Charm City Night Market, organized by The Chinatown Collective, returned last Saturday night to bring another celebration of Asian-American heritage and culture. This Night Market Underground was a part of a larger Asia North Festival to recognize the historic Asian-American presence in Baltimore, particularly in the neighborhood of Station North.
DJ Shawn Smallwood, aka Destrukshawn, filled the air with Baltimore-born beats inspired by his black and Korean background. Various soul-nourishing consumable materials were spread across the alley and inside Motor House. Before long, it was too crowded to take a good picture in front of the giant Totoro spray-painted in the alley by Mowgli Art.
Vent Coffee, a local craft coffee roastery, brought iced and hot coffee in the night. Head roaster Sarah Walker founded the concept in summer 2013 as a pop-up. It has since grown into a brick-and-mortar space as a part of the Union Collective, opening its doors in late August 2018. “It has always been my dream to own my own coffee shop,” Walker said. “And the amount of collaboration and support made it possible.”
I’m not sure if anyone sensible drank coffee at 10 p.m., but the cold brew iced coffee was the perfect no-frills refresher within my beverage constraints.
Old Boy, a new pop-up restaurant started by the people of Dooby’s and the now defunct Haenyo, offered modern Korean comfort food. It was next to the freshly dried Korean-inspired spray paint art by Kimchi Juice. Old Boy is coming to the newly renovated Broadway Market in Fell’s Point with a storefront in May!
Masako Morishita, formerly of Momo Yakitori, debuted her Japanese food concept Otabe at Night Market Underground. The miso butter peanuts were bagged and tied with a shiny purple twist-tie: like a high school orientation candy bag but better. Otabe was also selling korokke sandos, or Japanese beef, pork and potato croquette sandwiches. The food is inspired by Morishita’s childhood in Kobe, Japan, where she learned to cook from her mother and grandmother.
Vivien Bang brought Lei Musubi, a rice ball pop-up shop. Their creative, modern shop takes on the classic Hawaiian snack and racked up lines to the end of the block. The mandu musubi was simply awesome. It was one of those experiences that reminds you of both the Korean dumpling and the Hawaiian rice ball, yet it is neither.
Bounme Phetdavone brought Sushi Social’s hand rolls to the party.
The beverage crew from Daikaya, a ramen joint and izakaya in D.C., brought their crowd-pleasing drinks: shochu and sake. The team consisted of Monica Lee, the beverage director, and Nalee Kim, the bartender.
“We offered two kinds of sake at the Night Market in the hopes of showcasing sake’s versatility and to dispel the myth that it is a lowbrow product meant for shots,” Lee explained. One of the drinks was the Joto One Cup Sake, a form of packaging common in Japan with an appropriately decorated graffiti-style exterior.
After the night wound down at Motor House, we headed over to the newly opened Kong Pocha (previously Nakwon and Omi Jang). I stuffed myself with Korean fried chicken and omurice with gravy late into the night.
The Asia North Festival also featured a Taste of Koreatown food tour through historically and culturally significant sights in Station North.
The Night Market has become one of the places to be in Baltimore. It’s where communities come eat together and learn about each other.
“It was my first time spending extensive time in Baltimore, and I loved that people were so much more relaxed and less pretentious than in D.C.,” Lee said.
Am I surprised that The Chinatown Collective killed it again? Of course not. But their continued success hinges upon an ability to devise new ways of bringing shared experiences to Asian Americans and learning experiences to all with the same level of thoughtfulness and high standard of inclusivity that we have seen thus far.
They know how to host a dank alleyway block party.