International District sheds sketchy rep with Night Market

(Photo by Sam Kenyon)

How can a Seattle neighborhood overcome a reputation for crime? Throw a massive street party at night.

The Chinese Moon Festival is traditionally celebrated at harvest time by giving thanks, making offerings of food and eating mooncakes.

But in a city that doesn’t ever do anything by the book, it was no surprise that Seattle’s Night Market & Moon Festival on Saturday added a few non-traditional elements, like breakdancing and food trucks. (But don’t worry, there were still plenty of mooncakes.)

The Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) started the Night Market and Moon Festival five years ago with an inflatable outdoor movie screen, a couple of food vendors and 500 people.

This year the festival had 60 vendors, a beer garden, musical performances until midnight, and close to 20,000 people, according to the Executive Director of CIDBIA, Don Blakeney.

Breakdancers throw down on the Moon Festival main stage. (Photo by Sam Kenyon)Breakdancers throw down on the Moon Festival main stage. (Photo by Sam Kenyon)

Night Markets are a growing trend up and down the West Coast, from Vancouver and Los Angeles, inspired by the Asian tradition that allows people to beat the daytime heat by shopping and eating late at night.

“Doing these kinds of events is part of that, really making the streets come alive,” Blakeney said. “And being able to do it in a culturally interesting and authentic way is what we’re aiming for.”

Seattle’s food vendors were out in force, offering a diverse range of options, from Pink’s Specialty Asian Ice Cream or Ezell’s Famous Chicken Express. Every food vendor was asked to offer a $5 Asian inspired dish for the event. The Liana Café House served traditional Chinese dishes like dumplings and big buns. Sweet smells floated by in the evening breeze as a sandwich restaurant called Subsand grilled fresh eggpuffs, which are a sugary, traditional Chinese delicacy.

“Kids love it,” said Steve Chan, who works for the restaurant.

In addition to shopping and eating, there was a main stage with performances of traditional dragon and lion dances, followed by a breakdancing competition. Afterward DJ’s JK-POP and Richard J. Dalton spun Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese pop music for the rest of the night.

The food trucks enjoyed steady business during the event as the Asian pop music thumped in the background.

Crowds gather around the Tokyo Dog food truck. (Photo by Sam Kenyon)Crowds gather around the Tokyo Dog food truck. (Photo by Sam Kenyon)

Alda Agustiano is the cashier for the family business of the Bumbu Truck, which serves authentic Indonesian street food. Alda works with her two sisters, Aubrey and Alexa, and their parents own the truck. This was their first time using their new food truck and business was booming.

“Super busy,” Alda said. “Sold out. Sold out everything in three hours.”

Kevin Peralta and Zerina Bermedez enjoyed the salmon pok rice bowl from Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max food truck. They both said the festival was a good thing for the neighborhood.

“They really should do more of this kind of thing,” Peralta said. “I feel like Chinatown and the International District has a bad rap a lot times, and to allow people to come here and have access to just the general area and not feel threatened, it would put a new face on the district, on the neighborhood.”

This revitalization of Chinatown is part of the reason that CIDBIA organizes the festival. The marketing director, Youli Wang, is hopeful that the International District attracts more people in the future.

“Our goal is we want people to check out the neighborhood on a regular basis,” she said. “We want to kind of break the bridge, the gap, the barrier between the outside people and the neighborhood. We want them to think that it’s a cool neighborhood to hang out in.”

Sam Kenyon is a graduate of the University of Washington and freelance writer in Seattle. He has written for City Living Seattle, the SnoValley Star, myballard.com, and others.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Sam, thanks for helping to spread the word of good, clean fun in the International District. I’m the owner of one of the shops, Momo, which participated in the event as a vendor. In addition to tasty eats and interesting entertainment, there were plenty of booths to browse, from locally made infinity scarves to mid-century modern home furnishings to vintage Japanese dishes (us!). Another great reason to come to Night Market next year. See you then.

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