Twisted Potato stall at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog

Around the World in 80 Bites: A Visit to Queens International Night Market

For nearly five years, Anthony Bourdain worked on an ambitious, quixotic scheme to create a 155,000 square foot international night market at New York City’s Pier 57. The overwrought and ill-fated venture ultimately ended with Bourdain conceding defeat in December 2017, a mere six months shy of his tragic and untimely death. Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by the news of Bourdain’s suicide. But, if I’m being honest (as unpopular as this opinion may be), I didn’t feel the same way about the demise of his passion project.

Similar to the way that Gordon Ramsay’s upcoming food-travel show, Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, has been mercilessly lampooned for its cultural insensitivity and telltale stink of colonialism, Bourdain’s market smacked of American chauvinism. Though I don’t believe it was his intention, the decision to recruit chefs from overseas appeared to validate the oft-heard criticism that America arrogantly views itself as the center of the world. It insinuated that American citizens don’t need to venture outside of their borders–much less their comfort zones–to visit the cultures informing the various cuisines. Furthermore, it ignored the fact that the bedrock of American society is the immigrant experience. Therefore, the cultures–and by extension, the various cuisines–already existed, organically, within its own borders.




Queens International Night Market

Plastic cups forming text Night Market and Chill at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Picture of the picnic area at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

There is a market, however, that not only achieves Bourdain’s ambitions but manages to exceed them. The Queens International Night Market is a family-friendly event located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park behind the New York Hall of Science. It’s now in its fourth year and boasts small-scale cultural performances, picnic areas, and more than 100 vendors selling merchandise, art, and food. The respective diversity of America, New York, and most importantly the borough of Queens is on full display. From Jamaican jerk to Peruvian ceviche, Portuguese egg tarts to Burmese palata, attendees will find a little bit of anything and everything. Even better, the founder of the market, John Wang, instituted an affordability cap, so vendors offer their products for $6 or less in exchange for subsidized vendor fees.

Here are some vendors to check out on your visit:

The Malaysian Project (Ramly Burgers & Kaya Toast)

Burger patties and egg on a grill at The Malaysian Project at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

A Ramly Burger clone cut in half and stacked at The Malaysian Project at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog

With Lynn being Malaysian, stopping by The Malaysian Project was a no-brainer. The draw here, among other traditional delicacies, are their versions of the beloved Ramly Burger and Kaya Toast. For the uninitiated, Ramly Burger is a gut-busting satisfier of late-night cravings. Kaya Toast, on the other hand, is a quick breakfast with your morning coffee or a decadent snack with your afternoon tea. Think White Castle and British Marmalade respectively–only better. They are both ubiquitous; you’ll find Ramly Burger carts all over Malaysia and any cafe worth its salt will offer Kaya Toast.

So what are they, exactly? Well, there are many versions of the Ramly Burger, but its signature is a seasoned ground beef patty wrapped in a thin omelette. Like any true street vendor, The Malaysian Project adds a personalized blend of sauces and spices to theirs. As for Kaya Toast, it’s a jam made of egg, coconut milk, and sugar that is spread thickly on buttered toast. The Malaysian Project offers a version infused with pandan. Both are unique, delicious, and definitely worth trying out.




Joon (Persian Stew with Crispy Rice)

Picture of crispy rice cups from Joon at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

Picture of Persian stew on top of crispy rice cups from Joon at Queens International Nigth Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about Persian food (admittedly, with little experience), the image of different stews over crispy rice formed in the shape of cups is not the first thing that comes to mind. And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t miss this stall. Joon takes various delicious stews and piles them on a saffron and yogurt flavored mound of rice. It’s crispy on the outside and soft and supple on the inside. Eat it and marvel at the amazing textures and intense flavors.

