Night markets are a part of life and culture throughout much of Asia, where food vendors take passersby on a culinary journey of the senses. In metro Detroit, one woman is helping to create more opportunities to experience the richness of the region’s Asian American community.
On the Sunday before Labor Day, the aroma of freshly made dumplings filled the air, accompanied by the sizzle of pan-fried noodles, while chicken and Hmong sausage skewers, banh mi, boba teas, and coconut ice cream tempted hundreds of hungry visitors in Shed 5 at Eastern Market for the summer’s second Night Market, presented by Little Asian Bites.
Although the market was held during daylight hours — Little Asian Bites founder Amanda Lee explains the timing was more of a logistical consideration — it gave metro Detroiters a chance to sample cuisine from food vendors ranging from popular restaurants to informal family-owned ventures. Lee tells Eater that she began hosting small gatherings to highlight aspects of her Taiwanese heritage several years ago. This year, Lee took that experience and, with the help of a collaborator, Frances Barber, launched the inaugural Night Market. Despite just a brief period of promotion, the event attracted hundreds of hungry metro Detroiters.
“I can go to the night markets in Asia at any time of day and see a community watering hole no matter what — grandmas and grandpas in the morning getting breakfast, students getting a quick lunch in the middle of the school day or immediately after school shopping, eating, and socializing before having to head home, young professionals after work, adults at night as the night life descends. To those familiar with night markets, you know they are less about the time of day and more about that community aspect,” Lee tells Eater.
In addition to tapping into her own networks to reach a diverse roster of food vendors, she reached out to folks who also participate in the seasonal Sunday Thai market at the Midwest Buddhist Meditation Center in Warren. The outdoor marketplace is home to several vendors who sell traditional dishes to others in the Hmong community.
“I’ve just moved through my entire life always looking for community, whether it’s at school, or, extracurriculars after school, or now that I’m an adult in the real world, now I’m trying to find those communities anywhere I go,” Lee tells Eater.
Among the vendors that has participated in both markets is Lor Bistro. Bee Vang tells Eater that his family has operated the home business for more than a decade, occasionally taking on catering orders, and frequently popping up at the summertime Sunday market in Warren. The business specializes in skewers, Hmong pork sausage, crispy chicken and shrimp rolls, dumplings, as well as naab vaam, a sweet, tri-colored coconut beverage with jelly and tapioca pearls.
Vang sees these kind of marketplaces as opportunities to show the next generation his community’s contributions to the local food world.
“The Asian community, I feel like the circle is kind of small [in metro Detroit], I believe the older generation taught us to keep our circle small but you know, we’re in the United States [and] it’s made up of all kinds of people,” says Vang.
Plans for future night markets are currently in the works. Lee says she will discuss potential options with Eastern Market organizers and food vendors in the coming months to consider when the next event might be held. She is hopeful that she will be able to host a market around Lunar New Year — which next year takes place Saturday, February 10.
Eater Detroit stopped by the most recent Night Market to snap some photos of the festivities.