The OC Night Market

The OC Night Market has been on my list of things to do in Orange County for the longest time. This modern food fair is inspired by Asian eats of all kinds, from sushi burritos to pork belly gua bao. Best of all, it’s a place where munching, nibbling, and sipping are entirely acceptable and in fact, celebrated!There are several perks to taking part in an Asian food fair and free Pocky is one of them. Upon entering the market, we were greeted by a cheery red Pocky truck, with a costumed lady handing out boxes of Pejoy, otherwise known as inside out Pocky. After trying them, I’m officially convinced that regular Pocky are superior to this new invention, but nonetheless I am always thankful for handouts.
There are two main drinks to refresh with when at the OC Night Market…the first is Japanese beer and the other is tea. Many of the teas at the market are served Taiwanese style, infused with modern additions like tapioca boba and fruit jellies. These certainly aren’t your $30 per ounce variety of teas, but they are satisfying, perfectly portable, and best of all…tasty!Here’s a view of some black tea leaves post-steeping, used for making Hong Kong Milk Tea. This Chinese twist on a British classic is one of my favorites, a balanced blend that’s bold and creamy. I tried to make small talk with the tea guy at this booth hoping to find out exactly what kind of tea leaves they used, but he was super secretive about it and refused to budge. I’m guessing a mix of Ceylon, Assam, or English Breakfast. Any ideas?Food on a stick is popular at the OC Night Market. But unlike the deep-fried corn dogs and twinkies you find at your local state fair, Asian food on a stick tends to be low-carb. Korean beef, Thai spiced chicken, lobster balls…a skewered snack in one hand and a cup of chilled tea in the other and you’re set.Here was my first tea choice of the day, Watermelon Green Tea, made from fresh watermelon juice and jasmine green tea. Only mildly sweet, this cooling refresher is easy to make at home and ideal for sipping on as the days longer and hotter. And speaking of hotter, how cute is this dim sum inspired tank top? In addition to all the fair food, you can expect many craft and art vendors at the OC Night Market. I can’t say that I would be comfortable sporting this tank around, but I can certainly appreciate the person who could.
In addition to all the regular booth vendors, you’ll also find several food trucks a the OC Night Market. It’s always great to know you can hunt down your favorite food finds long after the fair is over. Buddha Bing and Tokyo Doggie Style are a few of the food trucks that caught my eye. Non-dairy boba milk tea? Leave it to the food trucks to think of everything!
If you plan on making it to one of the future night markets, it’s a good idea to get there early. Just as the sun starts setting, you can expect seriously long lines. One of the longest lines we came across was for takoyaki, pancake-like balls made from a wheat-based batter with pieces of octopus mixed in. Takoyaki are delicious when served with hot green teas, especially savory ones like genmaicha.
Our last stop of the evening was for twice cooked pork belly buns. What set these buns apart from your everyday Chinese buns is that they are deep-fried after being steamed, and hence twice cooked. The filling inside the buns was much like char siu pork filling, except less reddish in color and also less sweet. I suppose the less sweet filling was to accommodate for condensed milk, drizzled atop the hot buns just before serving (yes, you read that right!).
If you’re a foodie coming through SoCal at the right time, you should definitely check out the OC Night Market in Costa Mesa or it’s sister food fair, the 626 Night Market in Arcadia. These food fairs typically run 2-3 times a year, and the venues continue to grow in size as they grow in popularity. Come thirsty, hungry, and with an open mind and I’m sure you’ll find some tea foods that you never even knew existed!

Homemade Chocolate Pocky

If you aren’t already familiar, Pocky are those easy-to-eat stick biscuit cookies from Japan that come in that catchy red box.  These handy and delicious biscuits are popular enough now that you can commonly find them in the Asian food aisle of your local market.  Having an almost cult-like following, Pocky are easily the most loved cookie in Asian American culture, like an Oreo cookie of the East!

Pocky are really such a perfect snack, you may wonder why anyone would ever bother making them at home.  My answer to this is that making Pocky at home is almost as delightfully fun as getting to eat them.  For me, the challenge is making them with as much precision as possible, the way I imagine they are made at the Pocky factory, wherever that may be.

