Canberra’s second year of the Enlighten Night Noodle markets has ended. I thought it was a lot more successfully run compared to last year – doubling the space allowed more room to manoeuvre which meant queues didn’t cross over each other, there were twice as many seats spread out in different areas, two bars and so much choice with over 20 food stalls. The small bridge connecting the two halves of the market area proved to be too small for the crowd. A security guard had to stand in the middle with his arms out to try and separate those going over and coming back over the bridge. I noticed a bit of a queue had formed to cross the bridge later in the evening.
After some Instagram research, I knew the food items that I wanted to try. As soon as gates opened, I made a beeline straight to the Black Star Pastry / N2 Extreme gelato stall.
In particular, I wanted to try the cake smash ($9). This was a mash up of the strawberry watermelon cake with N2 Extreme gelato topped with whipped cream, a strawberry squeeze tube and rose petals. After all the hype, I found this quite disappointing. There were only small bits of cake mixed in with plain vanilla gelato that had already melted when handed to me.
I much preferred Black Star Pastry’s signature strawberry watermelon cake ($9) on its own which had such perfect layers of different elements – almond dacquoise, fresh cream, watermelon, strawberries, pistachio and rose petals. I can’t believe how the watermelon just stays in place. The cake was so light, refreshing, not too sweet and so easy to demolish. I could easily have ordered a second serving.
Bao Stop was another place I really wanted to try. You could get 2 gua baos for $15 or the trifecta for $20. I went with the trifecta of fried chicken, pork belly and duck breast. The fried chicken was moist and crispy, mixed with carrot, spring onion, chilli jam and chilli mayo, this provided a nice sweet chilli hit. The pork belly was very thickly sliced as was the duck breast. Both delicious! The bao itself was larger than usual and oh-so-soft and fluffy. I really enjoyed the bao and would have reordered them, but I had to make room for other items.
My vegetarian friends were happy with their fried tofu bao.
The Peking duck fries ($15) were expensive but I had to try it. Though I was disappointed with the very minimal amount of duck meat received, (it was mainly fries and hoisin sauce with some duck skin), the combination of hoisin sauce on the fries was the bomb and something I never thought would have meshed well.
I was invited to the Night Noodle Market launch on opening night where Andrew Barr stopped by.
We were fed platters of Zagyoza’s pumpkin and feta gyoza – folded ever so carefully with yummy pumpkin mash inside.
We received samples of the ramen fried chicken from Everybody Loves Ramen. The teriyaki chicken was covered in crushed up ramen before being deep fried. It had an amazingly crunchy fried coating and was smothered in kewpie mayo and tonkatsu sauce. The chicken was so moist and juicy – just yum!
We also got to try Hoy Pinoy’s meat skewers. I noticed that there were two stalls for Hoy Pinoy this year. The main stall in the right wing sold both skewers; while a smaller stall at the top end of the left wing only sold the chicken skewers.
The pork belly skewer with banana ketchup was my favourite last year.
The marinated BBQ chicken skewers also came around. Both types of skewers were crowd favourites, it seemed every second person I walked past had a couple in hand.
With the Lilotang/Chairman and and Yip stall only open on the first weekend of the Night Noodle markets, I made a beeline there for the lobster roll ($14). I always seem to pick the expensive items! There were a few service problems and they seemed to have forgotten about me, even though there was no one else in the queue. When I finally got the lobster roll, I was a little dismayed at the teeny tiny portion. The bun was literally only half the size of my hand. But I must say, it tasted pretty good! The lobster mix had a lot of creamy mayonnaise and not that much lobster, but it had a good mix of chives and onion to give it some extra textures and flavour. The bun was also impressively soft. I’m wondering if people complained about the prices as when I went back two nights later, the lobster roll had dropped to $11!
Business didn’t look busy (perhaps it was the location of the stall) and by the first Sunday night, the last night for Lilotang/Chairman and Yip, everything was being sold for $5.
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My friends and I all caved in and bought the beef pho and pork belly burger. The beef pho broth was quite nice but not very full-bodied, however the thinly sliced beef was extremely tender. Not bad for $5.
My friend’s pork belly burger was stuffed full of several thickly sliced pork belly, a lot more than expected. This might have been because they wanted to get rid of as much as possible before closing down the stall.
