Kirbie's Cravings

San Diego Night Market

This past Saturday, San Diego had its own very first night market. Night markets are really popular in Taiwan and other parts of Asia. It’s always been one of my favorite things to do when I visit family in Taiwan. LA started doing them this summer and they were a huge success, prompting San Diego to try it too.

It took place in the Zion market parking lot. The size of the market space and vendors was a little small, but the turnout of people was quite incredible. We got there at the start and there were already lines at all the food stands.

There was a mix of different Asian cuisines and other fair foods. There were also other non-food booths. And there was various entertainment happening including dragon dancing, wushu swords and cooking demonstrations. When the floor wasn’t being occupied, there was dance music with a lot of young kids on the dance floor.

Even though the market was quite small, it was fun seeing so many San Diegans come out and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

There were a few food trucks off to the side.

Most of the food court restaurants inside Zion also had a stand set up.

After perusing all the food stands there were two I was interested in trying: Hotato Potato (which was offering customized fried potato slices on a stick) and Pangea Cafe. We did end up trying Pangea, which was a huge mistake. It’s a decision I’m still regretting.

Pangea Bakery Cafe had the longest line of all the food vendors when we were there, stretching across the entire length of the night market space. I was initially confused, since their storefront is just a few blocks away.

But I soon realized why. Instead of just selling the bread and pastries they usually carry, they cleverly came up with a completely different menu, offering some Filipino cuisine and classic Taiwanese night market food.

What really got people’s attention was the offering of giant grilled squid skewers. One look and it really took me back to the night markets in Taiwan. Pangea was the only one offering these dishes, which caused the long lines.

I usually don’t have the patience for lines. While I debated whether we should bother, Mr. K, knowing how much I wanted that squid, immediately got in line. Unfortunately (and totally not his fault), it was a huge HUGE mistake.

We waited in line for about 20ish minutes. I didn’t mind too much. It gave me a chance to people watch and take some photos. After we ordered, we got in the queue of people waiting for their food. Pangea had quite a big staff, but they simply couldn’t turn out the food fast enough. We had already waited for a good 15-20 minutes when around 6pm, only 1 hour after the market had opened, we heard them tell customers in the ordering line that they were out of squid. Obviously they hadn’t planned well, especially since there was still about 5 hours left to go.

There was a murmur amongst us in the crowd of people waiting, but it was more of relief, thinking we ordered just in the nick of time since they were now out. Unfortunately, we were wrong. I saw them counting tickets, and so they obviously knew there was a problem. But rather than deal with the problem right away, they let the crowd continue to wait. And wait and wait, thinking they were still getting their food.

Suddenly we watched as two people who had clearly been behind us in line walk away with two squid skewers. Mr. K was just about to say something to the staff, when suddenly one of the guys working announced that they had completely sold out of squids and the last one on the grill was going to a young woman standing in front and everyone else would get their refunds. As you can imagine, people were not happy. They had made us wait an extra 20 or so minutes when they clearly knew they didn’t have enough.

It would have been one thing if they ran out and told us right away. But they made us wait, which was definitely not good business dealing. And what really pissed me off was that I saw people who ordered after me get the squid, all because they had a really poor system of getting the orders out.

I actually felt bad for the guy doing the refunds because he kept saying he didn’t work for Pangea normally and that it wasn’t his fault a bad system (or no system) had been set up. The lady who had been in charge and appeared to be one of the managers, conveniently ducked away right before the announcement was made, leaving the guy to deliver the bad news and deal with all the pissed off customers. Some customers asked if they could get some free food for their long wait, but Pangea was only offering refund of the $7 and their apologies.

While I know this experience wasn’t an accurate reflection of the entire night market experience, it definitely left me in a bad mood and I didn’t really have much interest after wasting more than an hour. We got our remaining food order and left to go get some real dinner.

Taiwanese sausage

This was your standard grilled Taiwanese sausage, which is a pretty classic night market food. The outside skin has a snappy crunch when it’s grilled and the inside tastes both sweet and savory.

13 Layer Skyflakes Cake

I’d never had this before and thought it’d be interesting. It was ube flavored, and stacked with layers of cream and a skyflakes which are a type of cracker. This was alright, but not worth getting again.

We had an okay time at the night market. I was glad to see so much interest so I hope that it’s an event that will continue to grow. I just hope that the vendors also get their act together as well.

For another night market account, check out Kirk’s post here.


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19 comments on “San Diego Night Market”

  1. That’s terrible Kirbie, because of all the time invested, they should make things right. I wasn’t too impressed with the selection, hopefully they can get their act together next time.

    • Yeah, I was hoping for a bigger selection from places as well. And Pangea’s business practices during the event just really pissed me off.

    • Yeah, I was hoping for a bigger selection from places as well. And Pangea’s business practices during the event just really pissed me off.

  2. Ugh. Sorry to hear about your experience. I was at the Night Market too shortly after it opened but didn’t eat anything except a sample after Cathlyn Choi’s cooking demonstration. Even the inside of Zion was insane.

    I know they plan to do this again for 2014 and I hope the vendors can address how to serve a lot of people without running out of food.

