Food brings people together at West Hartford’s ‘Night Markets’ – Wee Ha

The fortnightly night markets, which take place at St Mark’s Evangelical Church in West Hartford, are open to all, and the next event is scheduled for Saturday, July 16.

Shrimp cakes are cooked to order at the night market. Image source: Tracey Weiss

Written by Tracy Weiss

Twice a month there is a huge party on South Quaker Lane, and everyone is invited.

The night market in Saint Andrew Dũng Lạc Parish, a quasi-Vietnamese Roman Catholic parish on St. Mark the Evangelist, is all about food, family, and lots of fun. Hundreds of people show up to enjoy the event.

“Food brings people closer. We talk and share,” said Viru Anhri Mi Anh Anh Twain, known to everyone as Father Andy. “We need this here in the city. It makes the community better. If you can’t speak Vietnamese, it doesn’t matter. Come to share love and soul.”

One of the most popular food stalls in the night market was selling eggrolls, chicken wings, french fries and sesame balls. Image source: Tracey Weiss

Those they know actually show up at 5:30 p.m. — half an hour early and some from as far away as Massachusetts — on the first and third Saturday evenings of the month. Some are used to spreading a picnic blanket or settling down and grabbing one of the more than 100 tables set up to enjoy food, karaoke, face painting, balloon art, and more.

Church members volunteer their time and talent to run the many stalls of homemade food and packaged merchandise for sale. Proceeds from each event go back to the church.

A volunteer at a June night market at the church prepares ingredients for making bowls of pho. Image source: Tracey Weiss

At a recent market in June, Ngoc Pho was helping sell sweets made by her mother.

“It’s free of gluten and dairy,” she said. “They are made with rice flour, coconut, and mung beans. Peanuts. It is a huge effort to prepare them.”

Father Andy started the events four years ago. “I was thinking about how hard everyone works and how they need a way to relax. Enjoy themselves. Life is too short. Food is a way to bring everyone together.”

Now he added, “A lot of people come in and have fun and talk and laugh.” “My dream is for everyone to come and enjoy the music, the food and the friendship. No matter who you are, come and have fun. Bring your friends. Smiling.

“Forget the church here. Come here to connect with life.”

Father Andy is the focus of this community. In the night markets, he can be found taking care of people, making sure everyone is happy and have what they need, or even lending a helping hand to serve food when the lines are long. However, he does not like to be given credit for. “There are a lot of volunteers, and they work really hard. Without them I can do nothing.”

Father Andy, pictured holding Banh Li, is the parish priest of Saint Andrew Dong Lik, the bimonthly night market in the Vietnamese Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint Mark’s Evangelist. Image source: Tracey Weiss

While the numbers were lower during the height of the epidemic, Fu said, “It was a special thing that it was still happening, especially for the elderly. It makes a huge difference.”

Ánh Đôn Lê is a member of the parish council, and teaches communion for the church. She serves as the head of the evening, warming the crowd and inviting them to come up and sing some karaoke.

“It brings joy and happiness to Catholics and non-Catholics,” she said. “It’s a big family here,” she said of the church. “We keep the culture alive. We bring joy and happiness.”

Arlena and her daughter Juliana, 5, started coming to the night fair last year. “The food is very good,” Arlena said.

Arlena and her daughter Juliana, 5, enjoy the night market. Juliana was drawn on her face at the event. Image source: Tracey Weiss

Another event leader, James Chudolsky, agrees. “I’m a sucker for eggrolls.”

The Night Market in 2022 will run on July 16, August 6 and 20, September 3 and 17, and October 1 and 15.

The church also plans two special events: an international music and food festival and cultural demonstrations on July 17 (2-6 p.m.) and a fall festival on September 3. More information can be found on the website or Facebook page.

Volunteers making Thai ice cream rolls at the night market. Image source: Tracey Weiss

A version of this article previously appeared in the July 2022 issue of West Hartford LIFE.

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