There are lots of reasons to love a food festival. Whenever there’s one happening in Melbourne, I think about going.
A few weeks ago I went down to the Night Noodle Markets after work with my colleagues. An outdoor food festival at Birrarung Marr, a grassy patch at the edge of the city, serving up all kinds of Asian street food you can think of. When the eight of us twenty-somethings arrived at a quarter to six, a sea of people greeted our eyes. Tables packed. Queues in front of food stalls where chefs dished up food right before our eyes.
We go to food festivals because it’s a chance for us to give in to our love for food. A time to indulge our food cravings. We go to food festivals for the food, for our old favourite foods and the foods we’ve always wanted to try. As my colleagues and I made our way past the entrance, a dozen different gastronomic aromas hit us in the face left, right and centre. Vietnamese pho. Korean fried chicken. Chinese baos. Japanese ramen. Mouthwatering Asian street food. What shall I eat? Everything.
When I was a kid, I celebrated the “Chinese New Year” in Malaysia with my family.
When we moved back to Australia seven years after living in Asia, to my confusion I learnt that the “Lunar New Year” is often used to refer to the “Chinese New Year” in Melbourne. Both phrases are used interchangeably literally everywhere here – on posters, flyers and billboards to name a few – time and time again.
Today, the Lunar New Year is widely celebrated in Australia each year.
Lion dances and Asian cultural performances on city streets are a common sight here in the weeks leading up to start of the brand new lunar calendar. Various profit/not-for-profit bodies and everyday people from all walks of life frequently and tirelessly pitch in to organise and partake in these festivities.
Giant golden snake and red lanterns. Oz departmental store Myer getting into the Lunar New Year spirit. Photo: Mabel Kwong
However, interestingly enough, the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, holds contrasting meanings for different groups Down Under.
In such a globalised world, it’s common to find cultural festivals on show every now and then around us today. When ethnic festivals pop up in a Western city, words that spring to mind when we think about them include, ‘traditional customs’, ‘diverse cultures’ and ‘multicultural’.
But looking closely at cultural festivals, at times these culturally vibrant shindigs that often attract people of all walks of life in attendance do not wholly perpetuate the ideals of multiculturalism.
The JCAF 2012. Acoustic Japanese music performance by Shigeo Furukawa and Claire Jackson on stage. Photo by Sue Chen.
The gist of multiculturalism is about interacting and getting along harmoniously with our friends, colleagues and acquaintances of culturally diverse backgrounds and learning to respect the beliefs and customs of our fellow citizens no matter their religion.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to check out the Malaysia Street Festival at Queen Victoria Market. I was expecting this event to showcase only Malaysian street food, but lo and behold, I discovered non-Malaysian food was on offer as well.
I ambled up to the festival just after 1p.m. on an exquisite blue sky Sunday, and it was packed. People stood shoulder to shoulder akin to sardines in a tin can at the Market’s carpark area where food stalls were set up in a neat row. Some people stood in enormously long queues for food, while others simply crowded around stalls gawking at the colourful, mouth-watering dishes on display.
The Malaysian flag flying high at the Malaysia Street Festival.
I also spied with my little myopic eyes a Malaysian flag stuck high and mighty on top of one of the stalls, flying majestically in the slight breeze. A small yet significant mark of Malaysian pride in a city that is home to many Malaysian immigrants and international students.