Last year, the Asian Garden Mall off Bolsa Avenue in Westminster hit gold with its inaugural Little Saigon Night Market. The premise was fabulously simple: Let food vendors hawk their stuff in the open air, just as they do in the motherland. Let cooks grill meats and fish next to pho masters pouring out steaming bowls next to oyster shuckers next to dessert makers. Throw in a couple of food trucks for the kids who are a tad too assimilated. Stage it every Friday through Sunday night through the summer. And then do it all over again.
The Little Saigon Night Market drew the masses: elders remembering their youth, young Vietnamese-Americans taking selfies and getting their bad Vietnamese challenged at nearly every stall, and more than a few non-Viets curious to see if the event had the hipster caché of the San Gabriel Valley's 626 Night Market, which jump-started the idea of mass open-air bazaars (Mexicans, of course, have been doing such events on a smaller scale under the radar in East Los Angeles and across Southern California for decades) and just recently did a one-off at the Orange County Fairgrounds. These markets are the natural progression of the gathering of food trucks that has been a fad in Southern California the past couple of years: Not only does it provide folks who can't afford a luxe lonchera a stall to hawk their wares, but it allows ethnic enclaves a chance to show themselves off to outsiders who might not otherwise want to visit. The second Little Saigon Night Market recently started and will go through Labor Day weekend—start starving yourself now!
A couple of quick tips: Since the market takes up the front parking lot of the Asian Garden Mall, expect traffic to be even more brutal than usual. Pace yourself by taking a group of friends, with everyone ordering one item from one stall, then sharing. Start with the skewers first, move up to the banh khot (savory Vietnamese mini-pancakes). Be brave enough for the balut—yes, Vietnamese eat the notorious duck-fetus snack as well. Stay away from the corn-on-the-cob booth—leave that to barbecue festivals. Don't be afraid to eat some fresh jackfruit or even durian to cleanse your palate. Take cash, as most stalls won't accept credit cards. And, at all times, wash your meals down with nuoc mia (sugarcane juice) and hope this becomes as long-lasting an Orange County tradition as the swallows in Capistrano. See you there!