Night Market at L.A. Food Bowl
If you've been to Asia, you know about the night market phenomenon. Food vendors in trucks, carts, and stalls line up on the streets and serve delicious and cheap comfort food. Night markets are a huge part of the Asian lifestyle, often being at the center of night life for all ages. They are also home to many adored and well known foods of Asian cuisine, including the minced pork over rice dish from Taiwan, Yakitori from Japan, and Naan from Southeast Asia.
During the first ever L.A. Foodbowl, the L.A. Times decided to host its own version of the night market. From May 10 to May 14 from 5 - 11pm, over 50 restaurants and pop-ups set up shop in Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles. Tickets for admission into the Supermarket (where most of the restaurants are) were $10 for adults and $5 for children, not including food.
Here is our adventure at Night Market. Be prepared to salivate.
By George Ko
Photos and video by George Ko
While we were at Night Market we ran into our Food Guru, Roy Choi.
Roy Choi: Shoutout to Giant Robot! I was gonna wear my hat today but I didn’t. We’re at the LA Food Bowl. I got two trucks here, LocoL and Kogi, and we’re representing Los Angeles. What up Eric! What up baby!
Donato Toce: Hi, I’m Donato Toce from Gelato Messina. We’re based in Sydney, Australia but hoping to come to L.A.
GR: What’s your story? How did you get into making the gelato burger?
DT: I started ten years ago. I’m a chef by trade. My business partner started the company fifteen years ago. For us, it was always about doing something different at events. Rather than doing our standard scoops, we wanted to do something that was a one off thing and do it at events. And that was the gelato burger. It just went off. So we thought, “Why not bring it to the land of the burgers and bring it to the States? Let’s see how it goes.”
GR: What was the greatest compliment you got?
DT: The greatest compliment we got was actually a complaint. Someone returned the burger saying, “Your patty is frozen.” But the patty has to be frozen. It’s ice cream.
GR: What impressed you the most about the gelato burger when you ate it for the first time?
DT: For me, it’s the temperature difference between the bun and the burger itself. You’ve got a really warm bun and a really cold burger. And then obviously, ice cream covered in bread. It’s the way to go.
GR: What’s your culinary background?
DT: I’m a chef by trade. I worked 20 years in a kitchen and then made my way to gelato.
GR: Out of curiosity, how long does it take to make all the ingredients? I tasted the raspberry—
DT: —The raspberry ketchup. You can call it that.
GR: It’s a very well done glaze and sauce. You can tell there’s a lot of work put into it. How long does it take to prep every item?
DT: To prep every item, you’re talking hours. Each sheet of the chocolate cheese we make is tempered; it’s going to be colored then tempered to keep its crunch at that temperature. You’ve got to boil the sauces, set them, and purée them. I use an agar set on them so they’re not too jelly. The sauces are both the same, but the edge on the raspberry is different compared to the passionfruit so it affects the setting. We have a mix to make the gelato. Then we bought the brioche buns here, but back home we actually make them. It is a lot of work for a little thing that’s going to be demolished in five minutes.
Francis Reyes: Hi, my name is Francis Reyes. I’m one of the founders of Lobsterdamus. I own this company with two of my cousins and my uncle, Loni So, Johnny Angeles, and Ramon Almario. We’ve been doing this business for about 3 or 4 years already, since 2014. We don’t have a brick and mortar restaurant. We just do live events like 626 Night Market. We’re primarily at Smorgasburg every Sunday. We just started cooking as a family tradition. We used to grill lobsters for fun in our backyard and then we decided to bring it out to the public. It was a hit. We expanded our menu from there and started doing parties and all that stuff.
GR: Do you guys have a food truck?
FR: No. No food truck. We do have a trailer that hauls in our mobile kitchen. We just do pop-ups like this, bring our fridge, bring our grill, just load it all in, and set it up at the designated location.
GR: What’s your favorite memory of cooking?
FR: Well, my favorite memory is just learning how to cook. I was brought in mainly for social media and marketing, but I also had to get in the kitchen and learn how to cook. All my partners have experience in the kitchen, and all of them trained me to make our food, which was a lot of fun: learning the different ways of thinking in the kitchen since there’s different types of methods and ways to do things. It’s pretty awesome. My partner’s saying one thing, my other partner says another thing, and we just make a great system and learn how to do stuff efficiently.
Leo Lamprides: My name is Leo Lamprides. I’m the chef and owner of Chinese Laundry. We’re a food truck. I started with my wife. She’s from Beijing, and I learned all about Chinese culture and Chinese food through her. I’ve been cooking in LA using French technique and working in fine dining restaurants, but we wanted to start our own business with something more casual. My favorite thing after traveling in China was just eating Chinese food. My mother-in-law taught me a few dishes like Szechuan cold noodle and her grandmother’s pork belly recipe, which is famous. I think a lot of Chinese people’s grandmas have a famous pork belly recipe. I learned those things, and we went out and got a food truck. We do daily stops, festivals, catering, pop-ups, and sit down dinners every once in awhile. In the truck we do street-food, stuff like that. In the pop-ups we’ll do banquet style, tasting-menus, nicer type stuff, and play around with what we do.
