A traditional night market gives you a taste of the city

Strolling through a night market is a great way to get to know a city. Every cent matters as you engage in the fun of bartering for the best price to ensure you get a bargain.
A traditional night market gives you a taste of the city
courtesy of Sun Jiewei

Sichuan-style spicy skewers in Wushan Night Market

Strolling through a night market is a great way to get to know a city. Here, every cent matters as you engage in the fun of bartering for the best price to get a bargain. Engaging in the art of haggling isn’t the only enjoyable experience of the night market. Food stalls are another appetizing delight to behold.

In 2010, local authorities released an action plan for developing night markets in Hangzhou, and there are now 19 of them dispersed in seven districts. 

A night market enriches the evening life of local communities and is a selling point for attracting tourists. Yet they also pose questions for administration, on how to balance the interests between residents and merchants.

Shanghai Daily visited three classic night markets in Hangzhou and were introduced their best-selling food stalls.

A traditional night market gives you a taste of the city
Courtesy of Sun Jiewei

Crispy corncob at Wushan night market

Wushan Night Market

The night market is the oldest and most plebeian among all such trading areas in Hangzhou. It was originally a casual flea market on Wushan Road, selling antiques, silk and other local products.

In 2003, the market moved to Huixing Road and Renhe Road. The L-shaped market presently holds 467 vendors with products ranging from cosmetics, clothing, toys and other accessories. Eateries on one side of Renhe Road began to spring up as a dining area.

The market opens every day from 6pm through 11pm. Located in a populous residential area, concerns over sanitation and noise have been raised by local residents. 

The local government has always hoped to relocate it to a place easier for administration. But the market still persists. 

After two weeks of overhaul earlier this month, it reopened on September 13. Memories of those popular street foods also come back into view.

In the autumn of 2015, a food stall in the market suddenly inundated China’s social media such as Weibo. The food that went viral among netizens is a kind of crispy corncob. And at its peak time, there were 15 such stalls within a distance less than 100 meters.

There are still two vendors left peddling the corncob delicacy, and other fried foodstuffs such as bananas or chicken fillet. 

The corncob is coated in a mixture of corn starch and beaten eggs. 

After deep-frying for a few minutes, the corncob is then dipped in ketchup, mayonnaise, Nutella or even spicy sauces.

A traditional night market gives you a taste of the city

Wulin Night Market

Wulin Night Market

On September 5, two foreigners hawking Russian ice creams on Wulin Road caught the eyes of many passers-by. They were actually part of the “Hangzhou International Day” event organized by the market.

Launched in 2013, the market is in an unparalleled location on Longyou pedestrian street, with one end connecting Wulin Road, Hangzhou’s fashion street dominated by women’s clothing stores, the other end leading to West Lake, within five minutes’ walk. Next to it sits a cinema opening through midnight. The market is therefore targeted by a younger generation. 

They also invite clay sculpture artists and spray painters to attract tourists, which now becomes a feature of the market.

The market has an indoor food court offering street cuisine across the country, from Sichuan malatang (meat and vegetable skewers cooked in a spicy hot pot), Chongqing hot and sour rice noodles, Xinjiang lamb skewers and clam soup common in seaside places.

What you can’t miss out on is the locals’ favorite midnight refresher crayfish. The crayfish is sautéed and boiled, with the entire body, in a wok seasoned with all kinds of spices. The delight of eating crayfish greatly lies in the process of removing shells.

The food court also serves rice bowls topped with shelled crayfish. The late night dining culture in the area has also benefited other restaurants on the neighboring Louyou Street and Wulin Road.

A traditional night market gives you a taste of the city

Zhongshan road night market

Zhongshan Road S. Night Market

If there’s only one night market to visit in Hangzhou, most people would recommend Zhongshan Road S.

The road was an imperial main street during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) when Hangzhou was the capital of the empire. It used to be the route emperors took on their annual pilgrimages. Historic remains of the Imperial Ancestral Temple can still be found in Taimiao Lane, extending vertically from the main road.

Local government changed it into a “gourmet street” in 2010. Every day from 6pm to 2am, the street is crowded with more than 200 food stalls including barbecues, seafood boils, rice vermicelli, meat skewers, and other famous dim sums from around the globe.

Foreigners may be horrified seeing skewers of insects but they are local delicacies originating from Kunming in Yunan Province. Pieces of centipede, scorpion and silkworm are deep fried until they are crispy from inside out. And what kind of street food can best represent Hangzhou? There are two things you must try: stinky tofu and shallot stuffed pancake.

The Hangzhou-style stinky tofu is smaller in size and served with ketchup. While the pancake is actually related to a military general, Yue Fei (1103-42), known for his achievement in defeating invaders of Jurchen.

Locals believe it was Qin Hui, his counterpart, and the chancellor of the empire who was involved in his imprisonment and final death. As his name “Hui” is the same character for a kind of fried cruller, locals press the cruller-stuffed pancake into a flattened shape to vent off their anger.

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