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Food Brings People Together at ‘Night Markets’ in West Hartford

Father Andy is at the center of this community, and helps out at Night Markets wherever he's needed. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

The bi-monthly Night Markets, held at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in West Hartford, are open to all, with the next event planned for Saturday, July 16.

Shrimp cakes are cooked to order at the Night Market.

 Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

By Tracey Weiss

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

The Night Market at Saint Andrew Dũng Lạc Parish, the Vietnamese Roman Catholic Quasi Parish at St. Mark the Evangelist, is 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 Phêrô Anrê Mai Đình Anh Tuấn, known to everyone as Father Andy. “We need this here in town. It makes the community better. If you can’t speak Vietnamese, it doesn’t matter. Come to share the love and spirit.”

One of the most popular food stalls at the Night Market was selling eggrolls, chicken wings, fries and sesame balls. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

Those in the know are already showing up at 5:30 p.m. – half an hour early and some from as far as Massachusetts – on the first and third Saturday evenings of the month. Some have gotten in the habit of spreading a picnic blanket or settling in and nabbing one of the more than 100 tables set up, to enjoy the food, karaoke, face painting, balloon artistry, and more.

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

A volunteer at a Night Market in June at the church preps the ingredients to make bowls of pho. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

There’s chicken satay, Vietnamese summer rolls, chicken wings, fried shrimp and pho for sale. Eggrolls, chicken wings and vermicelli with grilled pork line the booths, as do desserts, including sweet coconut mung bean delicacies, stir-fried corn, Thai ice cream, lotus flower cookies, and warm sesame balls. Peach tea, bubble teas, passion fruit juice, and other drinks are for sale.

At a recent market in June, Ngoc Vu was helping to sell desserts made by her mother.

“They’re gluten and dairy free,” she said. “They’re made with rice flour, coconut, mung beans. Peanuts. It’s so much effort to prepare them.”

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

Now, “so many people come and enjoy, talk and laugh,” he added. “My dream is for everyone to come, enjoy music, food, and friendship. It doesn’t matter who you are, come and enjoy. Bring your friends. Smile.

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

Father Andy is at the center of this community. At the Night Markets, he can be found taking care of people, making sure everyone is happy and has what they need, or even lending a hand to serve food when the lines get too long. He doesn’t like to take the credit, though. “There are lots of volunteers, they work really hard. Without them I can’t do anything.”

Father Andy, pictured holding banh me, is the parish priest of Saint Andrew Dũng Lạc, the bi-monthly Night Market at the Vietnamese Roman Catholic Quasi Parish at St. Mark the Evangelist. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

While the numbers were smaller during the height of the pandemic, “it was special that it was still happening, especially for the older people, Vu said. “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 evening’s emcee, warming up the crowd and inviting them to come up and sing some karaoke.

“It brings joy and happiness, for Catholic and non-Catholic people,” 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 to come to the Night Fair last year. “The food is so good,” Arlena said.

Arlena and her daughter, Juliana, 5, enjoy the Night Market. Juliana had her face painted at the event. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

Another event-goer, James Chodulski, agrees. “I’m a sucker for the eggrolls.”

Nights Market in 2022 continue on July 16, Aug. 6 and 20, Sept. 3 and 17, and Oct. 1 and 15.

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

Volunteers make Thai ice cream rolls at the Night Market. 

Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

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

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