This Fall, Bay Area Food Events Emphasize Culture and Community
Itâs no secret that fall is the real Bay Area summer, when temperatures push into the 80s and 90sâand, air quality permitting, food lovers loosen their pants and head outdoors for the regionâs biggest and most highly anticipated food festivals. Itâs stunt taco season. Fried food on a stick season.Â
This year, of course, the delta variant had something to say about all that, and concerns about super spreader events put the kibosh on the largest of these in-person gatherings. Eat Real Fest was canceled months ago. La Cocinaâs annual San Francisco Street Food Festival wonât be happening this October.
Still, this fall does offer some of the first opportunities food lovers have had in a year and a half to gather in personâmostly outdoors, with masksâwith a few hundred other mooncake connoisseurs or vegan burrito enthusiasts. In fact, this yearâs small but mighty slate of food festivals looks more community-oriented and culturally significant than ever. Feel more comfortable chilling out at home with a virtual event? Weâve got a few options for you as well.
Reminder:Â COVID precautions remain in flux. Proof of vaccination is a requirement for many indoor events. Before making plans, and again before arrival, be sure to check event websites for the latest protocols.
A vegan burrito from De La Tierra Mexican Food. (Erika Hazel)
Bizerkeley Food Festival
2727 Milvia Street, Berkeley September 5, 2021, 11amâ5pmDetails here
Touted as Berkeleyâs first ever dedicated vegan food festival, the Bizerkeley is the brainchild of Erika Hazel, a vegan food blogger and first-time festival organizer whose stated goal is to bring all of Californiaâs most amazing vegan food to her adopted hometownâa daylong event held in Sports Basementâs spacious parking lot. In order to help attendees to experience the breadth and depth of todayâs vegan scene, Hazel says the curated vendor lineup wonât include any duplicate cuisines: Brisbane-based Chef Reina will have the only booth selling Filipino food; Cali Dawg, a popular pop-up from the Central Coast, will be the only one selling vegan hot dogs.
The idea, Hazel says, is to change the way that vegan food is perceivedâeven in famously vegan-friendly Berkeley. âItâs not just rabbit food,â she says. âIt can be lasagna, ribs, hot dogs.â
Tickets ($5) for the masked, socially-distanced event must be purchased online in advance, with 50 percent of proceeds benefiting Friends of Berkeley Animal Care Services. On the day of the event itself, everything will be sold a la carte, and each booth is required to offer at least one affordable $5 option.
Children string up paper lanterns at Clinton Park during the 2020 edition of the Little Saigon Mid-Autumn Festival. (Good Good Eatz)
Oakland Little Saigon Mid-Autumn Festival
Clinton Park, Oakland September 18, 2021, noonâ5pmDetails here
To prepare for Eastlake Little Saigonâs big Mid-Autumn Festival celebration, the nonprofit Good Good Eatz and the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce are distributing 2,000 colorful paper lanterns to four local schools so that the students can paint and decorate them. On Sept. 18, the lanterns will light up 35 restaurants surrounding Clinton Park, acting as beacons to draw customers toward delicious pho and banh mi at neighborhood standards like Pho Vy, Pho Mekong and Cam Huong.Â
Continuing an ongoing cross-promotion with PokÃ©mon Go developer Niantic, many of the restaurants and markets will be designated as PokÃ©stops, where players of the augmented reality game can accrue power-ups. In further keeping with the Vietnamese emphasis of Mid-Autumn Festival as a childrenâs holidayâlike Halloween for Americans, Good Good Eatz co-founder Trinh Banh explainsâkids will be able to go around and collect cut fruit and other goodies from many of the participating merchants. Though final details have not been set, there will likely be a mooncake workshop or giveaway of some kind as well.
This will be a masked event, and COVID vaccination and testing will be available at Clinton Park.
Homemade gochujang in a traditional earthenware pot. (Sarah Kim-Lee)
K-Food Gochujang Festival
Presidio of San Francisco, Presidio Theatre Outdoor Plaza September 18, 2021, 11amâ2pmDetails here
San Franciscoâs Korean Consulate was all set to bring back its in-person Chuseok Festival (i.e., Korean harvest festival) when the delta variant put a damper on plans for such a large gathering. The good news is that while the Chuseok Festival is going all virtual (see below), the organizers had at least one smaller outdoor event in their back pocket, and itâs a rare treat: a gochujang-making class, with all of the materialsâincluding the onggi, or traditional earthenware vesselâprovided free of charge. Perhaps best known to American diners as the hot pepper paste used in bibimbap, gochujang is something that many Korean families no longer know how to make in the traditional way, according to event organizer Sarah Kim-Lee. âItâs a dying art in a way,â she says.Â
Luckily enough for participants in the workshop, Sun-Young Chang, author of the pioneering cookbook A Korean Mother’s Cooking Notes, will walk them through the process of preparing the gochujang and wrapping it beautifully inside the onggi, and participants will bring home the finished product, which will need to ferment at home for three months before itâs ready to eat.Â
Spots are extremely limited, so if youâd like to sign up, email Kim-Lee ASAP at firstname.lastname@example.org. Itâs also fine to just come as a spectator, especially since there will be four local chefs on hand to demonstrate how to cook with gochujang. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test will be required for admission.
