Sunday, April 23, 2017

Queens International Night Market

One year ago today was the opening night of the Queens International Night Market. We were really excited about this - cuisines from all over the world, affordable dishes around $5 each, lots of stuff we had never tried before, and a beautiful spring day - and apparently so were hundreds of our fellow New Yorkers. We got there before they opened and the line circled around and around on each side. It was absolutely packed, so crowded that later in the night the nearby train platform got seriously treacherous as there were so many people on the platform that nobody could move or get off the trains when they pulled in. We were glad we went early, but early was still bad.

Once the market actually opened for business, people streamed in from both sides. We were some of the first people in, as we had found the shorter line on the park side, and immediately started trying to figure out where to go. Lots of places already had lines, and decisions had to be made quickly. We ended up choosing a couple of spots on our side of the lot (never made it to the other side the entire night), splitting up, and waiting in line to get stuff, as we watched the aisles fill up, the lines get so long that they were crossing over each other, and the lot get so congested that there were many places where you literally could not move or got carried slowly by the moving crowd around you.

A waited on line for Burmese Bites, which didn't have a terrible line (yet) because we had gotten there so early, and which we really wanted to try after following them on Facebook for a bit. Burmese food isn't that easy to find in NYC outside of the occasional food fairs, so we were really happy to see them here. They had two options on their menu signs: keema palata and chicken curry palata (the one we got). Palata is a flaky flatbread that is similar to paratha or roti, and this one was topped with a really flavorful chicken curry and accompanied by a little cup of slaw on the side that packed some heat if we remember correctly. The portion size wasn't big enough for a meal, but that was good since the whole point of night markets like this is to roam and try lots of things. We were really happy with this and would have considered getting more if not for the lines.

From the Burmese food line, we could see a stall for Eve and Johnny's Caribbean style shark sandwiches, so M went over there. The line didn't look too bad at the time, and M was probably about 10th in line, so we thought the wait wouldn't be too, too bad. As she waited, she saw the lines around her getting longer and longer by the second, so she was glad that she had gotten in line early. However, since it was the first night of the market, it seemed like they hadn't gotten their prep done in time to open, and while M waited in line, A showed up with the palata, and we finished it, and then we waited some more. Under normal circumstances, A would have left M in line and gotten something else to share while waiting, but these lines were not normal.

The Caribbean style shark sandwich was basically Trinidadian bake and shark, fried flatbread with seasoned fried pieces of shark and toppings. We'd had bake and shark on our WorldEats to-try list for some time, but had just never made it out to spots in Brooklyn, so this was convenient. These sandwiches were topped with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cole slaw mix (cabbage and carrots), cilantro and onions, pineapple, and three sauces: tamarind, chaden beni (a green culantro sauce), and a creamy garlic sauce. All together, it was so good. From the first bite, the mingling of all the flavors was good.

The sandwich was stuffed full of shark which was a really nice surprise. Often we've found "special" sandwiches to skimp on the protein portion, but this was definitely not the case. The shark itself was tougher than we were expecting, but it had a nice fish taste to it that didn't seem very foreign. It was more fishy than a typical white fish but far less fishy than an oilier fish like mackerel. The combination of all of the slaws and toppings combined to make a sweet and savory that was completely balanced and perfectly complemented the shark. We would have definitely gotten two of these if we had known they were so good and thought ahead about how bad the lines were around us.

After eating the shark sandwich, we thought about trying something else, but after getting stuck in the crowd for a few yards, it was unbearable and quite claustrophobic and we decided to leave. We couldn't make sense of what line was ending where, and it was nearly impossible to walk. On our way out though, we did see a stall without much of a line. It was for Haitian food from Belmere, which worked for us, since when we were doing WorldEats in geographical order, Haitian was where our journey stalled.

We ordered something small there (considering that the prices of most things were the same there, this was probably the least food for the price), and then took our to-go box into the park to eat. It felt so good to get out of the mess that was the night market, and we kept watching more and more people streaming in. As far as the food, we got a piece of stewed chicken which was pretty tasty and topped with some giant onion slices. There was also a little slaw on the side that was spicy, primarily pickled cabbage with a few carrot and cucumber pieces mixed in.

The Queens International Night Market is a great idea, but we were so uncomfortable during our visit there that we couldn't wait to leave. (We ended up finishing our dinner at a taqueria which was delicious but not the plan for the night.) There were serious crowd control issues, which to their credit, they have been trying to remedy this year by selling admission tickets for the first two weekends. We do want to go back, as having that many vendors representing cuisines around the world is totally our thing, but we'll probably wait a little longer into the summer to go.

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