by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, July 2 (Xinhua) -- Santa Anita Racetrack, a well-known landmark in southern California, was ablaze with lights, music and plenty of Asian grub.
Shaded by nodding palm trees and nestled at the foot of the stunning San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Anita is considered by many to be the most beautiful racetrack in the United States and has hosted many of the most prestigious races in the country.
But this weekend, instead of hosting seven furlong races and eager punters, it served a different kind of fare under the theme of Asian Cuisine.
Tens of thousands of eager eaters flooded into the racetrack grounds to sample a feast of predominately Asian foods at the "626 Night Market," the original and largest Asia-inspired night market in the United States.
It is a popular monthly event in the city of Arcadia in Los Angeles County, where a hundred or so of southern California's enterprising restaurants and food vendors set up booths.
The crowds included lots of courting couples, entire families pushing baby strollers and tag-along kids, and groups of college-age friends holding glowing balloons and exotic drinks.
"I enjoy coming here. It's a happy place, lots of families and couples," Chuck Hamil, an ex-cop, told Xinhua. "You get a chance to sample foods from many different countries - stuff you've never tasted before."
Row upon row of booths featured Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, and Filipino snacks, with a few Mexican and American eateries as well.
Most of the eateries were Asian-centric. Booths with names like A-sha Foods, Kabuto, Momo Bing's Chinese crepes, Momo's Fung Buns, Takoyaki and Lee's Taiwan's No. 1 Cuisine lined the fairground, offering Ramen noodle, bao buns, Chinese delights, Japanese sushi, Korean BBQ, Thai curries and much more.
Some booths offered tasty East-meets-West style fusion dishes, such as Chinese crepes, Japanese burritos, and rainbow-colored grilled cheese with Asian spices. A couple of booths offered whole lobsters, steamed or grilled, with choices of Asian or American condiments.
"It's a blast! We love the concerts and the whole buzz. And there's always plenty of terrific stuff to eat," Suzie, an actress who drove in from Hollywood with her friends, told Xinhua.
"The Night Market is a fun date-night for me and my girlfriend. I like anything Sichuan - anything spicy," said Dave, a college student from University of Southern California.
The latest craze seemed to be iced juices delivered in adult-sized baby bottles. They were carried around by everyone from giggling schoolgirls to strapping, six-foot jocks.
Kim Evans, a smiling brunette and Arcadia native who has lived around the corner from the Racetrack for over 50 years had a specific reason for visiting the market.
"I'm planning a vacation to China soon, so I can get a headstart sampling different kinds of Chinese cuisine right here before I go," she told Xinhua.
"And it's delicious! I can't wait to get to China to try the real, authentic stuff," she said.