Drinking Snake Blood and Slurping Noodle Soup in Asia's Frenetic Night Markets
LUCKYRICE founder Danielle Chang shares her top picks for Asia's best night markets.
Today, LUCKYRICE is a nationwide series of feasts, dumpling dinners, ramen slurp sessions and cocktail parties. But it began as a food stall-packed night market under the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn. “When I started LUCKYRICE in 2010, I wanted to bring the traditions and cultures of Asia to life and I thought a night market would be a perfect platform,” says founder Danielle Chang. “Food is the lifeblood of Asian culture and night markets are the heart beat.”
Night markets are street markets (typically open air) filled with food stalls and local producers. That may just sound like a nocturnal farmer’s market, but night markets are much more intense. “They assault you from every level,” Chang says. “Visually, it’s a spectacle. There are tons of people and lights. From an olfactory perspective, there are fermented foods, fish sauce, stinky tofu, cigarettes. And it’s very loud. The Chinese describe it as ‘renao,’ which means hot and noisy. It’s frenetic chaos.” A lover of the bright and busy fests and a native of Taiwan where the night markets are stuff of legend, Chang dedicated much of her new book, Lucky Rice (on shelves now), to recipes from night markets across Asia: Taiwanese beef noodle soup, curry laksa from Singapore and anything you could ever want to grill on a stick.
If you ever get a chance to attend a LUCKYRICE night market or visit one in Asia, Chang has some advice. First of all, remember that there are no rules. “Point, eat with your hands. Burp. Sit on the street,” she says. Secondly, keep an open mind. “Always try something new. Don’t have ideas about what you want ahead of time,” she says. “Try a grilled squid on a stick—improvise.”
Here, Chang shares her four favorite night markets in all of Asia.
Bugis Street Market, Singapore
“Singapore has some of Asia’s most well-known night markets,” Chang says. “This one is a local favorite. There are family-run hawker stalls that have been serving the same one dish for generations, like noodle soup or a rice bowl. You’ll see five different stalls serving the same dish, but everyone that goes to the market is loyal to their favorite stall. There are lots of spice stalls, too. My brother once went and got some of each spice and them dumped equal amounts of each into a curry—it was perfect.”
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai
“This one is a little bit different,” Chang says. “It’s not as developed or international as the other Far East night markets. It’s more mom and pop roadside shops. You can stop in and get nam phrik or these betel nut wraps with little bits of Thai spices and peanuts and chiles and fish sauce and sugar. There are a lot of snacks and a lot of desserts. Thais are big on eating desserts throughout the day. For example, sticky rice and coconut cream with mango seems like something we might eat just for dessert but it’s eaten any time of day in Thailand.”
Temple Street, Hong Kong
“I love this night market,” Chang says. “It’s on the Kowloon side. There’s Hong Kong Island and then there’s Kowloon, which is more local in flavor. The Temple Street market is in this little neighborhood that’s also a shopping district. You can get knockoff Ralph Lauren shirts—three for ten dollars—and have your beef on a stick while you’re at it. In a city that’s so cosmopolitan like Hong Kong you can miss that street level activity. I like to go to rub shoulders with locals.”
Huaxi Market, Taipei
“Shilin Market is the most popular market in Taipei. It’s really large and mentioned in most of the guidebooks. But I grew up in a different neighborhood in Taipei and night markets there are an extension of your home,” Chang says. “I like to go to Huaxi, which is more popularly known as Snake Alley. It’s a pedestrian alley but there are a lot of snakes in tanks. People gut the snakes and drink the blood—they say it fights impotence. There’s more than snakes, though. There’s satay. There’s tapioca tea. There’s beef noodle soup. There’s old men with missing teeth and teenagers shopping for Hello Kitty iPhone cases.”