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Crowds descend on Chinatown for first night market of the year

A bustling night market with red lanterns, crowds, and street vendor tents.
Organizers are planning to hold the Chinatown night market on the second Friday of every month through November. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

The smell of dumplings and chicken wafted out of a three-block stretch of Grant Avenue, and the sound of a ruan echoed through the corridor as throngs of people descended on San Francisco’s Chinatown Friday for the first night market of the year.

Organized by BeChinatown, the event was the first of nine planned for 2024. The community-based nonprofit launched the concept last year during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, drawing thousands of visitors to the historic neighborhood. Friday’s event continued the trend of the market’s success.

Derek Tan, a fifth-generation candy maker and owner of the Dragon Papa Dessert, twisted molasses at his vending booth, showcasing the process of making dragon's beard candy—a stringy, white treat filled with peanuts, coconut and sesame seeds.

A person in a white chef's jacket and mask making food behind a clear barrier, watched by police officers.
Derek Tan makes dragon's beard candy at a booth during the night market Friday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Tan said he believes that the night markets, which are planned for the second Friday of each month through November, have created a space for vendors to thrive along one of the more busy veins of Chinatown.

“It is fantastic,” he told The Standard. “You can see how crowded it is, so it has blown away all my expectations.”

Tan, who has a storefront on Grant but wanted to have a booth directly on the street, also participated in last year’s market.

“Being there the first time, it made me want to come back and participate again,” he said.

David Le, a Chinatown native whose parents came to the area in the 1960s, said he was enjoying the event but worried about the influx of people in the neighborhood after a Waymo was set on fire after Lunar New Year celebrations less than a month ago.

“A lot of the people that are setting off large fireworks or engaging in illegal activity aren’t from Chinatown, so it makes me worried, having something like this so soon,” Le said. “I just hope that events like this won’t keep the many people who live on top of the businesses here on Grant from coming and joining in with the night market.”

Two vibrant lion dance costumes perform in a bustling street with red lanterns and onlookers.
Dancers from the LionDanceMe group perform on Grant Avenue. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

As child dancers from San Francisco’s LionDanceMe group wrapped up their performance, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin remarked on the turnout for the event.

“The attendance is amazing,” Peskin, who represents Chinatown, told The Standard. “It is almost as packed as it was during the Lunar New Year parade. I’m absolutely delighted.” 

As she addressed the crowd on the street, Mayor London Breed credited BeChinatown co-founder Lily Lo with the inspiration to make the event a continued reality for the neighborhood.

“This is an amazing community,” Breed said. “It is filled with people, businesses and opportunities to learn, grow and thrive while experiencing joy.”

A woman speaks into a mic, smiling, with colorful lion dance costumes behind her.
Mayor London Breed speaks to the crowd alongside Lily Lo, co-founder of BeChinatown, at the night market on Friday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Referencing the spirit of the dragon—this year’s Chinese zodiac animal—Breed, who is up for reelection this November, said that 2024 in San Francisco should inspire optimism for residents across the city.

“It is the Year of the Dragon, which means progress—which we are making in San Francisco,” Breed said.