Don Ceviche (Peruvian Ceviche & Jalea)

Picture of ceviche being prepared at Don Ceviche at the Queens Internation Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

Shrimp ceviche from Don Ceviche NYC at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Ceviche is Peru’s national dish, and a taste of the wares at Don Ceviche will make you want to book the next flight there. Ceviche, for the more conservative palate, is not raw fish or raw seafood. It is simply fish or seafood marinated in acidic juices and spices, effectively “cooking” them. On that hot, summer day we settled on the shrimp ceviche. It was served on a bed of lettuce, with Peruvian corn, roasted corn, red onion, and sweet potato puree. The combination was perfectly refreshing.




Moon Man (Indonesian Kue Pancong & Kue Putu)

Picture of Kue Pancong (coconut pancakes) being cooked at Moon Man at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

Picture of two Kue Pancong (Indonesian Coconut Pancakes), one topped with roasted coconut and the other topped with black sesame, at Moon Man at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

Lynn generally eschews Asian desserts, even those familiar to her from childhood. She gravitates towards western-style desserts (usually something involving chocolate), but her interest was piqued when she saw the fresh take on the grilled coconut pancakes at Moon Man. The taste was a harmonious balance between sweet and savory, while the texture struck a similar balance between its chewy, spongy interior and the crisped, caramelized exterior. You can get them with various delectable toppings, such as roasted coconut or black sesame seeds. But the Java Palm Sugar is the one to beat!

Bliss Street Creamery

Picture of Bliss Street Creamery stall at Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

It’s summer, and we always save room for ice cream. Bliss Street Creamery is a small-batch, handcrafted ice cream maker. They use in-season, local ingredients whenever possible and offer a small variety of traditional favorites accompanied by a few more unusual flavors. Don’t let their vegan option, Best of Thymes, put you off. It’s an incredible blueberry, lemon and thyme sorbet, and Lynn proclaimed it one of the best she’d ever tasted.

Jhal (Bengali Fuchka and Jhal Muri)

Jhal stall with Bangladeshi women employees at the Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Fuchka from Jhal at the Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Jhal doesn’t just offer authentic Bengali street food, it also serves as an incubator for Bangladeshi immigrant women who want to transition into higher education and rewarding careers. The women employed by Jhal are mostly stay-at-home mothers, and the opportunity allows them to improve their language skills while they learn how to research, budget and market. The fuchka features a hollow, crispy semolina shell and spiced yellow pea and potato filling. It’s topped off with chilies, cilantro, and a flavorful Jhal tamarind sauce.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body.”
― Anthony Bourdain, from “No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach”

A Saturday evening spent at the Queens International Night Market is not a substitute for a visit to Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe or South America. But it will, hopefully, broaden your perspective and give you a deeper appreciation for the incredible diversity of cultures that exist right in your own backyard.

The Queens International Night Market takes place on most Saturdays from spring to fall. For dates, check out our new calendar, which features some of our favorite seasonal events in New York City.

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Pinterest pin with images of food from Queens International Night Market via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

 

– J.

 

32 thoughts on “Around the World in 80 Bites: A Visit to Queens International Night Market”

    1. Hey Cathy! Had a good laugh over this comment. I anticipated someone would point out our gluttony eventually. I could brush it off as “part of the job”, but c’mon, you know us. How we eat that much is not the question, how we stay awake afterward is. Sort of a “spirit is willing, flesh is weak” sort of thing. We rub some dirt on it and power through, though. 😉

  1. Now this is adventure eating. All these choices in one festival. Our palates have grown since we came here and this is a venue we must check out. You and Lynn are excellent guides for New York City cuisine.

    1. Hi Tip! Thanks for checking out our post. I don’t think one can live in NYC and not be exposed to different cultures and new cuisines. That’s exactly what makes it a special city. Our rather modest goal is to highlight a few of the more interesting destinations. Hope you make it out there and find something new and exciting.

