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Street vendors push brightly-painted carts that tinkle with the sounds of trinkets, jewelry and crafts. Live music whirrs in the background as passersby sway to the tunes. Dozens of crimson red tent tops dot the street’s perimeters wafting with the smells of incense, soaps and fresh grilled street treats. Shimmering bulbs that crisscross overhead illuminate the night sky for the more than 5,000 people and 35 vendors who are walking, talking, laughing, shopping, mingling and, most importantly, eating.
This is the scene of a traditional Asian night market. But you’re not in Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand or the Philippines.
You’re in Cleveland’s AsiaTown.
On the final Friday evening of every summer month (through September), Rockwell Avenue, between the cross streets of East 21st and East 24th in AsiaTown, becomes home to Night Market Cleveland.
“Night Market Cleveland is styled after the traditional Asian night markets that you’ll find all through Asia and especially in places like Taipei,” Brendan Trewella, event organizer, said. “We want to give it that authentic feel. A grandmother or parent could walk down the street with their children and say, ‘This is what I experienced when I was growing up in Asia.’”
The concept behind night markets came to be in places like Taiwan hundreds of years ago. Small open-air markets sprung up after dark in which vendors sold street food to hungry locals departing from late-day services at nearby temples. Today, these Asian-based night markets are tourist attractions and often where you can find some of the most unique food in the world (think grilled scorpions and fermented tofu).
While Cleveland probably won’t be serving up insects-on-a-stick anytime soon, the market is rapidly becoming a must-visit event that showcases the very best of this eclectic Cleveland neighborhood.
“Unlike any other night markets around the world, our event is designed to be as authentically Asian and uniquely Cleveland as possible,” Trewella said.
Like most popular events in C-town, the food offerings are nom-worthy and aplenty. At Night Market Cleveland, it’s all about the xiaochi.
For those of you who don’t speak Chinese (or don’t feel like looking it up on Wikipedia), xiaochi means “small eats” and is typically the norm at night markets all around the globe.
“We’ve asked vendors to keep things on the smaller side so that people can try multiple items. Be sure to come with an appetite because there are plenty of food options,” Trewella said. “We want people to try multiple things to get a really good taste of what AsiaTown has to offer.”
The food is representative of the diverse AsiaTown community. That means your taste buds will get turned on by everything from Chinese to Vietnamese and Indian to good old-fashion American.
Other queue-causing food offerings included Korean bulgogi burritos from the Boca Loca Burrito Factory food truck and creamy, delicious shaved snow at the booth for SnowBros Shavery.
It’s no secret you might find a night market in a North American city. But here in Cleveland, organizers say that what makes our event distinctive is the yìshù. (That’s “art” for you non-Google users.)
“One of the things that makes Night Market Cleveland so unique is that we’ve tried to blend in retail and art with many of the artists in the area. We do want it to be representative of everyone in that community,” Trewella said.
The neighborhood itself is home to several independent art galleries, quaint retail locations, jewelry stores, Asian markets, and artist lofts galore.
“Other night markets are straight food fests or flea market. We wanted to do something a little different,” he said. “At Night Market Cleveland, you can buy Cleveland t-shirts, AsiaTown t-shirts, healthcare products, soap, knickknacks, handbags, duffle bags, totes and even Christmas ornaments.”
With more than 35 vendors, the nighttime market is great for all ages, tastes and styles. Just make sure to carry some cash, as many of these independent artists and crafters can’t process plastic on site.
Also, be sure to take advantage of the $8 valet parking on site. Drop-off and pick-up is located at the Firefighter's Community Credit Union 2300 St. Clair Ave.
During 2016, Night Market Cleveland is scheduled for June 24, July 29, Aug. 26, and Sept. 30 from 5-11 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, click here or follow along at www.facebook.com/nightmrktcle.
The heart of Cleveland's Chinatown. The complex consists of 20 tenants providing a variety of retail, dining, and services and host to many events. Abundant parking.