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UCLA First Thursdays ‘Night Market’ features food from around the world

The First Thursdays event series was started by UCLA and the Westwood Village Improvement Association in March 2022 in an effort to create more engagement between the campus and the nearby community. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

By Jonah Danesh and Eva Danesh

Oct. 9, 2023 8:18 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 10 at 10:45 p.m.

Dozens of vendors from around Los Angeles set up shop on Broxton Avenue on Thursday to welcome Bruins and the Westwood community for this academic year’s inaugural First Thursdays block party.

This month’s “Night Market” is a continuation of the First Thursdays event series that began over a year ago by UCLA and the Westwood Village Improvement Association. Chancellor Gene Block said the series has created deeper connections between the campus and Westwood.

“This is exactly what Westwood needed,” Block said. “This is what First Thursdays does – it translates UCLA’s enthusiasm right here into the city.”

Cuisines from around the world were represented at the event, including the Japanese food vendor Soy Sauce Bento and the Peruvian vendor One Hot Minute. Local Westwood restaurants, including Tacos 1986, were also cooking for attendees. Block said it is important for students to engage with and support Westwood businesses.

“We want students to frequent them and support the community,” Block said. “It has to be an economically healthy community, and this is a great opportunity for students to get to know what’s available.”

(Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
This month’s “Night Market” theme brought cuisines from across the world in booths set up on the parking lot and food trucks on Broxton Avenue. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

The event was emceed by chef Evan Kleiman, who owned Angeli Caffe in LA for 27 years. As a double Bruin who received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA, Kleiman said she enjoyed the opportunity to be in Westwood again surrounded by a diverse group of students.

“Nights like tonight are just another way that you get to rub elbows with people who may not be in your intimate circle,” Kleiman said. “That’s always going to be a good thing.”

Kleiman said she appreciates the spotlight on food throughout the night’s event and the work UCLA is now doing through the Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies.

Launched last year with members of the Rothman family, who are UCLA alumni, this institute supports the undergraduate food studies minor, which allows students to explore food from environmental, psychological and political angles, among others. The institute also hosts events and conferences, including one with chef Virgilio Martínez, whose Peruvian restaurant was voted to the top of this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants, said Erica Lee, academic coordinator at the Rothman Institute.

“Art, science, humanities – any way that someone could explore food in any one of those avenues, we’re bringing it here,” Lee added. “We really want to serve as a hub for research and also a hub for scholars.”

Chancellor Block said food should be studied and celebrated and that he looks forward to seeing the advancements in the institute.

“This gives us an opportunity to provide some academic infrastructure with something so important to all of us,” Block said.

[Related: UCLA introduces new institute providing interdisciplinary food studies education]

Westside Food Bank, an organization that collects donations for food banks in the area, also had representatives at the event to spread awareness about hunger that exists around LA.

Westside Food Bank collects donations and regularly fills up food banks in the area. Arbon said hidden hunger is beginning to reveal itself following the pandemic and that she appreciates the opportunity to speak about it with Bruins and other attendees at First Thursdays.

“There is hidden hunger on the Westside,” said Donielle Arbon, a development strategist at Westside Food Bank. “We call it hidden hunger because it literally could be your neighbor.”

(Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
At the “Night Market,” Bruins and Westwood community members came together to enjoy different foods, do hot sauce and candy tastings and learn more from the Westside Food Bank about hunger in Los Angeles. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Garima Narang, a UCLA Anderson School of Management alumnus and co-founder of Fresh Curry Chefs, an Indian food kit meal service, was also one of the vendors at the Night Market.

While serving food to event attendees, Narang also shared an option to make their food at home. Narang said her family was inspired by her wanting to enjoy her mother’s food without engaging in the intricate steps of cooking Indian food.

“We figured there are probably people like me who want good Indian food without the restaurant hassle,” she said.

Garima said she credits her education at Anderson for supporting her entrepreneurial journey and her career pivot. She added she was happy to return to Westwood for an event that was not around while she was at UCLA.

Kleiman, who is the long-running host of the “Good Food” radio show and podcast, said she further appreciates the event’s goal to bring the community together through food.

“Food just reveals all the best and all the worst that’s going on in the world today,” Kleiman said. “In some ways, if you look at all the problems that the food world holds and you concentrate on solving those, so many larger planetary issues would be solved.”

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