June 26, 2022



Houston’s real Asian Night Market, Asian food scene are as awesome as ‘Top Chef’ makes them look

4 min read

It’s no secret that Houston offers some of the best Asian food in the country, a fact that’s made abundantly clear if one is lucky enough to catch the Asian Night Market on one of the few nights a year it takes place.

So it makes sense that “Top Chef” dedicated an entire episode paying homage to this event during its Houston-based season.

Hosted by the Vietnamese Community of Houston and Vicinities, the real Asian Night Market held at Hong Kong City Mall is a favorite for anyone interested in sampling street food from across the vast Asian continent. Stalls feature dishes from Vietnam of course, in addition to offerings from Japan, China and Pacific Island nations, among others.

The Asian Night Market is not on a set schedule and had scaled back during the COVID-19 pandemic. Houstonians had to hear about it from word-of-mouth or catch a glimpse of an announcement on the organization’s Facebook page.

Perfectly timed with its nod on “Top Chef” this week, the Asian Night Market is returning March 26 and 27 at Little Saigon Plaza and May 14 and 15 at Railway Heights Market. And the event now has an Instagram page, created last October.

At their own Asian Night Market, each of the 13 remaining “Top Chef” contestants was tasked with drawing a knife that bears the name of the cuisine they must take inspiration from for the Elimination challenge. In the chopping block: Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese.

To guide them, the contestants got to taste food from an impressive roster of local chefs representing their specialty, a testament to the diversity and breadth within Houston’s Asian food scene.

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Chef Christine Ha of Blind Goat and Xin Chao, right, and her husband John Suh, make an appearance on an episode of "Top Chef: Houston."

Chef Christine Ha of Blind Goat and Xin Chao, right, and her husband John Suh, make an appearance on an episode of “Top Chef: Houston.”

David Moir/Bravo

Heavy hitters offering Vietnamese dishes included Crawfish and Noodles’ Trong Nguyen, who has been vitally important to the advancement of Viet-Cajun cuisine in Houston. He was joined by Christine Ha of Blind Goat and Xin Chào, a Masterchef winner who is fresh off the announcement that she is a James Beard Award finalist in the “Best Chef: Texas” category this year.

Chef Kiran Verma, of the inimitable fine-dining Indian restaurant Kiran’s, returns to the show, along with Kaiser Lashkari of Himalaya, whose Indian fusion fried chicken has a cult following in Houston. They both showcased South Asian food flavors and techniques.

Chinese examples included Mala Sichuan Bistro’s spicy mapo tofu, and Cantonese-style dumpling soup and ginger scallion egg noodles by chef Elaine Won of Dumpling Haus.

Shun Japanese Kitchen’s chef and owner Naoki Yoshida served karaage, a Japanese fried chicken, and we got a glimpse of the Filipino food chef Andrew Musico will serve at his soon-to-open Fattest Cow (slated for early 2022).

With the tasting done, the chefs dispersed to shop at their assigned specialty stores. Though it required navigating Houston’s freeways, everyone seemed to safely arrive at their destinations, which again showed off Houston’s bounty to a T: pan-Asian grocery stores 99 Ranch Market, Hong Kong Food Market and Viet Hoa International Foods; Japanese specialist Seiwa Market; and Subhlaxmi Grocers in Little India.

It’s at Viet Hoa that we see hometown chef Evelyn Garcia in her element. The born-and-raised Houstonian specializes in Southeast Asian cuisine, as evidenced by her product line, Kin, which includes condiments and spice rubs informed by years of work at high-end Asian restaurants in New York and abroad.

Garcia gamely helped her two fellow contestants competing in the Vietnamese food category as they wandered Viet Hoa’s aisles, offering information on the spices to use and pointing them in the right direction to sections of the store.

Houston chef Evelyn is in her comfort zone in the third episode of "Top Chef" season 19.

Houston chef Evelyn is in her comfort zone in the third episode of “Top Chef” season 19.

David Moir/Bravo

Her expertise panned out at the reimagined Night Market, held at POST Houston’s rooftop park, where Garcia landed in the top three for her dish, a chilled chicken salad with rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), rambutan, avocado crema and sesame crisps.

Other contestants’ dishes were hits, too. Jae Jung of New York came out on top for her stir-fried udon with Chinese sausage, Korean melon and ramen topping.

Even California’s Jackson Kalb ranked in the top three, redeeming himself somewhat for last week’s crispy queso blunder by producing a fresh spring roll with sausage, shallot and pho reduction (the spices for which Garcia helped him find).

Unfortunately, the delightful chef-educator Sam Kung had to pack his knives and go after a fatal error of judgment: grilling raw potatoes for his potato curry. There was no coming back from that.

Though most of us weren’t lucky enough to be one of the 100 guests who sampled the bites from the contestants that night, the benefit of living in Houston is that we can attend the real Asian Night Market next weekend.

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