John Wang, the founder of the Queens Night Market, is self-effacing, and is always ready with a witty turn of phrase. The former corporate lawyer is the tour de force behind the popular annual food and cultural event that draws over a 100 vendors from vastly diverse backgrounds from across New York City.
“The mission of the night market was always to be the most affordable and diverse community space,” said Wang speaking to Epicenter-NYC. “If you’re going to have the most diverse audience, you necessarily need one of the most diverse vendor roster. Our curatorial parameters and priorities since day one have always been to maximize diversity. Since 2015, when we opened, we’ve had about 95 countries represented through their food at the night market.”
At a preview event held at the commercial kitchen of the Entrepreneur Space in Long Island City, cuisines from four different continents sparked a frenzy of eating, photos, videos and conversations.
Whole families were involved in making bun kababs and batatas (fried potato balls) of Chaska (Karachi, Pakistan) or the yummy plum pork and gelatinous peanut rice balls of Muah Chee Alley (Fujian Province, China). Others like Hana (Iran) of Persian Eats and Gladys of Sambuxa (Sudan), operated their stalls solo, serving up delicious dizi (slow cooked lamb with flatbread) or the triangular fried and stuffed sambuxas that are enjoyed in various avatars across South East and Central Asia and many countries in Africa.
Most vendors who take part in the Queens Night Market aren’t in it for the profits, explained Wang, who has fought to keep prices capped to an affordable $5-6 for a plate of food, throwing the event open to New Yorkers of all means.
“Anecdotally, a third of the vendors are looking to test the waters to check whether they fit. For another third it’s an important revenue stream for Saturday nights. And the last third said the point is to spend time with their family and share their culture and their stories with New York City. The entire family is under the tent having fun. And they couldn’t care less if they made five bucks or lost 10 bucks,” shared Wang. The market will also include a series of small business seminars aimed to help vendors.
At the end of the preview event, when the cameras and mini lights were put away and the questions to the vendors had ceased, there was a moment of conviviality. Vendors were tasting each other’s food, oohing and ahhing over the deep mole flavors of Nixtamal (Mexican) or the rich beef stew and injera (fermented pancakes) of Emeye (Ethiopian) or guffawing over the tongue in cheek dish names (breakup roll, rebound roll) of the Karachi Kabab Boiz.
In this moment the true nature of the Queens Night Market emerged, with Wang peering at the event he had created, from his corner manning the all important booze stall. This was as much about cooks learning from each other as it was for the public to sample their wares. It was about a community of home cooks, stepping into the food industry, hand in hand.
Wang summed up the Queens Night Market experience by saying, “I would really like people to take away either the energy or the story from the vendors. Maybe you’ve eaten something you’ve never heard of, maybe you’re hearing music that you’ve never heard. To be open to absorbing and celebrating the diversity of New York City.”
The Queens Night Market will run on Saturday nights, 5 p.m. to midnight, from April 15 to Oct. 28, 2023. It will start with two ticketed special preview events ($5) on April 15 and 22 and entry will be free from April 29 onward. It will take place at the New York Hall of Science in Corona Park, Flushing Meadows.