A colorfully painted “SOMA Pilipinas” bus marks the entrance to Kapwa Gardens, one of the Culture Crawl’s featured venues. (Mogli Maureal)
Undiscovered SF Culture Crawl 2021
Mission Street between 3rd and 7th, San Francisco; virtual October 16, 2021, noonâ6pmDetails here
In pre-COVID times, Undiscovered SFâs periodic night markets were a blast of local Filipino American culture at its finest and most rollickingâthe DJs, b-boys, traditional folk dancers and, of course, a taste of the most delicious Filipino food the Bay Area has to offer. This yearâs edition will be a bit of a hybrid: For social distancing reasons, the live eventsâthe DJ sets and other performances, the food pop-ups, the streetwear and jewelry vendorsâwill be spread across three indoor and outdoor venues, together forming a âculture crawlâ meant to encourage guests to explore all that the SOMA Pilipinas corridor has to offer. For those in it primarily for the lechon (or the sisig or the halo-halo), a food passport will allow customers to access one menu item at every vendor for one fixed price. Confirmed vendors include Jeepney Guy (the local lechon master) and Barya Kitchen.
Meanwhile, those who feel more comfortable avoiding the crowds donât need to worry about missing out entirely: All of the performances and workshops will be livestreamed.
A cook demonstrates how to make jjapaguri, a dish made with instant noodles, during the 2020 edition of the virtual Chuseok Festival. (San Francisco Chuseok Festival)
Virtual Oct. 20âOct. 27, 2021Details here
The organizers of San Franciscoâs annual Chuseok Festival made a hard pivot just a couple of weeks ago, cancelling their plans for a large, extensive in-person event to instead focus their efforts on building an entire weekâs worth of free, all-virtual festivities. Few of those plans have been finalized yet, but the organizers confirm that there will be a number of food and beverage workshops in the mixâperhaps a demonstration of how to make makgeolli, the milky Korean home brew, for instance.Â Â Â
LumpiaPalooza will be a celebration of all things lumpia. (District Six)
District Six, 428 11th Street, San Francisco Oct. 23âOct. 24, 2021Details here
In just before the end of Filipino American History Month, LumpiaPalooza is, of course, a celebration of all things lumpia. Ten different vendors, including Oaklandâs Lumpia Company and Hayward-based Marleyâs Treats, will each offer their own signature version of the quintessential Filipino deep-fried treatâfrom traditional pork- and chicken-filled versions to dessert lumpia, vegan lumpia and unorthodox, hybridized creations inspired by cheeseburgers or elote. And, for the brave of heart, there will be a lumpia eating contest too.Â
Because of COVID safety concerns, this yearâs LumpiaPalooza will be spread across two days to help reduce the crowds, and District Sixâs 18,000-square-foot outdoor space should allow for plenty of social distancing. That said, folks should come expecting a partyâespecially with legendary hype man Fran Boogie hosting and Bay Area icon DJ Shortkut behind the decks.
This year’s DÃa de los Muertos Festival will be a socially distanced event. (The Unity Council)
DÃa de los Muertos Festival and Fruitvale Restaurant Week
International Boulevard, from Fruitvale Ave. to 40th Ave., Oakland Oct. 25âOct. 31, 2021Details here
Normally one of the busiest and most lively days of the year in Oaklandâs heavily Mexican and Latin American Fruitvale district, this yearâs DÃa de los Muertos Festival will mark a partial return to the before-times celebration of this holiday honoring the dead. The jaw-droppingly athletic Aztec dancers, the sleek lowriders and the moving and intricately assembled ofrendas will all be back for this yearâs festival, which takes place Oct. 31, says Itzel Diaz-Romo, the Interim Director of Development & Communications for the Unity Council, which is organizing the event. The performances and displays will just be spread out throughout the district to prevent crowds from accumulating at any one place. COVID vaccines and testing will be available on site.
The biggest difference, for food lovers, is that there wonât be any street vendors hawking tamales or pupusas this year. Instead, in an effort to support local restaurants, the week leading up to DÃa de los Muertos has been designated, as it was last year, as Fruitvale Restaurant Week. Details are still being finalized, but itâs likely that all participating restaurants will offer a $20 meal deal that includes a drink.
A collage of images from the 2020 Kimchi Cook-Off. (Kimchi Cook-Off)
Korean Kimchi Festival and Cook-Off
The Culinary Institute of America at Copia, Napa November 7, 2021Details here
For those looking for a more hands-on food event, a kimchi cook-off might be just the thing. Part of an international series sponsored by the Jongga kimchi company in partnership with prominent culinary schools, this yearâs Bay Area edition will take place at the CIA at Copia in downtown Napa, pitting eight finalists against each other to cook their own original recipes that incorporate kimchi. Top finishers will take home cash prizes. Kimchi enthusiasts who think theyâve got the right stuff simply need to submit an audition video to apply.
Festival director HJ Park says the original plan was to allow up to 200 audience membersâeach of whom would take home a DIY kimchi goodie bagâbut since itâs an indoor event, those plans are up in the air. Either way, the whole competition will be livestreamed via the eventâs Facebook page.
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