Andy Ng is a civil engineer who moonlights as Night Market vendor Ice or Rice with his wife, Jessie, a graphic designer born in Guangzhou, China. The first time I met the couple was over the summer, while seated at a picnic table with 14 other food enthusiasts at a semi-private pop-up they were hosting at their home in Cleveland’s AsiaTown neighborhood. Like most of the guests there, I’d been following my meal by social media for more than 48 hours as the tonkotsu ramen’s star ingredient—a pork-based broth—simmered down to a dense, milky-white liquid.
The sweltering heat on this day was no deterrent and slurping ensued immediately, both in appreciation of the dish and for expediency sake. Our group was one of three sell-out crowds that day, eager to sample the soup before cleaning up and clearing out in an hour’s time.
The popularity of the summertime open air Night Market, inspired by traditional Asian night markets, and the success of the AsiaTown Food Tour Series demonstrate that Cleveland is hungry for a taste of Asia. Ng is more than happy to oblige with traditional comfort foods and street eats not typically found in Northeast Ohio restaurants.
Rather than focusing on one specific region’s cuisine, Ice or Rice offers a variety of foods Ng enjoys. He’s eager to share not just new flavors but awareness. “We do a lot of Japanese food because it is so misrepresented here. People in Japan don’t eat sushi everyday, but oftentimes that’s the only thing most people think of when they think Japanese cuisine,” he says.
His Night Market and pop-up event menus have been influenced by his mother’s native Malaysia. The menus also showcase lesser-known Chinese foods Jessie grew up with. “We’re also growing our repertoire to include Hawaiian food, which is itself an amalgam of many different Asian comfort foods.”
Ng says he’s always enjoyed cooking and traveling, but more so, loved sharing a meal with people and discussing the cultural significance of each dish. “I used to make lunch every week for the engineering firm that I used to work at,” he says. “I would give a short cooking demonstration and talk about its origins and typically only charge $5 a meal to cover the costs of the ingredients. When Night Market Cleveland came about, it was the perfect platform for me to share my love of foods that I’ve had during my travels.”
While Night Market events provided an opportunity to showcase smaller bites that are quick to prepare, like Korean kimchi pancakes and stir-fried Japanese yakisoba, he missed sitting down with people and sharing a home-cooked meal. He sought out his more adventurous friends from online foodie communities, and sold out three different series of pop-ups throughout the summer.
Although September marked the end of this year’s Night Market celebrations, The Ngs have no plans of slowing down. Upcoming events will be announced on the Ice or Rice Facebook page, where a class at the Western Reserve School of Cooking and more pop-ups are on the horizon.
Meanwhile, Ng created a website he plans to update regularly with recipes, cooking tutorials and introductions to foreign ingredients to help people get over any anxiety they may have about tackling Asian cuisine at home.
By Tricia Chaves