One of my favorite foodie events of the year is coming to The Banks this weekend. I almost hate to report this, since it’s been a best-kept secret, but the Asian Food Fest is a don’t-miss.
The Fest, which is operated by a group called Care2Share, has been held in Kolping Grove the past few years. It was the first place I met the fabulous Pho Lang Thang team and tasted their savory Bahn Mi sandwiches. I also had a perfect Bánh Xèo, the Vietnamese crepe with pork, shrimp and beansprouts, served by a mom and pop team at a food stand that wasn’t even affiliated with a restaurant. It was incredible — real home cooking from folks who were half a planet away from their countries of origin.
It’s exciting that the Asian Food Fest is the first big event at the city’s newest centerpiece park, and I’m already anticipating some amazing dishes. I can’t wait to try the Barbequehan from one of my favorite smiling Findlay Market folks, Mapi De Veyra. Mapi’s Filipino BBQ and roast pig will be made from his parents’ recipes, with “the Tagalog taste of garlic, peppercorn and salt from my city, which is Waray.”
I interviewed Bao Nguyen, the Marketing Director for the Asian Food Fest, who has been involved with the festival since the beginning, to find out what would change at the new site.
Are you expecting a much bigger crowd at The Banks?
: Last year, we brought in about 4,000 people throughout the weekend. With the new centralized location, we are hoping to bring in around 10,000 people.
Will the fest still have games and some of the little low-key booths there were at Kolping Grove? I always thought they were so sweet!
: Thanks! We will have booths for children’s games this year. They will have Asian-themed names to the booths. We will also have food made from non-restaurant vendors: Mapi’s Barbequehan, The House of Sate, Kurilicious and Care2Share.
I think our area has made great strides in awareness of Asian food in the last decade. Is that your experience, too?
: I agree. We have many more good Asian Food options in the area now. It seems as though many Asian restaurateurs are more confident in serving authentic Asian food compared to the old thinking of “cooking for Americans.” Also, there is a growing demographic in Cincinnati that appreciates authentic food and new flavors.
What do you think sparked it and how do you see it evolving further? Are there new Asian trends in our future?
: I think the general progression of Cincinnati has been an inspiration to many, including Asians. Some people of this city have decided to stop complaining about what Cincinnati lacked and started on focusing on making this city become more of what they want. Like all other progressive projects in Cincinnati, there are many people who doubt that things can happen. From doubt, it sparks other peoples’ passion to make things happen.
How do I see it evolving? In the past, many Asians have always talked about how Asian food is much better in the East and West coast. I think that instead of looking at the coasts for inspiration, Asians will start to look at their homelands to get ideas. In the last decade, Sushi restaurants were the big trend in Cincinnati. I think we will start to see more Asian gastro pubs in the near future.
The event will feature 13 food vendors with an amazing variety of dishes, local craft beers from Mt. Carmel Brewing as well as Japanese Sapporo, live entertainment and fireworks by Arthur Rozzi Pyrotechnics on Saturday night. There is no admission charge, but donations will be accepted to help Care2Share build latrines, water wells, medical centers, dormitories and childcare centers in Pleiku, Vietnam, and to provide scholarships and bikes for children to go to school.
Food items will be priced from $2-$6. Restaurants participating include Budina, featuring Thai iced coffee and Steamed Egg Noodles with Shrimp and Crab Wontons. Saigon Café will be offering Bún noodles topped with beef tenderloin and Vietnamese fried rice. There will be Chana Bhatura and Samosa Ragda Chaat from Sankalp and Mango Sticky Rice from Hyde Park’s Green Papaya. Of course, the Pho Lang Thang gang will be back with their pork, chicken, and cold cut versions of Bánh Mì. See you at the fest!
ASIAN FOOD FEST takes place Saturday and Sunday at The Banks, Downtown.