Here’s guest writer, Jennifer Cheng with her run down of the Luckyrice Festival last month. Seemed like a huge project. Pretty cool. — Jeffrey Tastes
Lights, lanterns, food! The excitement and anticipation percolated for months leading to LUCKYRICE’s Night Market festival held on April 30, 2010 under the beautiful Archway in Brooklyn’s DUMBO. I knew good things would be in store as this was an event mimicking the genuine look and feel of a night market found all across Asia – unfortunately, without sweet old ladies selling goods on floating boats. This Asian street food inspired block party brought together huddled masses of hungry Asian food fiends to gather around stalls upon stalls of Asian street food staples. Even with no David Chang in sight (the purported host of the evening), I still had the pleasure of sampling his amazing Momofuku Milk Bar cookies as well as a plethora of other traditional Asian street food grub, in its authentic formula or cooked up with as western twist.
As an unofficial member of the press, I was let in a half-hour early to feast with my eyes and olfactory senses. Many vendors were cooking, setting up, and beautifying their personal nooks, highlighting the best of what they had to offer. I took the opportunity to take pictures with my mega-cool Canon Rebel T1i d-SLR (shameless plug!), and nosh at what I could get my hands on. When 6:30pm rolled around, I bee-lined for those stalls that I had my heart set on during my pre-gaming spy work.
Asiadog served up a morsel of an all-American ballpark favorite – the hot dog – but with some Asian flair of added shreds of Korean kimchi and Japanese nori (seaweed) flakes. They called this “The Ginny”, and it was just one of their many variations of Asian-inspired hot dog samplings (another popular one being the “Vinh” which is in the style of Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich). To me, this was a simple innovation and a successful East meets West fusion experiment. I washed that down with a slug of “Pomegranate Ginger Ale by Bruce Cost”. This beverage was refreshingly perfect! What was sadly imperfect however, was Double Crown’s “Coconut Chicken Salad”. I love coconut and I love poultry, but this was not a winning recipe. I don’t know whether it was the soggy chicken, or the unpronounced coconut flavor, but it certainly was a low of the night. I quickly recovered with a savory bite of Baohaus’ “pork bun” which was out of this world, with its soft and pillow-like texture of the snow-white bun, to the delectable slab of tender pig. A bite of this reinforced the reason why I so badly wanted to come to Night Market. Their “Bao Fries”, which were small chunks of deep-fried bread/donut (think Italian zeppoles), with a drizzle of black sesame sauce, did not quite follow suit and was wholly very unspectacular. A little more crisp on the fries and a stronger hint of sesame would have possibly made this delightful.
The greatest pain to eat had have to have been Baohaus’ Taiwanese “Stinky Tofu”. A fermented product with a strong odor is to put it lightly. I paid $2.00 to chow on wet socks. The smell was a hybrid mixture of athlete’s foot and rotten eggs. Yet, in the name of gastrohipsterdom, I put aside the rancid assault on my nose and went for it. Surely, the taste was not as terrible as the stink, but that still was not much of a consolation. You do know how the saying goes… the apple does not fall far from the tree! And with that, I’m destined never again for stinky tofu.
After that unbearable stink, I needed something sweet to combat the bad taste left in my mouth, so I moseyed on down to Bep. Here, I had sweet spoonfuls of their “Banana Coconut Bread Pudding” which was easily, one of the best things I ever ate that night – and quite possibly – one of the most extraordinary desserts I have actually ever had. When people make that scrunching face, the one where your eyes close up, your head tilts to heaven, and your mouth slowly widens awe, communicating sheer delight, well that’s what you get with this fabulously chill and flavorful dessert. I overheard a great many “oohs and ahhs” of positive hyperboles floating in the atmosphere as other folks’ taste buds were apparently rendered just as mesmerized as my own.
