Over Fourth of July weekend, the FoodieLand Night Market made its debut at Golden Gate Fields, bringing another Asian-inspired food festival to the East Bay. Nosh dropped in on Saturday to check it out.
FoodieLand is an attempt to replicate the street food night market experience popular in Asian countries, like Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. This past weekend was the first of three installments to come to the Albany-Berkeley horse racing track, with the next events happening in August and October. Last year, Southern California-based 626 Night Market brought NorCal Night Market to the Alameda Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. Although FoodieLand is not associated with the NorCal Night Market, it’s a similar affair.
As at most food festivals in the Bay Area, the crowds came early, with cars snaking into the Golden Gate Fields parking lot and a line at “will call” even before the event started at 3 p.m. Ironically, the line for people paying at the door was shorter than those who ordered tickets in advance. Admission cost was $5.
FoodieLand hosted about 90 food stalls and food trucks on that first weekend. The vibe was a bit more state fair than night market, owing to the addition of game booths, a performance stage and non-food vendors selling knick-knacks like novelty T-shirts, jewelry and candles.
The line-up of food vendors included typical festival fare, like BBQ skewers, fried chicken, tacos and rice bowls, but there were a few unusual finds, such as the “ramen burrito” by Sacramento Pop-Up Truck. The “David Chang” burrito ($12), which is ramen noodles with pork belly chunks and a nicely fried egg wrapped in a tortilla.
The longest lines were for desserts and boba drinks. People also lined up for the unusual offering by Big Baby Bottle, which sold fruit drinks in large baby bottles — customers could add on a baby bib for an extra cost.
Nina Newman of Sacramento admitted she was enticed by the marketing of baby bottles for adults, although they didn’t live up to her expectations. “I actually thought there would be alcohol in them,” she said, adding that she felt the strawberry-lemonade she tried was bland. The bottle can be used later as a coin bank.
The food prices were on the high end, but typical for an event in the Bay Area. Sharmayne Ramirez of Concord paid $9 for a Hot Cheetos Corn Dog from Oakland-based vendor, Sticks. “It’s kind of expensive for a corn dog,” she said, “but it has a lot of flavor. I like the kick of heat from the Hot Cheetos.”
Sometimes the long lines didn’t necessarily mean a vendor was popular. Mechanical issues added to a few long waits for some. Bred’s Nashville Hot Chicken, a Southern California-based vendor which specializes in Nashville-style fried chicken, had one of the longest queues early on, but a malfunctioning waffle iron reportedly was to blame. Sandy Waddle of San Leandro waited for 25 minutes just to order fried chicken and waffles, then an additional 40 minutes to get her food.
Still, Waddle said, it was worth it. “The savory crust on the chicken is nice and crispy, and the waffle is freshly made.”
While there were lines and waits, it didn’t compare to those at NorCal Night Market’s debut last year, which was notorious for frustrating parking lines, extremely long waits and dust kicking up from the fairgrounds on a hot summer day. The NorCal market returned to the Alameda Fairgrounds in May and is scheduled again for weekends in July and September.
With both FoodieLand and NorCal night markets, there are now two options for Bay Area food lovers hunting for an evening food event primarily focused on Asian and Asian-inspired food vendors, but those seeking a night market experience akin to those in Asia will still have to travel farther.
The next FoodieLand Night Market events take place Aug. 2-4 and Oct. 4-6. at Golden Gate Fields North Lot.
Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.