By Christina Autry
Every couple of months, Houstonians are lucky enough to experience the closest thing to being in Asia without leaving Texas. Small businesses in the International District transform the space behind Hong Kong Mall into a scene from the streets of Southeast Asia not seen anywhere else in Houston. Organized by the Vietnamese Community of Houston and Vicinities, the proceeds of this event go to a charity or cause of choice.
Around the perimeter of the outdoor space, tents shade tables of bubbling pots, sizzling grills, large steamers as chefs create authentic Asian street food. A large stage provides the platform for Vietnamese-speaking hosts, singers, dancers, and music on speakers broadcasted loudly enough to add energy and festivity to the outdoor market.
Driving down Bellaire, the most noticeable indication that the Asian Night Market is occurring is the overflowing Hong Kong Mall parking lot. It’s only those who would drive down Boone Road, which branches off Bellaire, who would get a glimpse of the stage and the crowd.
Parking in the free lot in front of the mall and walking around or directly through the building will lead visitors to the reason for visiting: the food. The food court inside the mall that you’re likely to pass through will be equally bustling with vendors and customers singing karaoke, dancing, and socializing around the many tables. Parents push children in strollers and find their favorite dishes to share with one another.
Once behind the mall, taking a stroll past the tents before committing to a particular food is the most difficult and most recommended course of action. Bringing cash is a necessity for purchasing food here, and $50 would be more than sufficient for sampling multiple types of food. There is no entrance fee, so you’ll only need money for satisfying your hunger. Once you’ve eyed all there is to be served, it’s time to return to your favorites, and feast.
You may be drawn to the scent of grilled seafood for your first bite. Eye-catching squids are engulfed in flame, seared and skewered with wooden sticks. Massive shrimp can also be plucked from the grill and dipped into delicious chili lime sauce with a tang that compliments the creamy tenderness of the shrimp. Shellfish in the form of clams, coconut snails, and other beautifully shaped shells sizzle on skillets and boil in pots. Make sure to try the clams cooked with a fried egg cradled in its shell, creating a pearl of a dish that is hard to overlook.
Quail eggs and large balut eggs are cooked to traditional taste, with the latter posing more of a challenge to those unfamiliar with this style of boiled duck. Classic Vietnamese tidbits such as banh nam rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves, or banh cuon rice wraps hugging chopped pork are made fresh and best enjoyed warm.
Pork and beef skewers are freshly grilled to a perfect tenderness with a tasty, sweet marinade. Although larger and meatier than the skewers on the streets of the great food city of Bangkok, the skewers at this Asian Night Market transport visitors overseas with every bite.
If you’re looking for something sweet, freshly cut tropical fruit such as jackfruit and lychee is packaged for easy pickup at the beautifully colorful fruit stand. Milk tea with boba flows into large capped cups at The Bep Teahouse’s booth, usually with a “buy 2 get 1 free” deal. Vietnamese “che” (mainly jellies, sweet beans, shaved ice and durian) is scooped into a cup and doused with coconut milk, meant to be eaten with a spoon. And large steamed buns are cooked to order, filled with what I ascertained as durian custard, taro custard, and our favorite, the cinnamon custard with a red Chinese symbol printed on the bun.
After trying a variety of new foods and flavors, you might want to also enjoy the comfortable familiarity of Pad Thai. As in Bangkok, the rice noodles are not overly sticky, allowing veggies and peanuts to be tossed throughout and allowing each bite to be salty, sweet, crunchy and soft.
For those who wish to attend the Asian Night Market, you should know that there are no pre-set dates or schedules announced for the event. However, it is assumed that the fest will occur every 2 or 3 months. Once food vendors are notified that it’s happening (usually a week or two in advance), they notify their customers and community, and advertisement spreads largely through word-of-mouth. If you want to be aware of when a date is set, The Bep Teahouse announces the fest on their Instagram, @thebepteahouse. When it does happen, it is always on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 6-11PM, though things are usually in full swing by 8PM.
So keep your ears and eyes open, and be ready for a truly overseas experience that could only happen in west Houston.
Hong Kong Mall
11205 Bellaire Blvd, Houston TX 77072