SF’s Chinatown night market may be the best thing about APEC

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Crowds surround lion dancers on Grant Street during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Crowds surround lion dancers on Grant Street during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

San Francisco’s Chinatown came alive on Friday night as thousands of people descended on Grant Avenue in a celebration of the city’s Asian culture and an unofficial welcome event for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. APEC begins today and will draw world leaders including President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The night market, which took place between Pine and Sacramento, will continue for a second night on Saturday.

Lion dancers prepare to entertain on Grant Street during Chinatown’s Night Market in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Lion dancers prepare to entertain on Grant Street during Chinatown’s Night Market in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Lion dancers accompanied by a small drum corp took over Grant Avenue, with a packed crowd following the performance as it wove down the street. Once a traditional performance from San Francisco’s high school LionDanceME club concluded, the street thinned out revealing 25 food vendors lining the sidewalk. 

Paper tickets are used for purchases during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Paper tickets are used for purchases during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

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A ticketing system for purchases (one ticket for $5) helped speed along transactions at food booths, but demand was so high that many vendors ran low on their offerings by 7:00 p.m. None of the vendors were permitted to cook onsite, but with close proximity to their restaurants, it was easy to keep a steady stream flowing of deliveries of piping hot clamshells packed with Vietnamese eggrolls, Chinese pork buns and a wide variety of noodles. Less common offerings included Chinese tea eggs served by Zhu Tea, hard-boiled treasures that mixed floral tea flavors with a hint of soy sauce.

Henry Chen of AA Bakery ices cupcakes to purchase during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Henry Chen of AA Bakery ices cupcakes to purchase during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

The most eye-catching booth was AA Bakery, whose 61-year-old proprietor Henry Chen meticulously iced cupcakes as attendees captured his skill on their phones. While most vendors seemed charmingly unprepared for the massive crowds, AA Bakery’s operation was much more streamlined. Having operated in San Francisco for 32 years, they had a catering truck parked nearby ready to replenish their supply of egg tarts and other delicacies.

“We make cupcake flowers for the kids, for parties, it’s fun. We’re real busy, it’s crazy,” Chen said, as he took a short break from his 15 minutes of Instagram stardom.

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Meanwhile a block away, a dance circle grooved to a soundtrack of wedding hits (and a couple curveballs like Lou Rawls’s “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”), with dancers clutching purple rice yogurt drinks from Enter The Cafe, whose brick and mortar is located a few blocks away on Powell Street. Small firecrackers snapped sporadically, growing in frequency over the course of the night like a bag of microwaved popcorn. But the din never came close to Chinese New Years levels.

Streets are filled with people walking down Grant Street during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Streets are filled with people walking down Grant Street during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

The lively event served as a warm welcome for the 30,000 anticipated visitors arriving in the city for APEC, as well as a boon for Chinatown retail businesses, which buzzed with customers late into the evening. 

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Food for sale during Chinatown’s night market in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Food for sale during Chinatown’s night market in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Bubble tea is enjoyed during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Bubble tea is enjoyed during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Food is served during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Food is served during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

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Two revelers enjoy a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Two revelers enjoy a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Streets are filled with people walking down Grant Street during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Streets are filled with people walking down Grant Street during a night market in Chinatown in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, November 10, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

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