightmare, the second had space to spare. The night market took up six blocks around the Pasadena City Hall on Saturday evening, July 28. WIth 170 vendors, dozens of volunteers to man the lines, and a heavy food vendor presence — everyone seemed to be pleased.

“It’s more organized and more balanced. We’re more prepared the second time around too,” Jack Chin, manager at Ray Rays, a second-time 626 Night Market vendor said.

Although there were still long lines, the diversity of food vendors and the amount of space for people to line up diffused the tension. Unlike last time, there weren’t any hecklers. “I would say that there’s a lot more room for everyone to walk around,” Steven Vu, a student who helps run a hyperlocal blog dedicated to the 626, said. “You don’t feel violated. Everybody was body-to-body the first time. And there’s more selections than last time.”

For Jonny Hwang, one of the founders of the event, the success came because of all the community feedback.

“We read all the feedback — better parking, manage the traffic space, more food,” he said. “And we resolved all of that. I mean we have over 90 food vendors. More than enough space. We got six blocks this time. We got a total 170 vendors. We worked with the city, the police and traffic control to manage traffic. We worked with a lot of third party parking structures to get them to open up their structures that are normally closed on Saturdays. We set up prepaid parking and we have a free bike valet. So I think we did all that we could to make this experience more smooth and fun for people.”

DSC_0029.JPGIn terms of the food, most of the foot traffic seemed to hover around the most iconically night market-esque food offerings (stinky tofu, sausages, squid skewers, dragon whisker candy, and Hong Kong waffles). Prices were reasonable too, with most selections at around $5 or under. However, the most popular selections weren’t always the best. The skewers were mediocre, the Hong Kong waffles were oddly salty, and the fried stinky tofu smelled stinky but did not have the signature taste.

Some of our favorite selections happened to be the ones with the least amount of people in line: Mama Musubi (hand rolls), Fighting Fish (tarako pasta), Boba Ave (green tea), and Ferment Tofu (mala stinky tofu).

Keeping with Hwang’s original goal of supporting local businesses, most of the vendors were family-owned and new to the food scene. Ferment Tofu, for example, is a tofu distributor for various restaurants around the valley, including Class 302 and Boiling Point. “The organizers of the event contacted us. The owner of Ferment Tofu is just a distributor but he’s here just trying it out,” Evan Yeh, an employee at Ferment Tofu said.

As for Hwang? He’s already looking forward to the future. “It was tough because there was a lot of feedback out there and people weren’t sure about a second event. And I think we just have to show and prove we are doing it better and bigger for everybody and then hopefully the third time it’ll go easier. We’re launching another one later this year,” Hwang said. “We’re going to make that even bigger and better.”