Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chinatown Market Day, Heffernan Lane, Melbourne CBD

At the moment every third Friday of the month is Hawker night on Heffernan Lane in Chinatown. While of course it doesn’t compare to a south-east Asian night market in terms of quantity, quality or price, it’s still fun and possibly the germ of an idea which can grow into a real, full scale night market.

Most of the fun of a night market to me is in the atmosphere generated by the crowd, the sizzle and smoke from the grill and eating surrounded by everyone else diving into cheap and tasty street food. How does this market do in this regard? Better than you’d expect. It’s packed into a fairly small, narrow strip and that definitely works in its favour. Spread out in Little Bourke Street the stalls would probably look a bit lonely and underwhelming. Push them in close together so that everywhere you turn there are people focused on either buying or eating food and you can close your eyes and begin to imagine yourself in Kuala Lumpur or Taipei.

Currently there are eight or so stalls selling a mix of Malay, Japanese and Taiwanese snacks, cooked hot on the grill while you wait.

Satays, dumplings, our choices were a spring onion pancake (with the lot), some grilled squid and fried rice pudding (cake).

While these lacked a bit of punch in the flavour department I liked watching everything being cooked, smelling the smells and hearing the hiss of the grill and fryer. Then when everything is ready there are a few tables at either end of the lane, perfect for either just sitting down and concentrating on what you have ordered or engaging in conversation with fellow travellers on the street food train.

From a few randomly heard conversations it seemed that others were appreciative of the market, with the one which stood out to me that ‘This is what Chinatown should be like’. And while I’d like it to be much larger, maybe filling Little Bourke from Russell all the way down to Swanston, I do prefer it to the more staid atmosphere of the rest of Chinatown. Because Chinatown was once a living community, somewhere where people lived and worked. Now it’s more like a destination, with restaurants and shops selling things for tourists and the only community orientated businesses a few Asian grocery stores. The street market gives Chinatown a much more vibrant and lived in atmosphere, which otherwise is much stronger in Box Hill (or Springvale, Richmond or Footscray for the Vietnamese community). Go on down and pay it a visit, the more people are interested the more it’s likely to grow.

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