The pungent smell of food filled the air at the Night It Up! food festival and market. Not even the entrance was saved from the strong aroma of stinky tofu.
Hordes of food lovers lined up around the cluster of white food tents to get a taste of exotic Asian food ranging from lamb and beef kebabs to oyster omelets and marinated seaweed.
The two-day festival’s 10th anniversary kicked off on the sunny evening of July 15. Chris Yau, president of the Power Unit Youth Organization (PUYO), took the stage at the opening ceremonies to thank everyone for coming out and supporting the event.
“Walk around the night market, go play at our booths, go eat some exotic foods like stinky tofu, and please make this night a night you will never forget!” she said.
PUYO, a Toronto youth-driven non-profit group that promotes youth development and empowerment, started Night it Up! to raise money for beneficiaries such as the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care and Other Half, an initiative to encourage Chinese Canadians to take part in stem cell research.
Also present to offer a few words of support was Markham Deputy Mayor Jack Heath, who riled up the crowd.
“We’re really happy that Night it Up! is here at the Markham Civic Centre. Do you agree? Are you glad you’re here?” Heath asked the cheering crowd.
The festival moved from Metro Square to the Markham Civic Centre this year to accommodate more programming. This year features 120 vendors, live communal painting, and an outdoor movie screening of Hong Kong action movie Ip Man 2.
PUYO staff member Lilian Zhang said the festival is a hub for teens and young people, the reason the youth-organized event is successful at raising funds for good causes.
Having raised over $65,000 in previous years, Zhang, 24, said this year’s goal is to raise $10,000 for Sleeping Children Around the World, an organization that provides bed kits to children in developing countries.
But apart from raising money for non-profits, the festival is also a place for young entrepreneurs to gain some exposure.
“Some of our vendors are youth vendors and they want to experiment before they want to open their own restaurants,” Zhang said. “They buy a booth here to try it out and see if it works.”
Night It Up! visitor Michael Chiu, 18, said it’s a nice place to try new foods. He’s one of 60,000 visitors expected to attend this year.
“I came because I go every year,” Chiu said, “Mainly for the atmosphere and to chill with friends.”
Just this year, he and his friends tried pineapple smoothies straight out of a pineapple, takoyaki (grilled octopus) and tornado chips, fried potato chips on a stick.
Similar Asian food festivals and markets such as the Waterfront Market and Taste of Asia have sprung up since the first Night It Up! in 2002.
But that didn’t stop thousands from cramming into this year’s opening night.