I just call it “the festival.” Kind of how I just call Chinese food, “food.” Get it? That was an Asian joke. Anyway…
It has been about 8 years since I was last at the Columbus Asian Festival, hosted at the Franklin Park Conservatory, this past Memorial Day weekend. When I went 8 years ago, I was not impressed. The food choices were limited (I think Panda Express actually had a booth there…), it was severely underprogrammed and the marketplace was full of cheap tchotchkes. Attendance was decent, however, so that was a good thing.
Since I needed a study break, and my friends were heading down there, I decided to give the festival another shot. A lot had changed in 8 years, in some ways.
The food vendors have multiplied threefold and there are some fantastic, authentic dining choices. Cuisines that range from Filipino to Thai and of course Japanese, Indian and Chinese are all there and the food quality has dramatically improved. There are bubble tea vendors as well as Asian ice vendors that use incredibly authentic ingredients like grass jelly that most people outside of Asia have probably never seen or heard of. I personally had a meal from Erawan Thai consisting of chicken skewers marinated in ginger and just a touch of spice, an egg roll and a delicious Thai iced tea. My friends dined at the Filipino vendor as well as the Pan-Asian vegetarian restaurant.
Not much else has changed. The festival is still severely underprogrammed. There is usually a performance or demonstration happening on the main stage at the amphitheater and then another on one of the smaller stages. But the events are short and not the main draw of the festival. The marketplace is still full of dime store tchotkes that one could pick up for about $.50 in Asia, but they charge about $20 here.
Attendance, however, is something that has changed. It has dramatically increased. One of the things that I loved seeing was that there were plenty of interracial couples, something that wasn’t seen as often 8 years ago.
This is not an entirely scathing review of the festival, however. It is a great event and brings Asian culture to the Columbus, OH population that may not otherwise have the chance to be exposed to it. I recommend that everyone go, but I would not have your hopes too high when you do so.