#FULCRUMFOODREVIEW

Ottawa Chinatown Royal Arch. Photos: Marta Kierkus.

Authentic international cuisine on display for Ottawa Asian Fest

On a late summer’s night, the pocket between Bronson Avenue and Cambridge Street was abuzz with an extensive array of Asian foods and treats. The Ottawa Asian Fest’s third annual Night Market, previously held in Lansdowne Park , made its debut at Chinatown’s famous Royal Arch.  

Running from Sept. 9 to 11 with free admission, it was a big hit on its opening night, with plenty of eye-catching entrees that you definitely won’t be able to find at your local Loblaws.

The Japanese squid teppanyaki, or squid on a stick, was one of the most popular dishes, as evidenced by the long line leading up to it.

University of Ottawa’s own professor of economics Miles Corak was spotted on opening night, and noted he was eager to try this dish.

According to Peng Cheng, a volunteer for the event and a second-year U of O biology student, the unconventional cuisine is a key attraction.

“The food here is not very common,” she said, adding that “it’s specific here.”

Cheng also noted that the Night Market offered an avenue for those “really interested in Chinese food, (and) Chinese culture”.

Despite long hours—8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on the opening night—she emphasized that the festival was extremely enjoyable to volunteer at.

It was not hard to see why.  

The $10 squid was a culinary delight, as its tentacles were chewy without being too tough. The mantle was texturally similar, and the barbeque sauce, with notes of cilantro, was imbued with just enough heat. Further, its size was adequate for one person.  

Another popular item was the South Korean “twist potato”, a deep fried potato spiraled with extreme precision onto a stick. For $7, the small spiral was enough to share, and various toppings were available including cheese, salt and vinegar, and buffalo spice. A sweet potato option was also available for $10.

For the daring, there was spicy fried chicken and whole peppers for $8. This could be followed by the sweet $5 Icy Cool Mint drink, made of jelly, ice, and fresh mint leaves.

The Night Market was rich not just in food, but also entertainment, with dance routines by the Ottawa Hallyu Dance Team, which specializes in K-Pop dance. With the backdrop of the Chinatown arch crowds were captivated by their seamless routines, marking their third performance with the Ottawa Asian Fest, according to lead dancer Gaëlle Garnier.

Additionally, Toronto-based rock band Maybe Refuge provided live music, with front-man Joey Nico Than later taking the helm for powerful, semi-acoustic renditions of Adele and Imagine Dragons, among others.

Overall, the Night Market in warm mid-September was a great idea by the Ottawa Asian Fest, attracting new and returning students of the city’s universities to a culturally suitable location.

However, it will be interesting to see whether the event’s organizers will choose a new venue next year. Since this year’s event was held mostly in a single parking lot, lines of people crisscrossed each other, which led to a more disordered atmosphere.

But for someone like Cheng who is originally from China, this cramped location lent a sense of greater authenticity to the proceedings, especially compared to previous events at Lansdowne Park.

“This is really like a night market in China.”