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Founder of the Night Market is using food to share culture

Thousands attended the Asian night market in Rochester Tiffany Alexandria and other community leaders established in 2021.

Tiffany Alexandria Asked Answered.JPG
Tiffany Alexandria, founder of the Rochester Night Market.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Tiffany Alexandria is a photographer and artist and sometimes describes herself as a reluctant chef.

She started a catering and food promotion business and brand Choochoo-ca-Chew in part to share the foods she loved to eat growing up in Taiwan.

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This year's series of night markets will have more dates and begins July 2.

Why did you feel a need to start this business and focus on food here?

I like to see people’s faces light up when they try new things – when they’re willing to try to eat something that’s good. Sharing culture through food I feel like is just the best way to do it. Everybody has to eat.

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It’s fun to see people’s faces light up either new or reminds them of their travels sometimes; that’s always fun. I guess needing to cook, it’s not so much just the food. Food here can be kind of bland. Some of it’s not very good and I think some people just don’t actually know what good food can be like. I just think it takes time, education and sharing and a welcoming space.

Did you establish the Night Market for some of those same reasons?

It’s hard to share culture or tell a story without the environment being set right to do so. I think you always have a better experience if it’s more of an immersive experience. You smell the smell, you see the lights, you see different scenery and you try different flavors and different foods, and that will make a bigger impact than trying one new food.

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A vendor sells sausages at the Night Market in downtown Rochester July 17, 2021.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

How do you think last year’s Night Market helped curate that?

I feel like last year , a lot of different comments from people were all about the sausages, when they walked towards the night market and they first see the smoke coming out of the sausage tent then they smell the charcoal then they smell the flavor of the sausage and then they get in line – that’s also an experience – and then they get a sausage and they take a bite of a juicy sausage. All of that combined makes a much stronger memory than if they were to buy a package of frozen sausage and then make it themselves.

I saw some social media push back about the fact that these markets aren’t going to be as big as the three last year? You responded that this is the point of this year’s markets. Why not repeat those big blowout events with huge attendance? What’s the intention?

I think the intention is if we want this market to sustain itself to be able to continue, it can’t be somebody killing themselves organizing a giant event. So it has to be more chill. Markets in Taiwan and most Asian places start because vendors needed a place to sell and they just gathered. So it wasn’t as much of an organized event. I would like it to go more towards that direction without a main person trying to organize all of this. It can be more organic and natural.

Rent is a big hurdle here in the U.S. You always have to pay a substantial amount to rent a space. For a lot of first-time business owners and vendors, it often can’t be sustainable.

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Do you hope this is something that sustains itself that even if you’re not around, is able to continue?

I hope so. I don’t know if they’ll be able to, but that would be magical. I think all the vendors that I have currently, if they can continue to sell and they’ll hopefully use this as an incubator to eventually have a brick and mortar.

There’s a sizable Asian population in Rochester, why wouldn’t this be sustainable, and why hasn’t this already become an established event?

Well, like I said, rent is a hurdle for small start-ups and vendors. But I don’t know. I know there are a lot of Asians, but everybody's doing their own thing. There are people before me who tried to do events. I don’t know why it didn’t or hasn’t gained traction.

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The crowd attending the Night Market in downtown Rochester outside the Rochester Art Center, July 17, 2021.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

I think part of it is that the night market is a well-known concept. It's nothing new. Everybody knows about it; they’re just markets at night all over Asia. So it’s something that’s already loved. You don’t need to tell the whole story to Asians to get them intrigued or interested.

If you go

What: Night Market

When: 4 p.m., July 2, 2022.

Where: 307 E. Center St.

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Asked & Answered is a weekly question-and-answer column featuring people of southeastern Minnesota. Is there somebody you'd like to see featured? Send suggestions to news@postbulletin.com .

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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