Leandro Lagera and Stepanie Hsu were a little overwhelmed by the reception of the inaugural Charm City Night Market last year, when 12,000 people packed the site of the city’s former bustling Chinatown near Park Avenue downtown to celebrate Asian American culture, arts, and food. This year, the Night Market is set to return on September 21—and with the proper mechanisms in place, it’s set to be bigger and better than before.
“I’m most excited that we’re having the event again,” says Lagera, founding member of The Chinatown Collective, which organizes the festival. “From last year, we were quite surprised with the attention it received and the amount of people that came. And throughout the year leading up to this one we had gotten positive reception and attention.”
The free market exists again this year because of its initial success and the resulting outreach not just from the Chinatown Collective, but from outside voices who want to be involved. This year, the vision is grander, from a geographical footprint—the market will expand to almost twice its previous size, stretching from the green space at 200 Park Avenue all the way to Center Plaza—to the different activities and vendors.
“We don’t feel the need to plant our flag,” Lagera says. “We know we already are a part of the Baltimore community. What the statement is for us is we want to find a place where we can celebrate our daily lives and culture.”
This time around, the event will feature performances from Baltimore natives TT The Artist and Jae Jin, as well as the Baltimore debut of spoken word Filipina hip-hop artist Ruby Ibarra. There will also be plenty of food, as vendors have been advised to cook to capacity to accommodate the anticipated crowds of nearly 20,000. Among the restaurants participating are Ekiben, Thai Street, Bmore Mochichi, and Lei Musubi. Washington D.C.-based chefs Erik Bruner-Yang and Kevin Tien will also be slinging street versions of dishes from their sit-down eateries.
The Night Market is also introducing a special ticketed experiencing called The Joy Luck Club to be held at One Charles Center. It will feature smaller-scale food vendors showcasing fare from China, The Philippines, Hawaii, and Sri Lanka. Chef Seung Luangrath of Thip Khao, Hanumanh, and Sen Khao in Washington, D.C. will give a cooking demonstration, and the bar will be run by Lane Harlan of Clavel and Phil Han of Dooby’s. Also be on the lookout for a special beer that Key Brewing has created specifically for the event.
“It’s not about establishing a one night festival,” Hsu says. “This year, we had discussions about defining the line between cultural consumption and cultural exchange—the two are intertwined at times. We want folks to come out and try new food and see new cultural traditions.”
At its core, this is what the Night Market is about. Its location in Chinatown is an important part of its fabric. Hsu says the first year of the market and the conversations that resulted from it were surrounded by considering people, place, and community development. To that end, the market will have art installations, to as Hsu says, “foster conversations around identity and heritage.”
Patrons will also be able to take in games of nine-man volleyball, a pick-up basketball style of the sport that dates back decades in Chinatown. In total, these experiences are part of an idea that continues to evolve, and if all goes well, will be around for many years to come.
“We hope that this year is an expansion on last year not only in geographical footprint,” Hsu says, “but also in the way people continue to engage, think about, and interact with Asian Americans and the community at large.”