Asian Night Market in the Middle of the Campus
Arriving at Inspiration Park on Friday evening, I find the area buzzing. People are busy putting up lanterns and setting up tables and games preparing for the Asian Night Market organised by the Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) Asian Student Association (ASOC). Anisha from Nepal and Melanie from Sri Lanka are standing to one side looking on at the action. They heard about the event from the ASOC President, who is a mutual friend.
Anisha explains that she is one of only two or three Nepalese students at RSU. In answer to my question of what stall she would set up if she were participating she says, 'I would have a dumpling stall. We call them momos in Nepal. That would be really interesting because it's a very popular dish in Nepal.' I ask if it would be possible to get the right ingredients in Riga and Melanie chimes in, 'There’s one Asian shop that's good for ingredients, but they sell mostly Indian foods. You don’t really get spices from Sri Lanka or Nepal. Some spices are similar, however. The shop is called Musk Trading and it’s a wholesale shop for Asian restaurants.' I ask them to elaborate on the difference between Indian, Sri Lankan, and Nepalese spices and Anisha explains:
Anisha and Melanie entering the market.
'In Nepal, we don’t use as many spices as in Indian cooking. If we make one curry we use two spices, but Indians use six or more.'
I thank them and move on to check out some of the games that are being set up. I'm first drawn to a bright yellow stall with lots of colourful balloons. Zahraa from India is busy setting up, but devotes a few minutes to answer my questions.
What are you doing here today?
We’re trying to mimic the night markets we have back in Asia that sell food and have fun carnival games. This game is called Pop It and you have to throw darts to try to pop the balloons. If you manage to pop one, you win a prize!
What prizes do you have?
Ramen noodles, different kinds of candies, Asian drinks.
Students waiting to play Pop It
What are real Asian night markets like?
They’re packed with people! There’s lots of music, games, and food everywhere. They’re mostly at night. They start in the evening and people just walk around and enjoy themselves. Unfortunately, it’s too light outside right now!
Is this an event you’ll repeat?
If it’s a success, we definitely will. We’re sold out!
I move on to the next table, where Pavithra is setting up a whiteboard with an elephant drawn on it. Pavithra is studying Medicine in the 2nd semester and is the Social Media Manager for RSU ASOC. The game she is setting up is a traditional Sri Lankan game called Elephant Eyes.
'There are two red circles around the elephant’s eyes. When players come, we blindfold them, spin them around five times, and then they have to try and draw inside the circle with a marker. The closer they get to the centre, the better the prize they win is,' she explains. Noticing me glancing at the white board she laughs,
'I can’t really draw, but at least you can tell it’s an elephant!'
Moving on, I pass by Meenakshi and Ranuri who are manning the ring toss game in which participants will have to throw a ring to try and get it around one of the prizes laid out on the ground in front of them. They're both 1st semester students and enthusiastic activists for ASOC. They already knew about the society from Ranuri's brother, who was the president last year, so they could join in their activities as soon as they came to Riga.
Just behind them, close to the entrance, is the boba, or bubble tea stall! A long line forms, and I have difficulty getting the attention of Subham, the student in charge of handing out the drinks. This is clearly a popular stall and Subham explains the difference between the drinks over and over again,
'We have three flavours today - one is the original bubble tea that has these tapioca boba, the second one is fruitier, and the third one also has boba, but they’re more like jelly. Two are milk-based, and the third one is a lemon passion fruit tea. The boba have different consistencies.'
I have seen the long lines outside the bubble tea shops in Riga, but had never tried one myself. Subham hands me one to taste and I am pleasantly surprised! The milky tea is surprisingly smooth and not too sweet, and the chewy boba at the bottom are a fun little surprise. Definitely an appropriate drink for a carnival!
Having walked around the perimeter, I now get closer to the hub of the action - the food stalls! The tables are sighing under the weight of falafel, kottu, different stews, rice, and sugar-coated fruit.
I approach Rolan, who is standing to one side with his friends, enjoying a plate of food. He is in his 11th semester of Medicine studies, was born in Italy but raised in Sri Lanka. 'I always come to all the Asian events. It’s nice to meet new people and see familiar faces. I’m not in the Asian society myself, because I thought it would be too much to combine with my studies. I am regretting it a little bit now, but I’m always happy to help out.' I ask him what the other events are usually like and what his favourite has been. 'The Sri Lankan/Tamil new year event this year was really fun! There were a lot of games and we introduced the new semesters to the society. They coupled older students up with younger students so that we really got to know one another.
Asia is very big, so there are a lot of different cultures to get to know, which is why all the events usually revolve around culture in one way or another.'
What have you learned about a culture that you didn’t expect?
Even though Sri Lanka and India are next to each other I’ve learned more about the country since coming to RSU. My best friend Subham, who’s selling boba tea over there, is from Chennai in India. I’ve met people from India, Taiwan, and Nepal through the Asian society.
I approach another student in order to learn more about the foods that are being served. His name is Taka and he's in his 7th semester of Medicine studies.
What was your favourite tonight?
I have to say the Sri Lankan dish kottu. It’s made with flat bread cut up into pieces that is then mixed with gravy and meat. It’s almost like fried rice, but instead of rice you have the pieces of bread. You can find this dish in parts of India as well.
Where are you from?
I’m from Sri Lanka, but I’m half Japanese and half Sri Lankan. I live in Japan at the moment. We moved there from Sri Lanka 5 years ago and my whole family is there now.
Students enjoying their food and drinks in Inspiration Park.
I thank him and move back to the entrance to survey the market. Inspiration Park is lively, there is music playing, and people are milling around holding dishes and boba tea. The first ones to have finished their food have already moved on to the games. It feels like it's going to be a long night, and I leave wanting to experience it all over again.