  2. Hey guys! Great post as usual.
    I think that although the food market Bourdain dreamed of will not come to fruition, I don’t think that his reasoning was about America being the center of everything. I think it was the opposite, from what I’ve gathered he saw how ridiculously narrow the vision of food is for the average American, especially when 40% of us don’t have a passport. Some will never be able to visit these countries or try these foods unless it is given to them in a way that they are used to, which is mall style. It is unfortunate that most don’t acquire the wanderlust spirit or can afford the privilege to search these things out for themselves but I believe he was fully aware of that, and the snobbery of some to turn their nose up at anything that isn’t given a chef’s seal of approval as cool. The food scene in New York, I’m sure you know can be very elitist and he hated that aspect.
    As far as Gordon Ramsay, well I wouldn’t take his travel advice but he is entertaining in the kitchen.
    I loved your choices at the Jhal stall and the Moon Man stall, I think those two would be on my list, although I think my eyes are bigger than my stomach. Thanks for making me want to trek across Queens from the back of God’s behind, where I live.

    1. Hey Trudy! Thanks for dropping by our blog and leaving such a thoughtful comment. I actually agree with you that it was not Bourdain’s reasoning for the market. Nevertheless, I believe he fell into that trap. It’s a very easy (and unconscious) thing for an American to do. Intention and result don’t always match up. And sometimes there are unintended implications. I also completely agree that a large portion of the US population do not have passports, nor do they have the means to travel. That was sort of what I was getting at with exploring our own incredible diversity here at home. When embraced, it’s a virtue that makes our country unique. My point being: Drawing talent from the outside was unnecessary. And based on much of the reporting I read, it undoubtedly added additional complications to Bourdain achieving his goal.

      I really hope you get the chance to explore the night market. I know it is a real trek for you. It’s definitely worth it, though. I know we’ll be going back for seconds and maybe thirds. 😉

      1. Thank you. I didn’t mean to come off preachy mentioning the lack of passports and means, I meant it as if your parents have never left the state or the traveled cross country, it highly unlikely that you will have the dream to do otherwise. Growing up, I had a passport because I was a first-generation American but my American friends didn’t and eating differently wasn’t a positive thing and it is still viewed as being bougie. It wasn’t a thing my friends could imagine because no one around them had been able to. Traveling cross country is still a huge deal and my niece and nephew point out how limited their friends have been by never leaving “the neighborhood”. That is kind of where I was going with that, and yes, the Queens Night Market is an excellent launching ground for this.
        Also, I want to agree with your statement about hiring from within because we are drowning in talent. I wanted to ask your opinion on something that this discussion has brought up to in my mind. Don’t you think that there is a double standard with a lot of connoisseurs of “foreign cuisines” especially in this political climate? People want to travel to exotic countries and eat the food but when they come home they want to continue to eat it but don’t want those same people here in the country. In other words, you’ll eat a chicken tikka but you’ll scream someone down in broad daylight and tell them to go back to their country. Odd isn’t it? Thanks for letting me talk your ear off.

        1. Preachy? Never, Trudy. Passionate? Absolutely. That’s why Lynn and I dig you. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

          First off, thank you for offering additional context by sharing your personal experiences. And you make valid points. Some I personally identify with, others I can understand and appreciate.

          As for your question…without a doubt, yes, there is a double standard. And I see it for exactly what it is: hypocritical and mean-spirited.

  3. Hahaha, I can’t say you inspire me to eat better…and I can’t really say you inspire me to eat worse. You guys just inspire me to…eat. Needless to say, I’ll be making my way out to the Queens International Night Market sometime before the summer ends! It’s been on my list for a while but somehow always seemed so far away. Joke’s one me, because it’s actually much closer than its Brooklyn counterpart, Smorgasburg! Looking forward to trying some of these tasty dishes you guys show (that fried rice cup with stew looks AMAZING), I’m not super familiar with Asian food beyond my local “Chinese” joint so this will be an experience!

