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.
We visit food festivals for a one of a kind dining experience that doesn’t come by all the time. Not often do some of us get to choose from a dozen or more cuisines for a meal or eat outdoors under the sky. As my colleagues settled themselves on the grass at one corner of Birrarung Marr, I wandered around on my own, smoky-barbeque taste lingering in my mouth. That chicken skewer tasted out of this world. Probably will need to pay a million bucks to eat something that good again.
We love food festivals because they touch us deep down inside. They are emotional experiences. They take us to another place, maybe on a trip down memory lane and stirring feelings of the past. Sauntering past the Monkey Lane line of stalls, I heard whispered tsk tsk bickering at the back of long queues. The dull thump of a butcher’s blade slicing a coconut open. Just like the going to pasar-malam-night-markets in Malaysia. Only less deafening. Less skin-on-skin contact. More civilised.
We love going to food festivals because it’s a time to unwind and soak up the spirit of love. An occasion to go out with those we know and enjoy each other’s company over food. After 20 minutes of walking around the Noodle Market, I made my way back to my colleagues. Just before I sat down on the grass, the ever boisterous colleague Julien waved a paper plate of two greasy chicken wings in the air: “We saved some for you! Take it! Take it!”
Of course, there are sour and stressful moments at food festivals too. Long queues for food. Packed crowds. Expensive, small servings of foods. The endless hunt for a place to sit. The narrow patch of grass that my colleagues and I ended up sitting on was wedged in between the VIP Mercedes Benz marquee and the massive dark green wheelie trash bins.
We get mixed emotions when we go to a food festival. We have expectations: we expect the food to taste delicious, expect a big feed, a seat, get food in a jiffy. After all, there’s always some word-of-mouth hype around each food festival. And sometimes we get let down. Somehow we always walk away from them with something positive to say, and keep going back again and again.
Four days after this post-work outing, I found myself back at the Night Markets to try more food, getting my fingers sticky with takoyaki sauce this time. And I found myself there again on the second last night of the festival for year to take photos. Standing on top of the highest point of the Night Markets, I had a bird’s eyes view of it all (gallery below): kids, grown ups in suits, faces of different colours, Cookie Monster. Most of Melbourne had turned out. The warm evening spring sun fell upon us, blanketing us as one. I smiled.
Food festivals: sensory experiences of all the senses, making us feel alive. It’s not just about the food. Going to food festivals, we see a bit more about our culture, and a bit more of the world too.
Do you like going to food festivals?