It was still early in the evening, and there was still plenty of food left to eat. I tossed a bite-sized Oms/b “Chicken Rice Ball” in my mouth which was fabulous. I think they used brown rice instead of jasmine rice, and there was just enough rice wine vinegar for this savory treat to be moist and delicious. I was surprised not to have seen any Thai vendors, but enjoyed the Malaysian Pavilion offering “Roti Canai” from Sentosa. The curried chicken and potato were excellent even without the shreds of flatbread for dipping. I also enjoyed an altogether, too spicy bowl of Penang’s “Curry Chicken Soup with Egg Noodles”. Turn down the heat level on this, and it would have been a favorite of the night.
Unfortunately, I am wimp when it comes to spice. Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that a friend and I went halfsies on a cone of “Big Gay Ice Cream Truck’s” vanilla soft-serve with a drizzle of Sriracha sauce. Here you have your typical ice cream flavors, but with an assortment of toppings to choose from, the combinations you come up with are all in your court. We decided, especially with the description on the back of his t-shirt, “A cross between Mario Batali and Mister Softee”, that it would only be appropriate to honor him and go out on a limb with our ice cream permutation. But our vanilla-Sriracha mix was not a great idea. Not for me, with my ridiculously low tolerance of spice, and more surprisingly however, neither was it well-received for my friend whose adoration of Sriracha is second to none.
A few paces away from the Gay Ice Cream Truck stood Dessert Truck Works. Before their samples all ran out, I scored a tasting of what I recall was a Pomegranate, crème-fraiche sorbet. Whatever its official name, this was a massive winner in my book. The crème fraiche was such a smooth and sophisticated balance for the tartness of the pomegranate base, and an overall elegant dessert, perfect for a warm Spring evening.
On a sweet-tooth rampage, I headed over to the mightily famous Momfuku Milk Bar. Here, I helped their cause to purchase a cow. With two cookies in tow, the “Blueberry Cream” and the “Peanut Butter…”, they inched closer to a cow of their own that would produce all the milk they could garner for their famed “cereal milk” concoctions and all its fine derivatives. As magnificent as the cookies were – especially the blueberry cream – I mean, folks it was just like scraping up a bowl of cookie dough, that soft texture and the buttery smoothness of the cookie, was beyond great; I was still disappointed. I wondered to myself, “where’s the crack pie that everyone rants and raves about?!” Or, perhaps small cups of their famed cereal milk could have piqued the interest of many a dessert fan. A trio of cookie baskets (btw, I have heard great things about the compost cookie of theirs that was not offered at the event), seemed just a bit (or, a lot), lackluster in terms of effort and presentation. Has fame and fortune stymied the noble urge to spread the Momofuku gospel? Worth pondering.
I was happy to have seen some Indian food representation at Night Market. This girl loves her naan and chicken tikka masala, but at this event neither food staple was present. Instead, The Kati Roll Company served a selection of unfamiliar (at least, to me), rolls of different fillings, from “achari paneer” (cottage cheese in yogurt gravy) to plain ol’ reliable, chicken. I was lucky enough to have seen them assembling the rolls, which fondly had me recalling the taco vendors in Jackson Heights. I took a piece of their chicken roll, and after a few bites realized that I’d much rather have been eating naan or papdi chaat at that moment. Suffice it to say I was definitely not a fan of the roll. I washed this down, oddly enough, with coffee. I sipped on a cup of warm, french-pressed and Rainforest Alliance certified, “Brazilian Nossa Senhora Aperacida Peaberry” espresso, offered by the friendly folks at Dallas Coffee (surprise, they are based in Queens, NY). Though not being a huge coffee drinker, to me, this aromatic and rich blend tasted all the more better being sustainably sourced.
The foraging continued at “The Good Fork” and beyond. It is an uncontested fact that the universally-adored dumpling is the quintessential Asian street food. I had cosmic hopes for the dumpling creations at the Good Fork to be extraordinary. Yet while I was masticating on their pork and chive, my mind drifted to the bargain-basement, but heavenly-delicious dumplings found in the streets of Flushing and Chinatown, and at their meager rate of $1.00 for 4 pieces, I soon concluded that the former (sold for $1 apiece), was no match for the standard bearers in either price or taste.