I’m doing a Pocky Series this week, where I’ll be sharing 3 easy recipes for Homemade Pocky in some tasty variations to make your time worthwhile.  Today we’ll start with the classic: Chocolate Pocky, the most popular and recognizable of all Pocky varieties.

It all starts with toasted grissini, or thin Italian bread sticks.  I found mine in the bakery section of Safeway/Vons here in California.  I like to use the grissini that are most uniform in size and shape.  These thin bread sticks also come in more rustic style where each stick is more free form and not as straight, so it’s totally up to you which type you use, just make sure to grab the package that is plain in flavor…no garlic bread sticks here!  Since grissini are super long, you’ll use a serrated knife to cut them to a more Pocky-like height before dipping.

Use only the best quality chocolate can find here.  I like to mix a good semi-sweet chocolate with Swiss dark chocolate for a bit of bitterness and depth.  And since we aren’t going through all the effort of actually tempering, be careful not to over heat the chocolate during the melting process.  Just when it’s gently melted and beautifully glossy, it’s ready for dipping.

And as a riff on the original, I’m also making some decorated Pocky with crushed hazelnuts.  Some other yummy toppings might be salty roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, or even some macadamia nut bits for a Hawaiian twist!

I’m decorating another set of the cookies with some naturally dyed sprinkles I found at Homegoods the other day.  The just-off primary colored sprinkles make the Homemade Pocky look extra charming and party ready–a fun twist on Pocky that you can’t just grab off the grocery market shelf.  If you are interested in these all-natural sprinkles, I found some online, where they have several other colors to pick from.

Homemade Pocky make a festive confection for parties, yet they can also make the most elegant light dessert with a cup of after dinner tea.  I consider them like chocolate bark on a stick–super easy to make, even easier to eat, and always a crowd pleaser.

If you love Pocky treats, stay tuned!  I have a few more Pocky-licious creations that I’ll be posting about in the next few days!

Homemade Chocolate Pocky

Makes about 30 stick cookies.

Ingredients:

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate

6 oz dark chocolate

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 package of grissini, cut into 5″ pieces with serrated knife to make 30 sticks

1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts

sprinkles

Equipment:

serrated knife

double boiler

rubber spatula

tea towel

large baking sheet fitted with parchment paper

small baking sheet or plate fitted with parchment paper

tall, narrow drinking glass, at least 6″ tall

Directions:

1.  Fill bottom of double boiler with water, making sure the water doesn’t make contact with the base of the top bowl of the double boiler.  Bring water to a gentle simmer (bring water to boil, then reduce to very low heat).  Place semi-sweet chocolate in top bowl of double boiler.  Using rubber spatula, gently melt the semi-sweet chocolate.  When the semi-sweet chocolate has almost all melted, add the dark chocolate and mix together.  When all the chocolate is just melted, mix in the vegetable oil, remove from heat, and wipe steam off the outside of the bowl with a tea towel.

2.  Carefully pour the melted chocolate into the drinking glass to a height of 4″.  Keep the remaining melted chocolate aside, preferably in a warm place.

3.  Dip the cut grissini into the melted chocolate leaving the top 1″ undipped.  Gently shake off any excess chocolate, then place the dipped cookie on the small baking sheet or plate fitted with parchment (I used a paper plate).  Let the Pocky stick sit here for about a minute to allow any excess chocolate to pool onto the parchment/paper plate.

4.  Transfer the stick to the large parchment lined baking sheet to fully dry.  Refill chocolate in glass to 4″ as needed.  Repeat the dipping process with the remaining grissini.  The Pocky take about 2 hours to fully dry/harden.  In a pinch, you can place them in the fridge to speed up the drying process.  Homemade Pocky are best eaten within a day or two, as the bread sticks tends to soften with time.  You can use leftover dipping chocolate for baking or fondue!

Variation:  Generously or lightly scatter finely chopped nuts or sprinkles on the dipped Pocky before transferring the cookie sticks onto the large parchment lined baking sheet.