There is a South East Asian food market held outdoors at FDR Park in Philadelphia, every weekend (Sat and Sun) April thru October.
EVERY. WEEKEND. Half the year! How did I not hear about this sooner?
Fortunately I heard about it on Thursday and was able to attend the last Saturday of the season.
The market is mostly Khmer food, something I have no access to in the DC area. There’s a bit of Viet and Lao thrown in, but mostly the market is Khmer.
It was a glorious day, with perfect weather. FDR Park is supremely pleasant. I had never been there before. It’s like the Boston Common, but bigger and not centrally located.
We planned well and got to the park at 9:30am. The hours were 10am to 5 or 6pm. Vendors were able to sell us food when we got there, and parking was easy, no crowds, and plenty of nearby picnic tables. I could not ask for a better experience, especially with two Chowhounds along for the fun, plus a fourth ‘honorary’ Chowhound who proved to be an educated and enthusiastic eater.
By the time we left, at 12:30pm, the park roads were congested with cars, parking looked impossible, and lines were forming at the stands.
The star of the market is the stuffed chicken wings. Quite a few vendors have them, and I’m not sure it really matters which one you go to. They are surprisingly large and plump with herbs and bean thread noodles.
Next up is the ‘pork dip’ (prahok k’tis), which is soft ground pork in a sauce that has some background heat and sweetness. Made for easy eating and was addictive. The lady gave us some cabbage leaves for dipping, but it tasted equally good using a spoon or fingers or just pouring it directly into my mouth.
Lotus root was made crispy and airy as a lightly sweetened crunchy dessert.
Rice noodles in the shape of fat worms (lort cha) came out smoky hot fresh from the grill.
Chive pancake was quite a bit different form the Chinese wheat version I am used to; these were from glutinous rice flour and plump and oily with chives.
Sweet potato fritters and banana fritters: I have no idea what kind of oil they use, but this was so much better than anything I’ve tasted elsewhere. Like magic. They came out super crispy hot and bubbling with oil.
I am not sure what this is called, but it is a dessert that seems to be made of compressed rice noodle, very well fried and faintly sweet.
I tried 3 different kinds of grilled sausage. Wonderful, varied textures. The sour sausage was my favorite.
Plenty of stands were selling skewers of various meats. These never excite me too much, and I found them all fine but uninteresting.
Potato balls stuffed with a chicken curry were very boring.
What was called ‘sweet and sour beef soup’ was what I would call ‘salty beef soup’ or perhaps ‘powerfully salty.’ I still have a big container of it and I am pretty sure I can doctor it.
The most disappointing item was kanom krok, the dessert of little balls made from rice flour. Rubbery and dull, deeply inferior to what I can get from my local Thai market.