Last Sunday afternoon my friend and I rode the bus to Thai Town in East Hollywood to check out the International Curry Festival. We spent about two hours at the festival, trying several food dishes and drinks, browsing one of the Thai grocery markets, and watching singing and dancing performances. These are my personal ratings on different aspects of the festival.
Ambiance: there were a lot of people and it was challenging to swim through the crowd. I appreciated that there was always at least one performance in progress: singing, traditional dance, beauty pageant, or rock band. But it was often difficult to get a good view, especially since I am short.
Food: Most of the curry dishes were Thai and Thai-Chinese. One vendor sold Indonesian dishes (Simpang Asia, who won the Curry King award), one sold Indian curries, and I think there were one or two Japanese curry vendors too. I was a bit disappointed that there were few vegetarian options. I tried papaya salad, Thai sweet-spicy crispy vermicelli noodles, and tapioca cakes. My friend got Thai coffee, a grass jelly drink, curry egg rolls, and curry croquettes. I personally thought the food was good, though the papaya salad was pretty darn spicy, even for a kimchi lover like me! Most curry dishes were $4-8 and the portions seemed fair. Waiting time in line for the most popular vendors was about 20 minutes.
Cultural learning: if I hadn’t had time constraints, I would have liked to stay another hour or two to watch the performances more. It’s hard to rate “interesting-ness” since everyone has different entertainment preferences. I thought the Thai traditional dance was most engaging. The wrestling match would have been cooler if I’d had a better view. The singing performances were not that interesting to me because I didn’t understand the lyrics of the Thai-language musical group and the rock band sang American songs like “Hotel California.”
I think that for a deeper cultural experience, it’s best to go with a friend who is familiar with the Thai language and culture, so that he/she can explain and interpret the significance of performances and food for you. It is very difficult to get any more than a superficial impression of a culture at a festival this large of a scale.
Overall rating: B. I would go again, but next time I would bring a Thai friend and try to stay longer.
By the way, when you go to food festivals, reduce trash by bringing your own Tupperware! To my pleasant surprise, the vendors at the Curry Festival were receptive to putting the food into my Tupperware. In fact, I think I got a larger-than-average serving of papaya salad because of it. And the Tupperware is also handy when you can’t finish all of your food and need to take the leftovers home.
If you went to this year’s curry festival, leave us a comment on your experience!
– posted by Debbie Chong