Customers try on the traditional Vietnamese nón lá before making their purchases. (Riona Sheik / L.A. Times HS Insider)
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Arcadia’s 626 Night Market celebrates Asian culture

Residents from all corners of Southern California flock to the 626 Night Market to immerse themselves in the aromatic and bustling Santa Anita Park.

The 626 Market, named after its Arcadia area code, is the largest Asia-inspired market in the United States and takes place throughout the summer on various three-day weekends. The market represents the local Asian American community by promoting small businesses in the San Gabriel Valley.

“[The market] is so unique because you can see foods from all different parts of the world, focusing specifically on Asia,” said 23-year-old East Los Angeles resident Steven Diaz. “I love coming here to get real, authentic Asian food.”

The market is home to about 150 vendors who sell anything from outlandish fusion foods to homemade sandalwood soaps. Accompanying these vendors were live performances of popular Korean Pop songs, electronic dance music, and traditional Chinese folklore dances.

“[The 626 Market] reminds me so much of the markets back in China,” said 16-year-old Bernette Xiao, who frequents the market annually with her mother. “It’s crazy how similar they are.”

Aside from the more traditional foods such as Vietnamese Pho or fried Giant Squid, the 626 Night Market is also home to many modernized versions of these age old foods. Here you can see a variety of fusion foods that are representative of Southern California’s diverse demographics.

Norigami Tacos specializes in their own trademark dishes where they incorporate classic Japanese flavors within the universal concept of a taco. Their nori tacos consist of a deep-fried nori — seaweed — as the taco shell with rice and selected fillings.

Each dish is handcrafted and carefully paired with complementary flavors and seasoning. The LA/Orange County pop-up shops emphasizes their dishes as not only fusion food but artwork.

“It’s so creative,” said Beverly Hills resident, Alejandra Bergquist. “I’m Hispanic and Asian and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s so cool to see both of my cultures represented in one dish.”

With the strobing lights and pulsing music, the market shifts to a lively, illuminated space as the warm Arcadia sun promptly sets.

Aside from the main food trucks and vendors, there are also many artisan craft booths that boast anything from jewelry to the traditional Vietnames nón lá (leaf hat).

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One booth in particular, had customers make their own handmade soaps using Chinese folk methods and herbal scents.

“There’s a little something for everyone,” said Aditi Shah on her very first visit to the market. “It’s not often that I can eat and experience so many different cultures at once.”

Every three-day weekend of the 626 Night Market attracts about 100,000 attendees, according to their website. For those who cannot attend the Arcadia markets, there are small-scale versions of the 626 in both Orange County and Northern California.

With diverse vendors and live entertainment, it’s perhaps no surprise the market is so popular in the area and continues to bring Asian culture and food to Southern California.

“It’s not only the food that brings people to the 626 Night Market, it’s the culture,” Xiao said.