Attending the International Festival at Soka University this Saturday, I felt like I was on a foodie's world tour. A common expression, "Go big or go home" is one which the students at Soka University seem to have used to their own ends. The school, a liberal arts university with an emphasis in international students and studying abroad, presented the Festival Saturday, May 5thon the campus. The International Festival at Soka University was not only big, but it gave the students and guests at the festival a chance to “go home” via international arts, music and food. Suffice to say that the crowd was huge, enjoying music and entertainment from taiko drumming and Greek dancing to symphony and jazz concerts. Art shows abounded, crafts were well represented and there was fun for all. I was there for the food, though. The chance to find a large variety of ethnic eats all in one location was hard for me to resist. It was easy to see that the festival would require more than one walk-around, the first time to see what looked interesting and then a second time to zero in on the most interesting foods. Most food booths were done in conjunction with different campus and civic groups, the charges for the food going to many worthy causes.
As I walked through, the sheer variety is what caught my eye first. Of course, there were the requisite churro stands and hot dog stands, although I was hard pressed to decide whether I would want to try the bacon-wrapped Sonoran hot dog from one of the wide variety of juicy sausages including brats, Polish and Cajun from another. I even had to take a second look when a plate went by of street tacos from one of the Mexican booths, with a very credible set of 3 tacos that I would not feel out of place ordering from my favorite taqueria. What amazed me though were the plates of Afghan, Indian, Japanese, Hawaiian, Danish , Korean, Chinese, Greek and even not only vegetarian but vegan food. Add in dessert stand with everything from cookies to Hawaiian shaved ice and baklava and you have an ethnic foodie's dream day.
My first decision was easy. I have often seen the takoyaki stands in from of Marukai Japanese Market and have wanted to try them. Usually they have long lines when I am there so I never did. The Cheerleaders Club at the Festival was sponsoring the Takoyaki stand, with the campus cheerleaders themselves inviting customers to try them. I enjoyed watching them make the takoyaki while in line. A popular Japanese street food, it is essentially a batter cooked in round cast-iron pans, filled with octopus and served with various varieties of toppings and sauces. It is amazing to
see the chef use an awl-shaped instrument to turn them, quickly making a ball the size of a pill bottle cap. Mine were topped with two types of sauces, a sweet traditional dark soy takoyaki sauce and a mayonnaise sauce. Finishing it off were sprinkles of seaweed and lots of dried bonito shavings, a popular Japanese condiment. With eight of the fried balls of goodness in a tray that seemed to be made out of paper and wood, it was a very nice serving. I was warned that the insides were hot and they were not kidding! What a taste, though. Between the many flavors and the variety of textures in this one dish it was a symphony in the mouth.
As I wandered around, many stands were sampling foods. I had rose tea, Korean fried chicken, Afghan cake and more. I don't know what the Koreans do to the fried chicken, but on my short list now is searching out one of the places that specialize in it. The crunch was amazing and the flavor was good, with a mild sauce to dip it in. There were also roving drink salespeople, offering everything from iced tea and coffee to various smoothies. This, coupled with the international outfits that many of the hawkers and exhibitors were wearing, make one feel they might be in a market in the Middle East or Asia. It certainly added to the ambience and fun.
Pulled pork is a weakness of mine. I have had it innumerable times in the South and southeast, as well as making my own. A group called the Hip Hop Congress with the Bon Appetit Cafe were doing pulled pork sliders and I could not resist one.
The young men danced to the music as they made my sandwich and seemed to put a lot of soul into it. The pork was tasty, served on a nice soft dinner roll. Sweet and tangy cole slaw topped the sandwich, giving a nice contrast to the saucy pork.
More music and more food awaited me. I watched another folk dance troupe and stopped to chat at a few interesting booths. This festival was truly a place to find out about different cultures. There were several places serving Indian food such as samosas and variety plates. I wanted something different that I had never tried before so I took a chance on a dish called dahi vada, It was delicious,two balls made with a lentil powder, served cold with a thick tangy yogurt sauce and topped with both sweet and green chutneys. I practically licked the sauce off the dish! The slight amount of chili playing off the tart yogurt created an awesome flavor contrast.
At this point, I was full. Several of the stands that I wanted to try food from would remain unvisited. However, I was not going to pass on dessert. I already had that narrowed down to one of my all time favorites, the Danish aebleskiver, or a nice cone of Hawaiian shaved ice. I stopped and got an order of the aebleskivers from the Boy Scout Troop 700 booth. If you have never had them, they are basically a fluffy doughnut hole, covered with fruit jam and liberal amounts of powdered sugar. The Scouts did a very good version, coming close to satisfying my sweet tooth. The weather was warm and I had been walking a lot, so I decided I would have to go for a shaved ice cone.
An organization called Ka' Pilina Ho'olokahi had shaved ice, and I was going to get some. There is something the Hawaiians do that elevates shaved ice way above the standard snow cone. Many flavor later, I headed back to the car. Next year I will plan to have “breakfast” at the Festival, walk around for the better part of the day and finish with a late lunch so I can try twice as much. It was a fun festival with great food.