Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fun Playing With Food at the Cleveland Asian Festival, 2012

With a rhythmic welcome from the Kwan Family Lion Dancers, Cleveland kicked off its third annual Asian Festival this morning. We actually arrived rather early, so we could pick up some needed items at Park To Shop (and park our car). While we would have loved to spend the entire day at the Festival as we did last year, too many pressing obligations would make that impossible this time. The Festival is free to attend and open to all. In addition to food, two stages provide non-stop entertainment, and there are vendors galore selling products and services that may interest you. A children's area offers games, crafts, attractions and "inflatable sumo wrestling" for the minis. And Lolly the Trolley provides complimentary tours of Cleveland Asiatown.

A few changes for this year - a larger eating area is provided in the "food court" a/k/a the main Asia Plaza parking lot. The performance stage that shared the space with food vendors last year is now larger and located on Payne Avenue proper. Some of the vendors we loved last year did not return, but many did, together with some new faces. 

One thing we noticed was that some of the spicier cuisines seemed, um, gentled down a bit, especially compared to last year. Still, it all tasted good, and that's what counts.

Since we arrived shortly before the official commencement of the festivities, we walked around the food court and photographed even though not everyone was ready. The photos are in the order of the vendors; we didn't eat in the order shown, but if you decide to visit the Festival tomorrow, this order will make it easier to find your target.

Otani Japanese Restaurant returned with their portable sushi case
#1 Pho was the first new face we encountered

We had wanted to try Flavors of India last year, but lacked sufficient intestinal real estate. How would their Nepalese cuisine taste?

Everest Lamb Curry: Lamb with ginger, onion, tomatoes and Himalayan spices
Though we really enjoyed this plate, we wished that the tempting spices that played peek-a-boo with our palates were more prominent. Though the fragrance said "India," the flavors were a little different and we wanted more! We licked up every bit of that gravy (thank goodness they gave us a spoon). 

We had chatted with a gentleman while enjoying our first plates, as he consumed Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) - delicate dough containing pork or crab and a savory liquid filling. He pointed us to Li Wah, but warned us that these weren't the greatest. He was right - my guess is that they came out of a food service package, which doesn't make sense because Li Wah had it's full restaurant kitchen right on the premises. Oh well.

Li Wah's Little Cousin
E. 30th Cafe also had the same food items for sale at a table in front of the restaurant, in Asia Plaza. No pizza this year.

We loved the grilled chicken skewer from Asian Grille last year. 

I am an unabashed Koko Bakery lover. If you've never experienced a real Chinese bakery, you need to give Koko a try! As with last year, both sweets and savories are available:

We brought home a number of the above items, which wrapped flaky pastry around various savory fillings. Our selections of Bacon & Wasabi (above, right), Sausage & Cheese and Curry Potato & Cheese (above, left), as well as Ham & Cheese & Vegetables & Cheese were fabulous after just a few minutes in the toaster oven. We've got a couple of Taro strips (two photos up) that will probably wait until tomorrow.

Map of Thailand, as it did last year, had "show plates" at the ready; as last year, I photographed them but unfortunately did not get to sample their wares. Here's the dish that gave me the best photo:

Thai Style Basil Chicken

King Fire Baby looked so good last year, but we'd hit "uncle"! This year - they were a first stop.

Grilled baby ribs with Khmer pickled vegetables
Lemon Grass Chicken Wings
Iced Mint Green Tea Lemonade
King Fire Baby is offering a coupon on its website: purchase $12 from the booth, and get an Iced Mint Green Tea Lemonade for free! Since our order of one rib plate, one wing plate, and one tea got us over $12, we got my tea free. A little sweet for my taste, perhaps, but a truly lovely combination of tea and lemonade. My only wish was for the Cambodian flavors to pop a bit more - both meats were delicious and nicely cooked, and the slaw was yummy, but I wanted more tingle, more spice! 

And now we have . . . our pick for Best Bites of Festival (of those we tasted, of course): Tamarind Asian Cuisine! Alas - I cannot link you to a website, or even a Facebook page, because it seems that caterer Marina Villanueva Velmin doesn't have any yet! But this Filipina can cook!

Pork Adobo, Pancit Bihon (rice noodles with chicken, sausage, hard cooked egg),  pickled vegetables 
Tender, luscious pork in adobo sauce joined stir fried rice noodles loaded with a sausage similar to lap cheong but softer, chicken, hard cooked eggs, and vegetables. The small side of pickled vegetables (which had some chilies) provided acid and heat - and all of these elements together combined to make this dish our absolute favorite of the day.  Marina's business card lists contact info in Westlake and Venice Florida - I hope that we see more of her cooking here in Cleveland!

We took home a Banh Mi. When we were finally hungry again, we removed the crisp vegetables and toasted it, then put the veggies back. Yum.

Ono Turo-Turo was another booth we had been forced to pass on last year. It was at the top of our list, but by the time we got to them, we knew we'd be packing most of our goodies up for later noshing.

Dinoguan (Chocolate Meat) 
This delicious mole-like dish was served up with plenty of incendiary whole chilies - so we were a little surprised that the meat, while perfectly tender and delicious, with hints of chocolate and seasonings, didn't have much chili flavor. Last year, after we'd reached satiety, our friend Stuart told us we had to try their food. While I'm glad that we did this year, I'm still puzzled how something cooked with that many chilies could taste so mild. We'll cut the chilies up and add them when we reheat the leftovers.

This signless stand was presented by the West Side Market's own Kim Se Cambodian

And I somehow neglected to photograph Always Gutom, Always Pinoy, a Filipino stand that we much enjoyed last year. Looks like they had an awesome steamed pork bun that we missed. 

Once you step out of the food court, you will find three stands serving shaved ice in the Payne Street concourse; I got photos of two of them. It looked like refreshing fun!

Whew - lots of great food to play with at the Cleveland Asian Festival! And there is still one day to go in the 2012 edition. The weather is grand and the food is fun at the 2012 Cleveland Asian Festival, so go on out  on May 20 and play with your food! 


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  2. Excellent post and blog. I was there all weekend as an attendee and also worked behind the booth at Superior Pho on Sunday.

    A fun tidbit: "Chocolate Meat" BKA "dinuguan" actually contains no chocolate and is only jokingly called that due to (1) its appearance and (2) foreigners more open to the idea of chocolate stew than "pork blood stew". That's right, it is cooked in pork blood and not chocolate, and it is delicious. :)

  3. Mark - thank you for clarifying that - this is indeed the very dish that Stuart told us we had to try last year! Except that he said it was very spicy, which this was not. But it was very delicious - I made fried rice with the leftovers for dinner last night. Your Banh Mi, which we also took home, didn't make it to Sunday. Yum.