“Dirt Candy” was my next target. This vegetarian restaurant in the East Village where I had some amazing vegetarian food not too long ago, certainly had me wondering what exciting offering was going to be served up. But my excitement waned with their “Barbeque Rainbow Carrot Buns” which were not too tasty or pretty to look at. These were steamed buns that came in two, food-colored options, orange and yellow, but both having the same carrot filling inside. After having dined at Dirt Candy and having tasted their fabulous Kimchi donuts (among their other wondrous foods), I was surprised that something more inspiring and delicious like this was not being offered at Night Market, this opportune platform where DC could really snowball its name. I’m terrified thinking people will write them off based on this not-so-great bbq carrot bun. I can speak from experience that I don’t feel it was a true representation of what they can actually do, which is pretty amazing.
I caught sight of these lovely “Foie Gras and Beef Short Rib” dumplings winking at me from afar as they were artfully displayed for taste test in these small, crystal clear plastic cups at the Delicatessen stand. These were visually very stunning and I knew the masterminds at Delicatessen had an eye for presentation as their dumplings stole my attention and camera’s battery juice for qufite some time. I took a sample and an ever tiny bit for good measure even though I am not a fan of fois gras. The short ribs I had no issue with, but fattened duck liver is so not my cup of tea, or should I say, bowl of rice? I also didn’t care much for Buddakan’s aloofness and air of arrogance (I don’t remember any of their envoys flashing a warm smile at anyone), which I didn’t think helped advertise their “Tuna Tartare Spicy Rolls” which were fine, but for this shi-shi sort of place, it certainly lacked any lasting impact.
Moving along the pretty continuum came, Kum Gang San for Korean Cultural Services. Here, I had Korean rice cakes (Tteok), a sweet and colorful rainbow of soft and sticky gluttonous rice flour. These rice cakes typically come flavored in many assortments of bean pastes or dried fruit. Mine tasted of red bean. It was the perfect celebratory food to have at this inaugural Asian food festival. An added bonus was their savory jeon, or Korean-style pancakes that are oftentimes filled with seafood or other meats and vegetables, battered in flour and then coated in egg and pan-fried. It wasn’t particularly the best I’ve ever had, but I still didn’t mind it.
A group of friends I had bumped into at some point during the festivities wanted to imbibe and so we walked over to the DUMBO loft where all of the night’s more interesting drinks were being served, in other words, we took refuge in this alcoholic watering hole. Shots of sake were downed and messy slurps and slugs of Beerlao and Tiger beer were consumed. If I were more of a drinker, I’d give better descriptions of what we had, but the buzz factor destroyed a bit of my memory of that portion of the night. What I do recall were two drinks that I really loved as they played towards my palate. The one, “Cote Sud” from the Classic & Vintage Artisanal Spirits company, was this deliciously sweet cocktail that was truly Asian-inspired (in bare bones this was a gin, fresh lemon juice and mint mixture), it was cool and zesty and much better than its sister drink the “Bangkok Daiquiri” which was too light on the lemongrass but successful with the added ingredient of Thai Chile. More so than these, I truly adored the “2008 Scholium Project Riquewihr” offered by Wines by Scholium Project. I discovered that the “Riquewihr” is a commune in Alsace, France and they are widely famous for their excellent Rieslings. I’m not sure what I was drinking, but it sure tasted special. This was a wine that was equal parts sweet and fruity, light and subtle yet well-bodied with a lingering burn as you allowed the alcohol to sift its way down.
The night was drawing to an end and my stomach was getting too full to participate any further. I ogled regretfully at the “Gourmet Curry Rice” from Curry-Ya, and the “Seafood Ceviche” from Zengo, which I looked at but ruefully did not touch. I even stared longingly into the pictures I captured of Kampuchea’s “Pork Meatball Numpang” which nabbed off the table as fast as they were being plated. Assuming Night Market rears its food extravaganza again next year, I will better know how to pace myself in this marathon of Asian street food cross-pollination. Until then, memories of an open Brooklyn sky amidst pork buns and bread pudding will cohabitate harmoniously in my brain. —Jennifer Cheng