12631 Vulcan Way
Brief Description: A true culinary experience. Street vendors line this extremely popular market in Richmond, offering a wide variety of interesting and cheap street food. Aside from the food, you can also find fun and funky trinkets and gifts.
My hometown of Darwin, Australia, is geographically closer to Indonesia than it is to most other Australian capital cities. The benefits of this is that we have quite a multi-cultural society, with a very strong South East Asian influence. No-where is this more obvious than our love for outdoor markets. Off the top of my head, I can think of four large markets that are all plum full of delicious food offerings from South East Asia; fruit smoothies, barbecued satay’s, curry’s, stir-fry’s, crunchy spring rolls….mmmmmm!! It’s no wonder that I felt such a yearning to visit the famed Richmond Markets (changed this year to Summer Night Market).
A friend of mine, M, who spent some time living in Japan, and I made the trip out to Richmond on a warm Friday evening a few weeks ago. Upon arrival, I was flabbergasted and slightly overwhelmed! I have never seen so many interesting and unusual foods in one place. It was such a sensory over-load with all the different smells, and sounds, and visually arresting sights, that I couldn’t work out where to look, nevermind what to eat! To get our bearings, we started with a stroll up and down the two major food thoroughfares, poking our heads through the crowd, trying to get a glimpse of whatever it was that the vendor was selling.
I am glad that I went with M as a lot of the food that I wasn’t familiar with was Japanese or Korean and so she was able to explain a bit about each of the dishes. It took a lot of work to get through the crowd and to narrow down our food choices but in the end we managed to try a little of a lot.
First up, we tried curried fish balls. This was more for M than me. Personally, I didn’t find them very appealing but I have it on good authority that they were delicious. Keep in mind, that fish is not my favourite food, so I’m probably not a good judge for fishy stuff.
Next up, we both tried a green onion pancake and some steamed pork buns that were as soft as pillows. The green onion pancake was a complete fail – it was oily, with no real flavour. It was so bland that I didn’t even bother to take a photo of it. The meat in the pork buns wasn’t fantastic as I kept getting little gritty bits of pork but overall the flavour was good. The bun was unbelievably soft.
Next, I had some barbecued satay’s to remind me of home. I found myself intrigued by any vendor that had a large line-up, knowing that there had to be a reason why that vendor was so popular. This particular satay stand had a long line-up so I figured it had to be good. I had to wait a while for my order but the chicken satay was well worth the wait. Unfortunately, the lamb wasn’t as good as the chicken and the mini buns were a little bland.
Something that really had me transfixed was the way the vendors would make the dumpling balls for a Japanese dish called takoyaki (literally: flame cooked octopus). M carefully explained this one to me as it is apparently quite a popular dish in Japan and one she hadn’t had in a long time. She was very excited to try this takoyaki because in Japan they lack the variety of flavours that are on offer to us in Vancouver. Japan offers octopus takoyaki and that is it! At the stand where we got ours, you could have shrimp, scallops, octopus or eel (I think).
The cooks start out by pouring the batter into the sizzling moulds and then dropping a small piece of seafood (scallop, prawn, octopus or eel) into the batter. They allow this to cook before loosening it and covering it with more batter. After more cooking, they then loosen the round, golden seafood balls out of the moulds before topping them with Japanese mayo, a tasty sauce, aonori (seaweed) and fish shavings.
Unfortunately, I was being a Greedy Guts and did not wait for the dumpling to cool down. For the next few minutes, I stood like an idiot fanning my mouth to cool it off but the damage was done and I had scalded my mouth, making it practically useless for taste-testing. Doh!
It was at this point that I realized that my eyes were much bigger than my stomach and by now, I was pretty full. Yet, I persevered - I had seen so many yummy sweet treats that I wanted to try and so we continued on our food excursion. I really wanted to try these interesting things that were cooked in a similar way to the takoyaki, except that these were like a sweet miniature pancake sandwich. I later found out that they are called Imagawayaki. Batter is poured into a special pan (similar to a waffle iron) and cooked until golden brown. A dollop of vanilla custard, red bean, Nutella or peanut butter is then placed into the middle of one of these pancake shaped discs and then another pancake shaped disc is placed on top of it to make a sort of sandwich. I ordered one with the vanilla custard and became an instant fan.
I also tried Taiyaki, which was a fish shaped waffle-like thing that was filled with chocolate. I was too eager to eat this and forgot to snap a pic of my fishy friend.
Final Thoughts: Overall, the Summer Night Market was a very interesting learning experience for me. I was exposed to a lot of different tastes and cooking techniques that I’ve never seen before. My palette was truly given an education and I will be taking it back for some follow-up classes before the summer is up. A truly fun night out in Vancouver.