T&T Toronto Night Market
T&T Supermarket (222 Cherry Street)
Thursday–Saturday, 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
For the next few days in the Port Lands, under a canopy of power lines and cement plant scaffolding, the parking lot of the T&T Supermarket will be transformed into a pop-up Asian-style night market. There, as the event’s website puts it, “East and West meet under a moonlit summer night sky, the breeze of barbecuing pork and beef wafts in the wind, mingling with the sizzling aroma of vegetables dropped in hot oil, steaming bamboo baskets sitting on almost every stall invite hungry crowds to sample a bite of hot dumplings, spicy chicken or oyster pancakes.” Sure.
Frankly, it’s too goddamned hot out for the aroma of anything to waft in the wind. Mostly, the smell of BBQ pork, squid teppanyaki, and cheeseburger spring rolls just hangs there, commingling with the rank steam of people shuffling between booths. In the 20-odd degrees of Thursday night, even the requisite kid-friendly bouncy castle had been sieged by the elements, sagging all defeated-like. But we can’t rightly blame the Toronto Waterfront Night Market for the weather, nor for the lack of waft. Can we? No.
Hot or not, the Night Market is a bit of a hoot. While indebted to the ad-hoc markets found in places like Taiwan—where normal thoroughfares become, under cover of darkness, bazaars for hawkers moving exotic snack food and knock-off denim jeans—and North American transplants like the one found in Richmond, BC, the Toronto Night Market is a considerably more toned-down affair. With the food vendors, souvenir stands, and live music, it has the feel of an Asian-infused Lion’s Carnival (complete with Beaver Tails, Elephant Ears, and other Ontario delicacies of the deep-fried dough variety). There were hawkers, too, to be sure. But they weren’t moving faux-Gucci bags or Nikey sneakers so much as baiting you in to buying a one dollar bubble tea or a fresh pineapple juice ($5 and, admittedly, delicious: blended pineapple served in the shell of pineapple, garnished with a slice of—wait for it—pineapple). But it must be hard for these vendors to distinguish themselves. There had to be dozens of booths specializing in fresh juices and bubble teas, churning out enough fresh juice and bubble tea to feed a small army, provided that that army subsisted entirely on fresh juice and bubble tea.
To complement all the juice were rack after smoky rack of BBQ’d food. If you like boiled lobster, skewered scallops, Chinese fried chicken, grilled mussels, stinky tofu, and other spoils of the Orient, look no further. And if those tastes are too far-flung for your unadventurous palate, there are also spins on North American favourites, like designer cupcakes, grilled toast, BBQ corn, and something called “tornado fries” (which, along with “taco shooters” and “extreme fajitas,” would feel right at home on the menu of a Mike Judge movie). To keep the well-fed entertained, on Thursday night a few bands cycled on and off the stage, playing to a half-captivated crowd of the sluggish and disinterested. (One jokey, noodly nü-metal softcore rock outfit had a song with a hook and chorus that went, quite simply: “Alive, alive, alive, alive alive / Alive, alive / Alive, alive, alive, alive, alive / I feel so alive, alive alive.”)
And if hymns to the very liveliness of life and being alive, alive, alive aren’t your tapioca-clogged tumbler of bubble tea, you’ll also find cars with souped-up stereos showing their stuff, graffiti contests, and Angry Birds paraphernalia, all unified by the din of vendors barking, “One dollar smoothie, one dollar,” and the bassy thrum of Asian classics like “Still D.R.E.” You’ll also find takoyaki, grilled octopus balls that are popular in Japan and have become something of a late night bonne bouche. A Toronto Life article flanking the booth (from the “Top 500 Takoyaki Stands in T.O.” issue, presumably) described takoyaki as being “among the world’s most labour intensive snacks.” How could you not want to to try it? Fluffy, fishy (well, octopus-y) and slathered in mayo, they are pretty tasty. Though maybe you have to get drunk, or not be full-up of blended pineapple, to fully savour them.
All these little treats are reason enough to check out the Night Market. It’s also a fine place to bring a date (especially if you both like mango juice and bands that sing songs about the degree to which you feel alive). It’d also be a nice outing for the family. You can always deposit the kids at the humid, sad bouncy castle before braving the maze of grilled squid tentacles and free President’s Choice micro-sausages. (Oh, and go later. First of all, you get a better “Night Market” vibe when the sun is down. But more importantly, they start cutting down prices around 11 p.m., to try to move remaining product.)
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.