It has been said that the San Gabriel Valley, located east of Los Angeles, has the best Chinese food in the United States. The reason is understandable. You can find dishes from every province of China in the area.
Maybe that is why The Valley was selected to host the country’s largest night market (at least, that is what the organizers claim).
The 626 Night Market takes place monthly during the summer each year. The original event was conceived by a businessman born in Taiwan and raised in Southern California. He was interested in bringing the Shilin Night Market (Taipei) experience to Los Angeles.
The inaugural event took place in Old Town Pasadena. Since huge crowds clogged the event, the market was moved to the Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.
The event has expanded to Downtown Los Angeles and Orange County because of its success.
I have followed this event for quite some time but didn’t have the opportunity to attend until last weekend (on its fourth season).
I have been to night markets in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Shanghai. As expected, there are big differences between this market and the ones in Asia. However, I enjoyed the event and found it fascinating.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights so you can have a better idea of what was on offer.
The night market took place at the historic Santa Anita Park. Now, this “park” is a racetrack which offers prominent racing events during winter and spring.
I didn’t realize I was going to a racetrack until I arrived. In my mind, horses and night markets are a strange combination. However, the massive facilities are ideal to host loads of people.
You can walk and sit around the facilities while the market is taking place. I think it is very cool to have your food with the San Gabriel Mountains as your backdrop. Also, elegant horse motives are everywhere.
The venue is beautiful but, let’s be honest, you do not attend a night market to stare at the mountains.
With over 160 food stalls, you can go crazy eating around.
The kings of the market were the skewers.
There were meat, chicken and pork skewers.
Also, there were more imaginative (or tasty) options. For example, hearts, intestines and kidneys were abundant.
Chicken butt was there waiting for you too.
We cannot forget about the pig’s feet.
The squid skewers were very popular. Take a look at these ones prepared over the grill. They were left over the fire with a press over them.
Once they were almost ready, the sharp part of the press was used to cut the body sides into fine strips.
Finally, the tender squid was slathered with sauce and served over a plate.
There was a different version of the squid skewer: a fried, giant bomb.
I spotted it for the first time when this guy was taking one piece out of the fryer.
We continued finding stalls selling the giant squids. We ended up buying ours. This one is so big that is held by two thick sticks.
Once you received it, you make a line to use scissors to cut the thing into pieces. You can have it with Thousand Island dressing (which I found odd).
Spiral fries were also served on sticks.
The variety of deserts was varied. A lot of stalls were selling ice cream, yogurt (in a u-shaped cone), popsicles and gelato.
I liked this stall selling Thai popsicles.
These thin pancakes were filed with ice cream.
And, I couldn’t get enough of the cute ice cream served in a flower pot. Chocolate ice cream was placed in a cup and covered with crumbled chocolate cookies (to simulate the soil). The cup was placed inside a pot and garnished with mint leaves and a colorful gummy worm.
They had churros dipped in all sorts of candy.
And funnel cakes, waffles, macarons, donuts, ice cream sandwiches and more.
Other stalls were offering poutine, pork buns, spring rolls, squid roe, sushi, fish curry and hot dogs.
Many stalls were serving lemonade, juice and tea in mason jars. At night, a cube with a flashing light was added to the drinks.
Delicious takoyaki balls were sold everywhere. I enjoyed watching how they were prepared.
I do not know why but the line to get a ramen burger was insane. Have you heard about these? The hamburger buns are replaced by ramen noodles resembling a disk. I couldn’t take a proper picture. The couple in the next picture is eating them.
A lot of people went after the gyros and shawarma.
Ok, there were more unusual eats around. For example, this stall was selling shark tacos and spicy frog fries.
My husband had a soft shell crab burger.
Others preferred the tea eggs. At least, I didn’t see a balut.
What I have presented in here is tiny selection of the food offered. Looking at the pictures others posted in social networks, I was like: “Hey, I didn’t see that” or “How I missed that stall?”
I admitted I attended the market because of the food. However, everything wasn’t about the food. There were stalls selling clothes, jewelry, accessories, crafts and toys.
Kids (and adults) enjoyed games similar to the ones present in fairs.
This will not be an honest review if I do not include the negative aspects of the event.
I couldn’t find the number of people who attended the event last Friday. I read that on average, 60,000 people attend the event every month (during the three days). Last weekend, attendance records were broken. Therefore, I can say I shared the market with 20,000 people.
Think about that for a moment. That number is a little bit ridiculous. See all the photos I took? I was able to do it because I arrived around 5:30 (I was pushed and pulled like you have no idea). Once the sun disappeared, it was not possible to walk around the food stall area. I do not want to imagine the disorder, confusion and wait times to get something to eat.
The parking lot was another mess. Nobody was really directing the traffic or imposing order. I spent about half an hour driving around and not moving at all.
- If you want to eat and try different stalls, you will have to arrive close to the time the event opens. Go late and be prepared for the mess.
- Bring enough cash. There are many ATM machines around but you do not want to pay high banking fees.
- Bring water. The lines to get lemonade and tea were very long. Food trucks were not selling sodas or other beverages. In summary, I felt thirsty and it was a pain to find something to drink (without waiting in line for an hour).
- Arm yourself with patience. You are going to be pushed and elbowed. Some people may try to cut the lines.
- I said skewers were the kings of the market. Well, be careful since people walk around carelessly with the sticks pointing at all directions (what is wrong with some people?).
- If you take children, watch out after them.
- Be very careful while driving around the parking lot (especially at night). People do not necessarily cross the street on marked crossways.
- Finally, relax and enjoy the moment.
Would you attend this nigh market? Have you attended a night market in Asia?
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This post is part of Wordless Wednesdays at image-in-ing, Wednesdays Wanderlust at My Brown Paper Packages, Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox , Sunday Traveler with Chasing the Donkey, Photo Friday at Pierced Wonderings, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Worth Casing Wednesday at Agent Mystery Case and Monday Escapes at Packing My Suitcase. Pay a visit to these wonderful blogs!