Summer’s all about festival food. There are MainStrasse fests with brats and metts and loads of church festivals with chicken dinners and cake raffles. One of my favorite summer treats, the Asian Food Fest, returns to The Banks this month.
Last year, the AFF was held on one of the hottest weekends of the summer, but this year should be more forgiving since the organizers rescheduled for mid-May.
The dates to mark on your calendar are May 18 and 19. Saturday’s activities will run from 4 p.m. until midnight, followed by Arthur Rozzi Pyrotechnics’ fireworks display. Sunday, the fest will run from 1-9 p.m. The event is set up between Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ballpark on Freedom Way.
No matter which Asian cuisine you’d like to explore, this is your chance. I spoke with festival Marketing Director Lam Dang to get the scoop. Dang also won the Judge’s Choice awards at two events leading up to the fest — the Congee and Curry Cook-Offs at Findlay Market.
“We want to spread our culture through food,” he says. “That’s our goal. So we hope people will come and try as many dishes as possible. At the fest, there will be food you can’t even get at restaurants.”
The Cincinnati Korean American Association’s booth will be staffed by “moms and pops,” Dang says, who will serve home-cooked dishes. And one of the new vendors this year will be a restaurant-in-the-making, Huit Asiatique. Huit was started by Tobias Harris, Trang Vo and Jennifer Eng, who won the Barbecue cook-off for Asian Food Fest at Findlay Market.
Harris, Vo and Eng will be serving their signature dish, Eight Spice Ribs, with a side of spring mix, jicama and carrot slaw and ginger tamarind barbecue sauce, as well as Steamed Bun Pork Belly Sliders.
Huit is gearing up toward a potential restaurant launch, so the fest will be a good first taste for Cincinnati foodies.
Quan Hapa, the newest addition to the upper Vine Street dining scene in Over-the-Rhine, will be introducing a “mystery dish” at the festival as well. In addition to their popular Hapa Wings, marinated in lemongrass and soy, they’ll be serving a new item that they’re trying out for the restaurant menu: Demon Dogs, an Asian recreation of the corn dog that originated in Korea. If you’ve always wanted a chance to join a taste-test focus group, here’s a delicious opportunity to do just that.
Last year, in spite of the brutal heat, the fest’s vendors sold out of all of their dishes. This year, they’re going to be prepared for bigger crowds. There will be a little something for everyone, including a vegetarian special from Quan Hapa’s sister restaurant, Pho Lang Thang; and Covington’s Kung Fu AmerAsia is planning a fruit stand.
Other treats to try include:
Papaya salad with sticky rice, grilled beef balls, egg noodles with fried wontons and vegetable spring rolls from Budina, near West Chester;
Chicken fried rice, chicken pad Thai, crabstick tempura, ginger salad and mango sticky rice from Hyde Park’s Green Papaya;
Bubble tea and Malaysian dishes from Clifton’s Tea & Bowl;
Pan-Asian cuisine including cold rolls, spring rolls, noodle dishes and Thai iced tea from Suzie Wong’s at DeSales Corner;
Korean tacos and burritos from popular food truck Red Sesame;
Asian-inspired popsicles from streetpops, including mango creamsicle, Thai basil lime, lychee coconut, pineapple habanero, Vietnamese coffee, Thai tea, red bean and avocado;
and Kona Ice Hawaiian Ice desserts.
Even some of the races and games have a food connection, including a Chopstick Race, where participants will pick up objects with chopsticks and place them in a bowl. No running with chopsticks!
Of course, there will be summer festival staples like beer and music, but there will also be Asian-inspired arts and crafts and cultural dancing.
I’ve been a fan of this fest since its humble origins out at Kolping Grove, where it was definitely a low-key family affair. It has retained some of that charm even as it has grown.
Part of the reason is that it remains a nonprofit festival. The proceeds are used to host future Asian cultural events or donated to charity.
This year, the festival will support Thrivera, a nonprofit that helps young people build self-confidence and strength by expressing themselves through visual storytelling.
CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: firstname.lastname@example.org