    • I can’t imagine how it was later in the night considering how bad it was in the beginning. The husband was grumbling about how they ruined Zion’s parking lot. heh. I’m kind of curious how the LA ones are. I didn’t get a chance to go this summer.

  3. The first 626 Night Market event ( June8-9) was about as unprepared for the crowds as this one was, according to what I read. But they had two more events -(July 6-7) (August31/Sept1)- and had more vendors, more activities and those two weekends were crowded but accompanied the crowds in the Santa Anita race track parking lot. There are plans to have Night Markets in three locations (LA, Arcadia and OC) in 2014.

    The Facebook page for the San Diego Night Market states they planned for 4000 to show up and instead 15,000 were estimated to have attended on saturday.

    • Oh wow, 15,000? That’s crazy.
      I did read that the first one in LA was pretty unorganized and crazy but that it got better. Let’s hope it’s the same for SD. And I def want to go to the OC one next year.

  4. After reading yours and Kirk’s post, now I’m kind of glad that I didn’t go. I suppose the organizers and vendors had no idea how many people to expect.

  5. Aw man, sorry to hear about what happened. We arrived pretty late (around 8pm), and most of the stuff from most of the booths were sold out. All the lines were still ridiculously long, though – at least 20-30 mins for each the booths, and I’m guessing 40 mins for the Hotato Potato booth. We didn’t like most of the selections left in each of the stands so we went off to dinner instead. Haha.

    • I was wondering how much food would be left for people who were planning on coming later. Good decision to just go and get dinner!

  6. We went as well. We got there about 6 pm, and ended up parking in DixieLine’s lot. The man wanted a Hotato and Thai (the chicken on a stick booth). Baby and I waited in the potato line for the greater part of an hour, as did the man for Thai. Both were really great. The potato wasn’t greasy at all (he had white cheddar, I had garlic Parm, Baby slept). The stick meats were pretty awesome (he got one stick of each, lobster, beef, chicken, and pork), rice and noodles. After dinner, we got shave ice from Ice Blast, since they had no line! They didn’t have their full selection of flavors out, but they did have a good number (I got cherry and lime, he got cherry and blue raspberry). I’ll definitely be going to their shop very soon.
    Afterwards, we mistakenly thought we’d run into Paris Baguette and get a coffee, but they were packed, so we stopped by the one in H-Mart on the way home.
    I hope next year, they have a larger space for the market. I know there was no way they could have anticipated the size crowd they had. Our only negative experience was with the Fiat people. They decided to switch out two of their little cars in the middle of the market, fully able to see how thick the crowds were. They backed the car through the crowd, almost hitting several people. The volunteer helping the Fiat girl was incredibly rude, and was yelling at attendees, saying “You all have to move now!” among other things. I got enough of him, and said “You know the words ‘excuse me’ go a long way!” He quickly changed his tone. Aside from that incident, we mostly enjoyed it.

    • Oh wow, i can’t believe the Fiat story! Good for you for speaking up. I’m glad you had a good time though and the food you got sounds delicious.

  7. Wow…interesting! Too bad about the squid, the crappy customer service, and that many of the vendors ran out of food. This was clearly not as well thought out as it could have been.

    The skyflakes cake sounded interesting. I actually like those Skyflakes crackers but combining it with ube cream sounds kind of odd. They also put rice krispies on that cake too. Hmmm…

    The sinigang lumpia was also an interesting offering. Sinigang is a sour soup, so it’s kind of confusing looking at the sign because at first glance it seems like it is a choice of sinigang or lumpia. i wonder what the ingredients would have been for the sinigang lumpia then.

    • You know I actually completely forgot about the rice krispies until I was looking at my photo. I was probably too angry so I wasn’t paying attention. It was like an ube flavored whipped cream. So it was a layer of the cracker, layer of cream, layer of cracker, etc. it was interesting though it got really wet because they put some lychee jelly and the syrup started soaking everything. I was going to get the lumpia but they were out. They did show a picture of what it looked like but someone was always blocking it so I didn’t get a shot. I remember it was a fusion of two things, but I can’t remember what was in it anymore.

  8. I went at 8:00 pm. It was a lot worse. Of course the Zion parking lot was already full and perhaps taking up Kearney Mesa Bowl’s parking (part of that lot is for them only). It looked like people were parking at least 5 or 6 blocks away on some not so well-lit streets. I ended up parking in the street in front of 99 Ranch.

    It was so crowded there I couldn’t tell what each of the vendors was offering and all of the lines seemed to blend into each other. The only place that wasn’t crowded was the beer garden. I was so turned off by the crowds that I went into Zion and got a smoothie from Boba Bar. Less than 5 minute wait.

  9. We didn’t end up being able to go, but maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. We wouldn’t have been able to go until after 6pm and it probably would have been crazy by then. Sorry about your bad experience! Hopefully they’ll get more organized next year – I love the concept of having a night market here in San Diego.

    • I love the concept too. Sounds like it’s a good thing you couldnt make it because it looks like it got even more crowded at night.

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