May 22, 2019

Food for Thought

There is something truly special about Queens Night Market. It’s not like the typical street fairs in Manhattan filled with the same predictable vendors every time. The vendors at QNM are very well curated and offer something new and exciting for everyone. It feels almost like a performance event. You can sense that the vendors are there to share their passions. It’s not just a job.

I heard it was modeled after the night market in Taiwan. I’d love to go there one day. My sister in Japan has taken day trips to Taiwan to eat all day and fly back. The food there must be quite amazing.

According to Wikipedia, street vendors became popular in Japan after the massive fire that practically wiped out Tokyo in 1657. These “yatai” #屋台 were in demand after World War II too. They provided seats for their customers facing the vendors, like a miniature sushi bar. These movable carts had roofs and noren #のれん, the drapery that not only protected the customers from the rain on windy days but also created a sense of intimacy. Since they serve alcohol, customers tend to stay for a long time.

While growing up in Japan, I often came across yatai vendors in movies, TV shows, and cartoons, because their ambiance was conducive to deep, personal conversations. Because of the small number of customers, total strangers would often talk intimately with one another. It’s a perfect setup for something unexpected to happen.

But sadly, I’ve never experienced the yatai culture in person because I was still too young to drink when I was living in Japan. Also, when I was growing up, they were already becoming a rarity. Today, economically speaking, a street vendor that serves only a dozen customers for the evening is hardly viable. Now that I’m a grownup, the next time I go back to Japan, I should seek out these vendors before they completely disappear.

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