When we were living in Asia, it took me a while to warm to the idea of night markets. It seemed like everything on sale, from street food to “Same Same But Different” t-shirts, was priced slightly higher for the benefit of looking at it in very dim lighting. But then the Siem Reap night market gradually won me over as I came to realize two advantages it provided over the daytime markets: 1) everyone feels better about getting drunk, which is really the only pleasurable way to shop for anything, and 2) there was a tank where you could pay to have tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet, which was even better than drunk-shopping.
So needless to say, when I heard about the grand opening of this year’s Queens International Night Market, I was intrigued. Queens is an empire of ethnic food, from the feta cheese of Astoria to the dumplings of Flushing, so the idea of a night market in such an atmosphere made visions of a super-sized Smorgasburg dance in my head. Maybe it wasn’t even too much of a pipe dream to hope for a spa fish or two. I did some stomach-stretching exercises and set out for the territories near Corona Park.
Unfortunately, so did literally thousands of other people. We poured in a whirling flood from the 7 train to the lot behind the Hall of Science, swarmed through the gates, and then promptly became paralyzed by the compression of our number into an area that was rapidly beginning to resemble an industrial feedlot. There might have been good stuff on offer at the food booths, but I wouldn’t know because it was impossible to fight through the knotted hordes in see the menus. I don’t have any photos of this mess, because my arms were pinned too tightly to my sides to get my camera out of my bag. At one point, forced to an absolute standstill near a bubble tea booth, I overheard both the dude with his shoulder blade in my sternum and the girl with her cheek resting on my spine say something like, “I’m really trying hard not to panic right now.” That was when I decided to throw in the towel.
I’m sad that I can’t give the night market a recommend. Maybe if you went on a different date, it would be less crazy and more fun. If however, you find yourself way out in Queens with the night market blues, you should remember: you’re still in a food empire, so all is not lost. Just hop back on the 7 and go a few stops west to Jackson Heights, which is what I did.
Jackson Heights, NYC’s Little India par excellence, might not have the novelty of a crowded summer event, but I do find it enormously comforting. You can eat a Nepalese momo, imagine what you’d look like in one of those massive gold sari-accenting necklaces and buy a pound of cumin for four dollars. And that’s all in a single block! It’s true that there are no skin-eating fish, but what can you do? I found out later that they’re banned in New York due to sanitation concerns. Whatever. I bought a container of atomically spicy chickpeas and a cup of milky chai and headed back to Brooklyn with a smile on my face.