The OC Night Market, a street food festival produced by the 626 Night Market, drew tens of thousands of attendees at the OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California this month. With over 200+ food and merchandise vendors, organizers use the event as a platform to showcase local businesses, artists, and talent.
Inspired by the street food night markets popularized by Taiwan and Southeast Asia, vendors with the most creative twist on traditional Asian dishes at the OC Night Market drew the longest lines.
Michelle Tran got the inspiration for Norigami after traveling to Japan when she thought of making traditional sushi rolls into tacos. Nori is a type of edible seaweed commonly used in Japanese cuisine for wrapping sushi rolls and usually can be purchased as rectangular shaped sheets. Tran showcased Norigami at the OC Night Market three years ago and it became an instant hit. Now Tran and her team are doing over 20 food events a year and hope to establish a restaurant in Orange County in the near future.
The nori shell is lightly covered in batter and fried until it keeps the shape of a taco shell. Then, raw and cooked ingredients like spicy tuna, salmon, or soft shell crab is added along with a house special sauce on top to make every bite a perfect mixture of crunch, spice, savory, and filling.
Nikuman-Ya’s owner Ken and his wife Aya have been in the business for over 6 years, working their stalls in food festivals all over California and operating their steamed bun business out of Gardena. Ken took a traditional Chinese steam bun dish (包）and added his own Japanese twist to it with a layer of cheese melted over the pork-filled bun. Nikuman-ya’s menu also features a vegan bun, made for his wife Aya and accommodating to an audience previously unable to eat steamed pork buns.
Jon Kim graduated from college with a degree in history and political science, but deep down, he knew that he had a passion for food and business, so Seoul Street was born. Ten years later, Kim and his family still run the business on wheels. The Seoul Street team travels to Orange County, Las Vegas, and Arizona in rotation annually, serving Korean Mexican fusion hits like Kor-Mex Fries (beef bulgogi with French fries with house sauces) and classics such as kimchi fried rice and bulgogi rice dishes. Jon’s father, also named Jon, used his background in restaurant and business and helps oversee the day-to-day operations in the kitchen.
When Sam Long and his parents were in a refugee camp in Thailand, he didn’t envision himself being the owner of one of the hottest food trucks in Southern California festivals. Long, a Cambodian Chinese native, immigrated to the United States as a child and later on got a stable job in the imports and logistics industry. His background in business and passion for food led him to quit his corporate job and cash it all into a food truck. Chubbee Monkee is the ultimate Asian fusion destination, where Long uses his travel experience in Asia to add twists to Asian classics with American dishes that appeal to a larger audience and brings people unfamiliar with Asian cuisine to be more comfortable with it. Long’s most popular dish, the smoked brisket fried rice, features Texas-inspired brisket that is smoked for 14 hours daily. His philosophy is to buy new fresh ingredients every morning which allows him to be creative with his dishes, forcing him to make new menu items when some ingredients aren’t available.
The hottest festival food trend of 2012 is still going strong at this year’s OC Night Market! Hotato Potato’s owner Mi Ho was the first vendor to feature her potato swirl in 626 Night Market in Pasadena, and has inspired a number of other vendors to follow suit. Mi Ho first got her inspiration for the potato swirl when it was popularized in Asia, but added the line of unique flavors like sour cream, chili lime, ketchup and spicy buffalo wings to stand out.
The 626 Night Market was the first event that the Lucky Ball team debuted their stall, and five years later, the team is being booked and invited to over 20 events annually. Lucky Ball is one of the most popular stalls in the festival, known for their giant squid skewer and filling food combos. Their manager, Esther, said that their pork belly and squid usually runs out the fastest each night.
Foody Lab took the OC Night Market by storm with a new take in an Asian beverage classic: Tao Jiao boba drinks. Tao Jiao is a type of jelly made from peach trees, acting as a healthy substitute for tapioca in fruit and milk tea drinks. Foody Lab hopes to push their tao jiao drinks as a healthier alternative to a crowd favorite, and will be establishing a presence in a number of Asian food festivals in the coming months.