GR: Do you have a brick and mortar?
LL: We don’t have a brick and mortar. We’re definitely aiming for one, but we’re doing the LA style food truck thing.
GR: What was the most memorable dish you ate in China?
LL: Definitely real Sichuanese food. We have great Sichuanese food in LA, but in China, the peppercorn is more fresh and the flavors are more on point. Having the lanzhou lamian (蘭州拉麵), the hand-pulled noodles, was pretty amazing. It’s the most simple thing: flour, water, noodles, and beef broth. Just super plain. That was amazing. Further south, I also enjoyed a seafood dish with steamed scallop and mung bean noodles. My grandmother-in-law taught me her porkbelly recipe, which was awesome. It’s like my new comfort food even though it’s not from my immediate family.
GR: Looking at your dish, it’s very traditional. You include the traditional sesame seed, the hot chili oil, the grated peanuts on the top. But you add a lot of other elements too like the pickled cabbage and the sixty-two degree egg. Do you mind talking about that?
LL: That was my little spin on the dish. It’s different than a lot of people’s take on it. In the US, I’ve never had a dandan mien (擔擔麵) with sesame base. When I was in China, I learned about the sesame base. It was just so rich and creamy but still spicy. It made the dish have more of a base. Some people can’t handle eating Sichuan food so the base helps them. But for the purpose of the dish, it made it more rich. Other than that, the pickles are pretty big in Szechuan. I particularly like things that are balanced in terms of acidity. You can eat a lot of the pickled cabbage. We make them a little more acidic and it pairs well with the sesame. Also, if you eat pork belly, you’ll want something acidic. Everybody wants an egg on everything. When you mix the sixty-two degree egg in the noodles it makes a nice liaison, like carbonara. It just mixes right in there and makes it nice and creamy.
GR: What do you want people to feel when they eat your food?
LL: I hope people just enjoy our food. We put a lot of heart and soul into it. It’s my new soul food. All the stuff I make is what I really want to eat. We put a lot of hard work into it. We have a little tiny truck, and some days we’re doing three, four different kinds of stocks for our menus. People probably would never know that. But we make everything out of scratch: fermenting chili sauces, making all of our oils. We have four types of oils sometimes. It’s our street food—soul food. Our hearts and souls are in it for sure.
TC: My name is Tim Chung. I’m born and raised in LA, so I’m helping out these New Yorkers.
GR: How did you start working with Baohaus?
TC: I used to work at the old Pok Pok Phat Thai location nearby. Baohaus took over the old spot. I just walked in one day, heard Baohaus was opening up, met some of the guys there, and that was it. Now I’m here.
GR: Are you a chef by trade?
TC: I’m actually a programmer by trade turned cook. I don’t call myself chef yet, but one day maybe. One day hopefully.
GR: What’s your Alma Mater?
GR: Did you grow up on the westside?
TC: I grew up in Glendale. I moved out to the westside for a little but there are too many parking tickets out there: too many meters. I don’t live there anymore.
GR: How do you make the Cheeto Bao?
TC: We go ahead and brine our birds in a lemon brine, so it has a little bit of a zing. We go ahead and bread that with a Cheeto and Hot Cheeto mix. As you can see, they kind of look like giant Hot Cheeto chickens. We top it with Cheeto dust to get a bit of cheese flavor on there.
GR: This is so wrong but so right.
Chris Oh: What’s up? My name is Chris Oh, I’m from Los Angeles, California, and this is one of my restaurants, Hanjip BBQ.
I got into the food business because I wasn't very happy with my job. I just turned 30. I was in the nine to five, so I took a leap of faith, came to LA, lined up my first choice for me to get my first kitchen job. That was six years ago. Now, I got six restaurants and a bunch of other cool stuff. So, if I can do it, so can you. So keep hustling!
GR: Do you remember the first thing you ever cooked?
CO: I remember I used to make instant ramen, spam, cheese, and Vienna sausage; it was like the poor man’s gourmet meal. The first thing I ever made in the kitchen was a grilled cheese sandwich. It was very cheesy.
GR: What’s one thing you would recommend everyone try at Hanjip?
CO: You definitely got to do the beef tongue at Hanjip. A lot of people don’t order the beef tongue. A lot of people get the brisket. But I mean, the tongue is to die for. Come get it.
GR: What’s next for you?
CO: We definitely have a lot more restaurants in the works right now. I’m taking some stuff outside of California, like Hawaii, Vegas, the East Coast, Asia. If you stay tuned, I got some new TV shows coming out. They’re putting me on TV. Come check out the restaurants, and just come have a shot with me.