Pop-Up Night Market’s Asian-American celebration

By JESSE WU | November 15, 2018

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COURTESY OF JESSE WU

Lumpia, a Filipino dish served by Chef Rey Eugenio at his new pop-up.

Less than two months after the smashing success that was Charm City Night Market, the Chinatown Collective, an Asian-American based organizing group in Baltimore City, hosted a Pop-Up Night Market at the Center Stage theater.

This time, the theme seemed to revolve around the non-traditional Asian American stories. In an interview with The News-Letter, head organizer Stephanie Hsu explained the planning process.

“Planning started about a week after we wrapped up the first [night market],” she said.

Center Stage is currently showing a production of King of the Yees, a play by Lauren Yee. Described by director Desdemona Chiang as “a love letter to the Chinese community,” King of the Yees encapsulates the tensions of maintaining cultural traditions in America.

Leandro Lagera, a member of the Chinatown Collective, discussed misconceptions people may have about Asians.

“Asians are so often seen through the ‘model minority’ lens: The doctors, engineers and scientists, and we are that,” she said. “But people fail to recognize that Asians span the whole socioeconomic scale and span many different trades.”

Every true Baltimorean has eaten Ekiben’s eclectic steam bun sandwiches and rice bowls. But how did Taiwanese-American owner Steve Chu come to work in the restaurant industry in the first place?

Chu’s father cultivated an environment for the love of food and cooking to flourish. The VIP lounge at the night market featured his Chinese cooking.

The Night Market also showcased local artists carrying on cultural traditions. There was a performance by Meki Toalepai’s Tamure Polynesian Dance Group, dedicated to maintaining the tradition of dance. Joan Cen, a student at MICA, presented her interactive art.

Julia Chon, better known as Kimchi Juice, is an 18-year-old artist based out of North Virginia. She designed the night market’s graphic and showcased her designs — cute animals and cute animals flipping the bird — at the Center Stage.

Rey Eugenio brought his new pop-up Masarap Filipino to the market. Eugenio is a chef who has worked across the country, most notably as a consulting chef at Cosima and as executive chef at Points South. His noodle soup featured light rice noodles in a comforting and unctuous pork broth.

The one food vendor that stood out to me was Jia Home Cooking. Chef Yu Tang strives to bring delicious Chinese food from Chengdu to Baltimore, a city lacking good Chinese food.

Once we approached the stand, we inquired about Yu’s WeChat social media page. She lit up and whipped out the loading screen of a silhouette against the moon. Before I could say anything else, she was showing me pictures of her various dishes: twice cooked pork, steamed pork belly with preserved mustard greens, red-braised pork belly and every other Sichuan dish you could imagine.

Homecooked Chinese food is the one thing I really miss about living at home, and Yu aims to bring satisfaction to starved Chinese palates like mine. Be on the lookout for Yu’s popups around Homewood Campus.

Everyone seemed to know each other through the food and art world, and a sense of community filled the atmosphere of the Center Stage lobby. Every vendor I asked, from Brown Rice Korean Grill to Pinch Dumplings, loved being invited to participate.

I was absolutely amazed by the diverse span of Asian-American life. I grew up with food and culture treated as a means to an end. I ate good food and played music so that I could have physical and emotional boosts toward a career traditionally thought of as stable and low-risk (doctor, engineer, scientist).

But Ekiben’s Chu thrived in a family that promoted the restaurant world, and he now runs a Baltimore institution. Julia’s awesomely unpretentious art is encouraged, and she paints murals across the nation.

The amount of nuanced Asian-American stories pushed this second night market event to success. It kept the snowball of the Collective’s efforts rolling, relieving uncertainty and securing a level of prosperity for the days ahead. 

Grassroots cultural organizations like the Chinatown Collective are what bring the charm to this city.

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