The bright pink sakura burger from Everybody Loves Ramen was a must try for me. The sakura glazed burger ($14) was filled with ramen fried chicken, seaweed salad and Japanese curry sauce. It was such an intriguing clash of flavours. The sugary glazed burger contrasted against the savoury fried chicken, vinegary seaweed salad, and spiced curry. My taste buds just didn’t know what hit it. Halfway through, I decided the combination wasn’t for me, and ended up just picking out the juicy fried chicken on its own and threw most of the glazed bun out.
For foodblogging purposes, I also had to try the yuzu burger ($14) – a yuzu and pandan glazed burger filled with grilled okonomiyaki, seasoned squid salad, kewpie mayo and tonkatsu sauce. The glazed bun wasn’t as sweet as the sakura burger. The okonomiyaki was smaller than expected and didn’t fill the width of the bun. There was no sign of the squid salad either except for a few slices of carrot. I didn’t enjoy this much and was expecting a lot more for the $14 price tag.
Given it was a night noodle market, it was about time I tried some noodles. I had a hankering for more okonomiyaki and decided to try Kiyamachi-Tei’s okonomiyaki and chicken yakisoba ($14). It was not what I was expecting with a tiny okonomiyaki on the side, not the large okonomiyaki that I thought would be served. The yakisoba, although plentiful, was a huge disappointment. The chicken was more like a minced chicken topping, and not cooked throughout the yakisoba. The yakisoba itself was dry and very bland. I ended up throwing it out.
My friend tried East Street’s lemongrass beef bowl ($13) which was filled with noodle soup.
Another friend ordered some goodies from the Let’s Do Yumcha food truck – steamed BBQ pork buns, har gow and sui mai.
I had run out of water and decided to try a coconut juice (I think about $6) which was so refreshing from the Mini Pancakes stall. I also tried the sago pudding (around $7). I was nervous in ordering this as the stall was getting a lot of sunlight shining on the coconuts and sago pudding on the counter. I asked for a cold one at the back but this wasn’t much colder. Luckily it was just coconut cream on top. Hopefully other stalls had better refridgeration conditions. The sago had been mixed with palm sugar syrup – not too sweet and plenty of sago packed into the cup.
I wanted to try Miss Van’s coconut chicken curry noodle soup ($13 for the large) which I had seen other people ordering. It was always just too hot (temperature-wise) to eat it. On another expedition to the Night Noodle Markets, it was a windy afternoon and slightly coolish so this was the perfect time to try a noodle soup. The soup was mildly spicy and I really loved the thin egg noodles. There were small chunks of curry chicken, lots of beansprouts, crunchy shredded radish, spring onions, fried onions and coriander. I really enjoyed this dish – lots of flavour and they also made a vegetarian version for my vegetarian friends. I couldn’t resist Miss Van’s pandan egg tarts ($3.50) which were sweet with a beautiful smooth texture and crunchy outer pastry. I couldn’t really taste the pandan though.
The lamb buns ($10 for 2) from Soi Noodle Bar were stuffed with a generous portion of slow cooked teriyaki lamb and crunchy coleslaw. The lamb was very tender and seemed like it had been stewed in almost a curry-like sauce rather than teriyaki which gave it that extra bit of flavour and spice. The bao was soft, but to be honest, I didn’t think it was as good as the Bao Stop baos.
I also tried the takoyaki balls ($7 for 5) which were a good size and covered in mayo and takoyaki sauce.
Overall, I enjoyed this year’s Night Noodle Markets. Following my own tips, I got to the Night Noodle Markets early (pretty much at 5pm when it opened) and had filled up on food by 7pm, so I had no problems with long queues and found a nice shady grassy patch to sit on. The biggest queues at this year’s markets were Bao Stop and Black Star Pastry. I was quite impressed with Bao Stop as the queue moved quickly with two people working the cash registers, and it was only about a 10 minute wait for food (though I was there early). Dragon dancing was on each night with flashy new dragons that lit up in the dark. There were so many families and kids there. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.
The food poisoning incident at one of the stalls can’t be ignored. I’m always concerned with the level of refridgeration at these events. One of my friends had food poisoning on one of the nights we went together; and J and I were a little ill the day afterwards after another outing, but it was nothing serious. I’m not sure which stall it was and it’s hard to pinpoint but we were glad to know the authorities stepped in to shut down whatever it was that caused the food poisoning.
Thanks to the organisers of the Night Noodle Markets who spent several days in the heat setting everything up. A big thank you for the couple of vouchers that were sent my way which I spent at Miss Van’s and Soi Noodle Bar.
Note: I feel like I should write that I didn’t eat all of this in one sitting – it was spread out over about 4 nights and shared with others!
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