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By 7 p.m. on Friday, the atmosphere outside of the old firehouse on Lafayette was already beginning to look impatient. Bouncers checked for ticket confirmations and a long line of people wrapped around the building. This was TAP-NYC’s first annual Taiwanese night market, and the event had been sold out for a solid week already. It was a three-hour festival of food vendors, raffles, and performances. The goal: to bring a part of Taiwan to New York City.
“We just hope to give people what a taste of Taiwan is like with a New York flair,” Charles Pan, internal vice president of TAP-NYC, said.
And what transpired inside the building was as Pan described — a solid mixture of both the New York and Taiwanese scene. The atmosphere was strictly New York. Music reverberated from wall to wall; people were dressed up and moved to the beat. Dim floor lights lighted up the space and the booze was free-flowing. A couple of traditional Taiwanese games were siphoned off to the corner, but the focus wasn’t on the beats or the crowd.
All eyes were on the food.
Fatty pork baos topped generously with cilantro and oozing with pork juices, mini black sesame cupcakes, and steaming pot stickers were among the top hits. The vendor lineup was a mixture of veterans and start-ups, from the original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory to the yet-to-have-launched Fun Buns NYC, a pork belly joint.
People tended to crowd toward the savory: fried chicken from Taicken, pot stickers from A-Pou’s Taste Cart, succulent sausages from Passport 2 Taiwan, and, of course, the baos, which were being served up by both Hong Kong Street Cart and Fun Buns NYC.
Dessert wasn’t limited to the strictly Taiwanese fare. Authenticity was maintained at Wooly’s Ice, which gave out snow ice, and with Thirstea Café, which stuck with bubble tea. But then there were the innovators. I8 NYC, a food club, whipped out eclectic combinations like Lipstick on a Pig (jackfruit, starfruit, mango, young coconut meat, palm seed, Asian pear lychee with rose syrup, ume powder) and Thai Me Up (chocolate chip Thai blondie, Thai tea frosting, coconut, crushed nuts).
Yes, it was hot, crowded, and at times uncomfortable, but as long as people got their food, no one seemed to be complaining. “The good thing about it being crowded is that there’s so many people and we get to hang out with them all,” Christina Ha, co-owner of Macaron Parlour said while passing out trays of red velvet macarons.
A belly dancer dressed in white kicked off the performances at around 8 p.m., but not after long the attention was back to the food.
“I never had any idea Taiwanese food was this amazing,” Emily Jennings, who had attended the event out of cultural curiosity said. “I love the desserts.”
The event was but a thin slice of the real Taiwanese night-market experience. DJs, a tight indoor space, and r&b performances are nowhere to be found in Taiwan ye shis.
But what distinguished TAP-NYC’s gathering was the inclusion of small, local, and down-to-earth entrepreneurs. There was no pretentiousness — no celebrity chefs and definitely none of that overglorified chicken and famous bao nonsense. The food was approachable and made by approachable people. And it was that fluidity between the customers and the vendors that made the night that much more Taiwanese.