    1. Hey Lauren! Thanks for commenting. If we’re inspiring you to eat better (or is it just more? LOL), then we must be doing something right. I’m actually surprised you haven’t made it out to QINM yet. Totally something I could see you and Kyle enjoying. I wonder if Charlie would be up for some crowd surfing… 😛

  4. A new calendar! Yay yay yay! I just love that this market keeps the prices below $6, which would enable me to try a lot of different things, which clearly, I would want to do! The problem would be not being able to eat everything.

    I actually was familiar with the Persian thing of browning the rice at the sides of the pan, though I’ve never been successful at doing it. Making mini rice cups is brilliant! And I definitely need Kaya toast and Moon Man pancakes. I usually go for the chocolate stuff too, but those pancakes sound great, and I love how they are made in what I would call an ebelskiver pan! (Danish pancakes cooked with jam in the middle.)

    Alas, even at a $6 cap, it might be too cost-prohibitive once I add in the plane fare from Minneapolis. Hope I can visit NYC sometime in the summer so I can get to this wonderful market.

    1. Cynthia, as usual, you are spot on. I was thinking the same thing: the XL version of an ebelskiver pan. And by the way, have you had those filled with Nutella? He-eeeeavenly! The solution to sampling a lot of things is to just bring someone along who doesn’t mind sharing–that and having a strategy beforehand. I perused that vendor list well in advance to make a hit list. And you don’t have to plan your trip for summer. Remember, the market is open through mid-fall. Just sayin’! 😉

  5. It’s been so hot, I have barely ventured to all the markets and fairs this year. But the street food you guys picked looks wonderful.
    And yes the variety available right in our back yard is pretty darn incredible!!

    1. Hey Tara! Justin here. Yeah, the heat has been pretty bad. I’ve had more sunburns this year than in the past 5 summers combined. Fairly mild but unpleasant. I would point out that visiting this particular market after sundown makes it a much more appealing option. That said, you should definitely give it a go. And worst case, you could just visit later in the year (it runs well into the fall). 😉

      1. Summer is pretty brutal this year. Even Ashwin’s started wearing sunscreen!

        Whether I visit the market or not, I am now on the look out for places to get, fuchka ( looks similar to Indian Pani puri) and Persian crispy rice.

        1. Yes, I think fuchka and Pani puri are the same, just slight regional differences according to our research 🙂 The Persian crispy rice was delicious, we got the vegetarian version and we could’ve eaten a tub of the sauce!

  6. I did read about the fact that his project did not materialise but I did not know the crux of it. Thank you for all the recommendations. We will look it up next month but will this night market be still on then?

    1. Hi Dippy! Thanks for checking out our post. The night market takes a hiatus the latter part of this month and doesn’t start back up until the last weekend of September. For exact dates, you can also reference our calendar.

      1. Thanks! I shall check out the calendar. Oh and I forgot to mention that I was chuffed to see phuchka mentioned in your post. It is from my home town of Calcutta and when I go back I always gorge on it during nippy winter evenings 🙂

        1. Whether you use puchka or fuchka (I can never keep up with the variations by dialect), there’s no question whatsoever as to why this food is so popular. It hits all the right texture points and endless variations can technically be made using different fillings. What’s not to like? I’m only surprised we don’t see stalls all over the place selling these.

          1. Oh yes, it is a matter of just pronunciation. I am excited to read that they are doing it at all here. Not many know about it except for dyed-in-the-wool foodies or the well-travelled. In North India, they make a variation of it — which we Bengalis stick out our tongues at. Supreme derision there. Instead of tamarind water, they use sweet water that is utterly shiite.

          2. So funny you mention that! When I was doing a little additional research, I stumbled upon the sweet versus tamarind water “controversy”. Such strong feelings expressed. 😀

    1. Hey, Elisa! I know what you mean, we wanted to eat EVERYTHING. We literally ran out of space in our bellies and had to roll ourselves home!

      But we already have a game plan for future visits. Many, many future visits 😉

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