The Asian Festival in Columbus is one of the few festivals that I have attended that actually lives up to its name - I've been to too many festivals where I was expecting to learn more about the festival's namesake, only to end up feeling like I'm at the local county fair with generic, greasy fair food and overpriced plush stuffed animals and other cheap plastic toys. Don't get me wrong - I loved going to the Miami county fair as a kid and the Ohio state fair is exciting - but a (fill-in-the-blank) festival is not supposed to be just like the county fair. The wonderful Heritage Festival in Piqua, Ohio and the amazing Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio are two festivals that well represent their namesake. The Columbus Asian Festival is another.
The Asian Festival, is of course, all about Asian art, culture, food and entertainment and is always held on Memorial Day Weekend.
This year was the 19th year for the festival, which is held in the eastern part of Franklin Park. It's really cool to see how the park is transformed during the festival. So many arts, crafts and food vendors in the park! I thought it was only appropriate that the beautiful Kousa Dogwood, a species of dogwood native to Asia, was in full bloom during the festival.
The countries and city-states represented at this year's festival included: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Adventure Center building was set-up with a performance area (we were there in time to watch Cantonese music performed by the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble featuring Pham Thi Hue) art demonstration tables and several tables with activities and information about endangered animals and the natural heritage and landscapes of that country. We saw tables representing Japan, China, Thailand, Korea, East Asia and the Philippines.
Some of the art demonstration tables included henna, bonsai, stamp making and kimono design. 2011 to 2020 is the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity: Conservations of Endangered Lifeforms, Education & Public Awareness, which is why so many of the tables focused on endangered animals from that country.
In addition to the performance area inside the Adventure Center, there were also musical performances at the outdoor amphitheater and karate and other demonstrations on the Martial Arts stage outside of the Daivs Center. We caught a little of the performance by the Karen Community of Akron group at the Amphitheater and the end of the karate demonstration by Darimar Martial Arts. The students from Darimar did their own karate version of 'Gangnam Style' - which was pretty awesome!
In the vendor area of the festival there were a ton of tents set-up for merchants and businesses. We saw a great variety of arts and crafts including fans, purses, jewelry, clothes, dragon figurines, wooden frogs, pressed leaf cards, origami and a tent were you could have your name written in Chinese characters.
There were several vendors selling bonsai trees, lucky bamboo and air plants. One vendor even had tropical pitcher plants (carnivorous plants!) growing in a bonsai container.
We also saw tents where you could learn meditation or have a henna design painted on your skin. Henna is dervied from a plant that can be used to dye your skin or hair. These intricate designs last for quite a while, although they are not permanent. I had a henna kit in college and loved creating my own designs - I'd love to have a professional create a henna design for me, but unfortunately the lines were really long on Saturday!
Kenneth and I have unfortunately never made it to the Dragon Boat Race (which was held on Monday along the Scioto River), but we did get to check out one of the boats! I have really liked dragons ever since I was a kid and the dragon boat was my favorite dragon I saw that day (though the flying dragons we saw in a vendor's craft booth were pretty awesome too!)
The food vendors' area at the Asian Festival is always extremely crowded! There are food vendors from lots of different countries and cuisines, including lots of bubble tea vendors!
Due to my food allergies and the fact that I don't want to hold up a long line at the festival by going over ingredients with the vendor, I like to stick with what I know I can eat. Kenneth and I shared a plate from Flavors of India, which is a restaurant in North Market that we have eaten at many times before - its always fresh and always delicious! Kenneth had the samosa and I had the rice and chickpeas - I love the rice at Flavors of India!
I tried my very first bubble tea when Kenneth and I went to the Asian Festival during our first full summer in Columbus in 2011. I love the boba, or tapioca pearls and this year we shared a Thailand Tea flavored bubble tea. This year the vendor we went to pureed the ice and tea so the bubble tea was a bit of a 'bubble slushi'. It was really refreshing after standing in the sun while we waited in line!
At the far end of the food vendors' area was a fantastic fruit stand! They had mango, rambutan, lychee, sugarcane and lots of other tropical Asian fruits. I even saw a huge jackfruit on a back table!
The Asian Festival is such a a fantastic festival here in Ohio - I definitely recommend checking it out next year! Kenneth and I went after I had to work, so we were only there for a few hours and certainly didn't see everything the festival has to offer, it would be very easy to spend the entire weekend in Franklin Park in order to see everything!
Check out the Asian Festival's website for details about next year's festival, or follow the festival on Facebook or Twitter.