Despite rain in the forecast, hundreds of people throughout the city made their way to Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the Queens Night Market on April 16. Every Saturday this spring and summer, from 5 p.m. to midnight, the community can immerse themselves in numerous cultures’ cuisines and support New York artists, all for an affordable price.
The 16th marked the first of two “sneak previews” before the market officially kicks off its seventh season on May 7. Though the previews cost $5 to enter, going forward, admission is free. According to John Wang, founder and main organizer, this is done by design, so as to ease the initial influx of heavy foot traffic.
“Our first two years, opening night, the first two seasons were just super, super overrun,” Wang explained. “We didn’t know how to control it other than to keep track of how many people were showing.”
Indeed, people are showing up: That first night this year, the line stretched around the block, about halfway along the New York Hall of Science, prior to opening. Within minutes, the same people lined up at the various tents, many with another snack — be it fried ice cream or a twisted potato stick — in hand.
With a rotating cast of 60 different vendors on a given night, Wang has made his mission clear: “We want traditional foods made by people who grew up eating them.”
Curating that, Wang said, can be difficult; he accepts only 15 to 20 percent of the vendors who apply. “It’s pretty amazing how many people apply that don’t necessarily fit here,” he chuckled.
Wang started the Night Market back in 2015, when, having just paid off his student loans, the young lawyer found himself discontented with the grind of New York, but was looking for a reason to stay.
“I thought, ‘The only reason I would stay in New York City was if I thought of something that I thought would make a big contribution to the cultural landscape in New York,’” he recalled.”I was like, ‘Wow, why doesn’t New York have a night market?’” Flushing Meadows Corona Park, he thought, would be the perfect spot for a food bazaar, a common sight elsewhere.
Initially, though, he did not have high hopes for its success.
“I totally expected to fail after a year, because everything fails in New York,” Wang said. “Little did I know, seven years later, I’d still be here.”
Now with six years under his belt, it’s clear that Wang is a total pro. Donning a bucket hat and sunglasses with a walkie-talkie in hand, he knows the ins and outs of the market like the back of his hand, and appears unflappable as he puts out whatever fires may come his way, be it showing a new vendor where fire extinguishers are or rearranging the traffic flow minutes before opening.
Even in all the chaos, Wang has not lost sight of his initial goal. “The thing that matters most to us is like the story,” he said. “I aspire for this to be a cultural event more than like, a food event. And that means, ‘What’s your story? What can we learn about the food based on who’s selling it and why they’re selling it?’”
As attendees make the trip from Manhattan, Bed-Stuy or — as was the case for Jeffery Sang and his friends — just up the block, that culture is exactly what attracts people to the market.
“For me, it’s just about community — you don’t really get too many opportunities to interact with different cultures and different people all at the same time,” Sang said.He added, “I’m Taiwanese, and night markets are a big thing in Taiwan. It just brings me back to that culture.”
The location was certainly a factor for friends Chun, Farhan and Kevin, who are from Flushing, but as Kevin put it, “the variety of food” is what keeps them coming back. Chun added, “It’s a good weekend trip with the family, too.”
Though Frances Sevilla and her partner, James, said it was their first time at the market, as they enjoyed some sisig from Chick’n Rotunda, the Bellerose pair said they expected to come again.