For those who get confused about which Richmond night market is which, things are much clearer in 2016. You see, the International Summer Market has rebranded into Panda Market. It features less vendors as before, but there is still no shortage of food stalls to be found. One of the positives of being a smaller operation, it is less crowded and parking is easier to find. Oh and there is no entrance fee either. We were treated to a ChineseBites event where we were able to sample a selection of treats from various vendors.
Along with Sean and Amy, we started off strong with the Fried Whole Squid doused in sweet chili sauce. This monstrosity was from the aptly named Sea Monster. It was tender with an appealing chewiness and coated with a super crispy batter. It was a tad greasy, but hey, it was deep-fried! As much as there seemed to be too much sauce, the whole thing remained crispy and not overdressed. Continuing on the same theme, we had a mixed plate of Fried Squid and Grilled Squid from BBQ Squid. The texture of the squid was much more chewy and "snappy" than the whole squid. That didn't mean it wasn't good, just different. I found the fried squid to be firmly crunchy while the sauteed squid had a nice spice and savouriness.
Along with the squid, we had Popcorn Chicken from TW Traditional Snacks which was nicely prepared. The deep fry was uniform where the exterior was crispy-to-crunchy. I liked how they removed the chicken skin, so that there wouldn't be any non-rendered fatty parts. The chicken was well-seasoned with a purposeful amount of saltiness while the meat itself was succulent and juicy. We also got the Takoyaki which were rather large in size. They were rather soft, including the outside, but not in a bad way. The texture was almost creamy in a thick way. It tasted good though.
With what was probably the highlight of the night, we were treated to 2 Skewers each of chicken and lamb (from Xin Jiang A Fan Ti Halal BBQ). We requested them to be spicy and they came as such. However, the heat level wasn't to the point where the other spices and flavours were obscured. In fact, the cumin was rather prevalent as well as the natural meat flavours. We found both meats to be tender and almost juicy while nicely charred on the outside. As for the Pork Okonomiyaki from Pie Pie, we found it rather thin and doughy. Hence, it really didn't have the classic texture we were looking for. Despite the presence of pork and cabbage, we didn't get much of those textures or flavours.
We got the first of 2 Hurricane Potatoes from J&J and it was pretty decent. Coated with starch, it ensured that there was a bit of crispiness to go with the tender and thinly sliced potato. We found it a touch greasy while adequately seasoned. Had to eat it hot though as it wasn't as good when it cooled down. One of the most popular and interesting treats at the market is the Chimney Pastry from Top Dough. I've had one of these before at Transylvannia Traditions and this one was not as good. With that being said, the outside was firmly crunchy and the caramelized sugar provided a sweet crunch. However, on the inside, the dough was a little underdone.
For some inexplicable reason, the Be Fabulous booth didn't allow for us to choose our item and gave us probably the least desirable thing they had on the menu in the Corn Cake. Well, it was to no one's surprise that it was one of the least memorable items we had. It was dense and lacking in flavour. The only thing going for it was the sweet pop from the corn niblets. Interestingly at the Shanghai Special booth, we got an order of the Pork Schnitzel (think Taiwanese deep-fried pork cutlet). That is truly international! It wasn't bad with a crispy breading that wasn't overly greasy. Inside, the pork was a touch dry, but ultimately tender and well-seasoned.
One of the more surprising items was the simplicity of the Fried French Toast from It's Toasty. Well, it didn't look like much with oil glistening from the surface. However, one bite and just past the lightly crispy exterior, the bread was super soft and fluffy. In between the 2 slices of bread was a mango jam that wasn't too sweet, but provided a nice kick of flavour. Onto a familiar dessert, we had the Mango Shaved Ice from Mangoholic. I wasn't a huge fan of the gritty ice, but the mango was solid, being ripe and sweet. The ice cream was pretty decent too as it was creamy and just sweet enough.
Despite the fact it is a franchise, the Warm Pretzel from Mr. Pretzel was money. It was soft and not overly heavy with an appealingly chewy texture. Loved that it was dipped into copious amounts of butter as it was tasty! Even though I was full by now, I still kept picking at it. We got the veritable Bubble Waffle from Ying Kee and it was okay. I liked the crispy exterior shell, but inside, it was too bready for my liking. Flavourwise, it was a little one note being rather sweet where the caramelized aroma from the cooking process was somewhat missing.
With our second Hurricane Potato, it came with a side of Taiyaki from Twist Potato Korean Waffles. Although the first potato was good, this one was even better since it was crispier and the selection of powdered flavours and also sauces made things more interesting. We went for half cheddar and half white cheddar. Some added garlic mayo the mix and it was apparently tasty, but I just didn't want to deal with the mess. As for the taiyaki, there wasn't anything necessarily amiss with it, but I much prefer the croissant version from Snowy Village. This was one was crispy, but lacking in flavour and overall texture.
One of the best sweet items we tried was the Cheese Tarts from Cheese Tarts (yes creative name...). We got one each of the regular and the lavender. I found the fillings in both to be creamy yet not overly heavy. There was definitely hits of cheese while not being too sweet. As much as I can't stand lavender anything, this was not too strong where the cheese flavour still came through. Another dessert was the Mini Donuts (with Reese's Pieces) from Mini Donuts (another creative name). Funny how we couldn't really taste the Reese's Pieces despite seeing them dusted on top. The donuts were still sweet while being soft and warm.
The most novel item of all was the Smoking Sundae from Sweet Lips. The dry ice contained in the double-cup surely added a flair to the drink, but only in visuals only. As for the drink itself, it wasn't offensive nor awesome. With that being said, it wasn't too sweet and pleasant enough. Worth a try if you want people to look at you. 2 more drinks came courtesy of Totoro Bubble Tea and Shake Shake. We got the Milk Tea with pearls and a Lychee Slush also with pearls (even though we asked for jelly). Since we asked for half-sweet, the milk tea was mild-tasting. There was not a very strong tea flavour though. On the other hand, the lychee slush was very sweet as we got full-sugar. It was also a bit icy.
One of the first drinks we got was a Lemonade from Happy Lemon. We were given the option of adding a flavour shot, but stuck with the original lemon. It wasn't overly sweet and had a nice tartness, but for some reason, there was a certain aftertaste. A familiar item was found at Cocoro in the Deep Fried Oreos (found also at the PNE). Of all things strange that are deep-fried, I actually don't mind these as the soft oreos work with the batter. Sure, they're sweet, yet a the same time, they resembled a soft crispy whoppie pie. Well, there you have it, we tried nearly everything a the Panda Market and came away with very full stomachs.
*All food and beverages were complimentary*
- Smaller venue, less busy
- Easier time finding parking
- Not entrance fee
- Smaller venue also means less choice
- Less vendors in general