Beyond the popular purveyors Ramen-Tatsuya and 888, there is a sprawling scene of Asian restaurants that deserve recognition. On Saturday, Far East Fest hosted hundreds of attendees to sample dishes from the rich cultures that grace Austin.
Story by Alexis Fischer
Photos courtesy of Austin Food Magazine
Far East Fest is a collaboration of local Asian businesses to encourage cultural appreciation and exploration through food. There is an expansive list of celebrated cultures: Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Filipino.
Min Choe and Gavin Booth created the festival with the intention of bringing more people to the smaller, family-owned restaurants in the area. The festival remains true to their mission through their selection of participating businesses, entertainment, and non-profit partnerships. Proceeds from the festival are invested back into the community through organizations like Asian Family Support Services of Austin, Caring for Cambodia and Austin Asian Community Health Initiative.
Tickets included all-you-can-eat samples from over 30 vendors. With three levels of ticket entry, even early admission was subject to long lines. Those waiting clutched cups of Fara coffee, locally roasted. The most strategic samplers picked up samples before claiming a space in the wait for more popular booths like Sway or Alice’s Treaty Oak.
Restaurants faced the challenge of an outdoor food festival as they left the comfort of their kitchen. Asian dishes often call for an array of spices, preparation, and sophisticated plating. While out of their element, vendors succeeded in filling the people with authentic cuisine. Many booths showcased their house ramen, while plump dumplings made for happy faces. Hiwings Chicken House distributed glazed hot wings to the crowd.
Many dishes used staples like pork and shrimp, but vegetarian-friendly Bento Picnic served a Japanese omelette with a side of steaming miso soup. Mix Korean Street Food, a restaurant found within H Mart, offered spiced sticky rice cakes sprinkled with seaweed. Pokeatery gave hefty samples of tuna, and Cho Sushi Fusion prepared three different rolls to savor.
The frigid weather did not impede the sampling of frozen treats like snow ice, bubble tea and ice cream. Gati is a rich, coconut-based vegan ice cream served at Thai Fresh. Fancy Fluff, a gourmet cotton candy company with over 65 flavors, offered wasabi-flavored cotton candy spun with organic sugar.
The festival, in its second year, found large success at its new location outside of H Mart. H Mart is a community center, cafeteria and grocery store. Inside is a marketplace for various vendors, many of which participated in Far East Festival, as well as an entire aisle dedicated to soy sauce. “H Mart is where the community is, so bringing [Far East Fest] here added to the success” says Anna Hu, resident of Austin. It was her first year at the festival. Located just outside of Austin, H Mart stocks international goods to maintain and remember the taste of home. Children are entertained by the pile of live crabs crawling in the fresh seafood market, while families can gather ingredients to prepare classic cultural dishes.
Far East Fest satisfied every craving from late-night carry-out to nigiri, which honors art and tradition through its simplicity. The festival encourages a supportive network of businesses despite the different palates and nationalities. While Austinites are already anticipating the next festival, it is important to carry the same zeal for supporting immigrant and minority-owned local businesses year round.