"If you can't afford to travel, the best way to learn about a different culture is through their food," says Gavin Booth, co-founder (alongside local restaurateur Min Choe) of Far East Fest, Austin's Asian food festival, which on Feb. 9 celebrated its second annual all-you-can-eat event in the parking lot of the nearly one-year-old H Mart on Lakeline Boulevard (year one took place on the Austin American-Statesman's grounds).
"Snapshot" spent the uncommonly cold day among 2,900 foodies eating for warmth on that proverbial trip – a delicious tour of specialty morsels from 30-plus local restaurants, plus performances from various Asian cultural groups.
In between bites, Mayor Steve Adler took a moment to highlight the fest's glocal significance: "The Asian community is the fastest-growing subcommunity in our city – it's doubling in population every 10-12 years," he said. "Austin's becoming an increasingly international city, which means that there are more textures and colors and flavors ... [and] the people who are here are reaching out to the rest of the world to find markets for their products or content for what they're doing – that's what this reflects."
High-end mainstay Sway – "which always has some of the best Thai food in the country," said Booth – defended their 2018 Judges' Championship accolade with their chao tôm (a pork-and-shrimp dumpling wrapped around a sugarcane stick with "so good" aioli). Savory-sweet perfection.
Filipino mom-and-pop trailer Tito Adobo (2207 E. Cesar Chavez) garnered the most votes to claim the People's Champion award for their lechon kawali (deep-fried Duroc pork, provided by Tender Belly, on a bed of tangy apple-jicama slaw and fried rice): "Whether you're a fan of pork belly or not, Filipino food is the current or next Asian culture you should be seeing and tasting everywhere," Booth said.
In a sea of dumplings, meat dishes, and noodles, "Snapshot" was most tempted by this vegetarian standout: Tso Chinese Delivery's green bean fries (deep-fried in tempura, garnished with sriracha mayo and spices). Seconds (and thirds) may have happened.
As part of the fest's "very intentional" rescheduling from October (last year yielded blazing temperatures) to coincide with Lunar New Year (Feb. 5), this year's fest featured far more traditional performances, including this spectacular geisha display.
The finale: a no-hands noodle eating contest. Ken Taro (obscured by these other competitors, who he left in the dust) won easily by inhaling a pound and a half of lo mein within minutes.
See more at austinchronicle.com/arts/snapshot, and check out a full gallery of Far East Fest at austinchronicle.com/photos. Want to pitch an event, happening, idea, or person for "Snapshot"? Email the author/photog: firstname.lastname@example.org.