Foodfest MTL hosts Montreal’s first all-Asian night market under the Jacques Cartier bridge
The barbecue’s were grilling and the woks were frying. The potato twister was swirling and the knives were chopping. The cooks were stirring, the kiosks were selling and the food-lovers were savouring the market.
Over 20 of Montreal’s best East and Southeast Asian restaurants gathered to serve a crowd of foodies at the newly renovated Village au Pied-du-Courant near the Jacques Cartier bridge. Hosted by Foodfest MTL, it was the city’s first all-Asian night market, with food available throughout the night on Aug 25 and 26.
Foodfest MTL, which was launched about a year ago, has seasonal partnerships with around 20 local Asian restaurants. The group collaborates with these establishments to offer customers special deals, often geared towards students but not exclusively.
“We work with a lot of student associations to see the restaurants around them and what can be done,” said Eva Hu, the co-founder of Foodfest MTL. Every few weeks, Hu explained, a new group of four or five restaurants will offer discounts. The rotation allows people to try different restaurants and broaden their experience of East and Southeast Asian cuisine.
The reason Foodfest MTL organized the all-Asian night market, Hu said, was to introduce Montrealers to a wide variety of flavours. “A problem we would see [at night markets] is that they have three stands of milk tea, three stands of sticky tofu or three stands of potato spiral, which is boring and brings up competition which we don’t want either,” she said. “We want each restaurant to shine with their biggest specialities.”
At Friday’s market, attendees could have their pick of mouth-watering dishes like toppoki from the Korean restaurant Ganadara, steamed baos from EAST, hand-pulled noodles served up by Nudo, Cuisine de Manille’s pork barbecue sticks or Phayathai’s chicken pad thai.
The shaky scaffolding observation deck at Pied-du-Courant was the perfect spot to observe the sea of people swarming from one stand to the next. Foodies shivered as they stood in indistinguishable queues, teased by the chilly breeze that carried succulent scents through the air.
The wait to taste each dish was often long, but the rewards were worth it and varied — everything from the soft, sweet jelly of a raindrop cake to the tender cold cooked-beef that practically melted in your mouth. The remarkable freshness of a Banh mi sandwich could be seen on the faces and in the smiles of people finally able to enjoy their food.
Many attendees could be seen struggling with their chopsticks, dropping them in the sand or admitting defeat over the slippery food that evaded their grasp. Others would simply eat skewers with their hands, a trail of sauce dribbling down their chin. Some preferred to indulge in less traditional dishes, such as oysters or ice cream featuring flavours like Taro, Vietnamese coffee or a neon-green sorbet that tasted like fresh coconut milk.
For Hu, it’s important to support local restaurants and the Asian food scene in Montreal in order to help the businesses and their dishes develop. “Introducing authentic flavours for people will enable them to explore the culture and share a mutual understanding through its goodness, instead of looking at unknown foods or flavors with fear,” Hu said.
Kiosks serving up not only a wide range of food, but also milk tea, fresh coconut juice, fruits and soft drinks, lined the street to accommodate everyone’s taste buds. The market also featured classic fair-style games where players could win prizes like backpacks or stuffed animals.
On the first evening, the market opened at 5 p.m. and, according to Hu, reached its maximum capacity just an hour and a half later. For people arrived around 7 p.m., the wait time was estimated to be about two hours. “We are letting 3,000 people in per hour so that the people inside clear up and the queues for the kiosks are reduced,” Hu said amidst the crowd of food-lovers.
Despite the overwhelming response to the festival, Hu said Foodfest MTL is trying to keep their events small during their first year to prevent errors and to get meaningful feedback from attendees.
“I wasn’t expecting it to get so big the first year,” Hu said, although she added that upcoming events will have even more restaurants participating, with a wider choice of flavours from different cultures. “What you learn about other cultures, you learn about yourself, too,” Hu said. “And there are only great things that come from that.”
Foodfest MTL’s next event is another Asian night-market on Sept.16 with seven to eight kiosks at Aire commune in the Mile-End.
Photo by Elisa Barbier