Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Powell Street Festival: A celebration of Japanese culture in Vancouver

The Vancouver Pride Parade was on the 3rd of August. Having only arrived for a couple of days, what better way was there to enjoy a new city and its people than to join in with the crowd? The atmosphere was fantastic and I absolutely loved the diversity of people that we met. After the Pride Parade, we (ok, I) were (was) determined to hit the other festival in town and went to the Powell Street Festival at Oppenheimer Park in same afternoon. It was a Japanese cultural festival with food stalls (yum), music and dance performances, crafts and book stalls and even a participatory sumo wrestling tournament.

It might just be me, but I thought the highlights of festivals like these are always the food stalls, and this one did not disappoint. Most of the food stalls were set up by local schools and associations so there is no restaurant-quality food but really authentic home-cooked flavours and just the kind of street food one would find in Japan. And street food in open markets is one of the things that I grew up with in Asia and sorely miss. You bet AP and I tried out some of the food, even though we went after (a quick) lunch!

There was a perpetually long queue at the very popular takoyaki stall. Takoyaki is a popular street snack in Japan made of batter with octopus filling (other varieties include ham, cheese, prawn, chicken etc) and topped with green onion, bonito (dried tuna) shavings, takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise.

Making takoyaki at full speed, a very time consuming job of turning the cooking batter round and round to achieve a ball shape.

Not being that patient (and not that fussed about takoyaki), we had gyoza (pan fried dumplings) instead. They were some of the best that I've ever had, with succulent chicken and vegetable filling and very nicely crisp on the outside without being dry or overly fried.


Cute guy at the yakisoba (pan fried noodles) stall very obligingly posed for me. (I've only just noticed his Doraemon apron in this photo!)

Skilled hands making temaki sushi (handrolls). The ladies seemed to be concentrating very hard!

We also bought an okonomiyaki. It's a sort of savoury pancake made with batter, cabbage, spring onions and teriyaki beef slices. Topped with bonito flakes (dried tuna shavings), mayo and okonomiyaki sauce. Different parts of Japan have their own variations with the batter and filling.

Plenty of people (mostly ladies) enjoyed the day in traditional costume.



We then spent almost an hour watching sumo wrestling. There was a great atmosphere as people cheered for their favourites or for the underdog (usually whoever was the smallest in that match!). The running commentary was by an old Japanese uncle who was quite funny. And one of the referees at the side looked like some ancient sensei (master) with his long white hair and beard. The participants sat around the circle, a mix of locals of East Asian, Caucasian and Black ethicities - pretty much reflecting the mix of people in Vancouver. Each match was very short but exciting and really drew in the crowd. It's not just about the size or weight but also technique and reading your opponent. Having said that, size does help!



Unfortunately, during the semifinals, one of the sumo contestant dislocated his shoulder. Ouch. First aid was there and an ambulance called for. The tournament was very much delayed by the incident and had to be cancelled eventually due to time. It was a shame and I hope that guy was alright. This is another event (along with the Pride Parade) that I will be sure to go for again next year.

There is so much happening in Vancouver during the summer. Festivals, street performances, open air concerts (with the weather being more predictable than England!) and plays etc. We're definitely going to make the most of it while the good weather lasts.


VeggieGirl said...

What an enriching experience at that festival!! Lovely photographs. Eek, too bad about what happened to one of the sumo contestants!

noble pig said...

What a wonderful festival. I love watching people make sushi, I bet this was a great experience over all.

Mrs Ergül said...

I'm glad to see that you guys are having a ball of fun there! Envious!

commoi said...

What a coincidence! I went to Powell Street Festival too (on both Saturday and Sunday). I wonder if we actually walked past each other without knowing it. My friend and I wanted to watch the Sumo Wrestling as well. Unfortunately, somehow it seemed to have started late, and we had to miss it.

And I was going to write about it this week on my blog too. Haha.

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

Thanks for this post. Now I feel like I've attended the festival. I get to live vicariously. ;)

Enjoy the weather: it looks like it might turn soon. We're supposed to get 7 days of sun but it's been so darn gloomy today. And muggy.

didally said...

What an experience! We don't have such cultural events, even so, perhaps in the Japan school.

eula said...

What a great post. I love Japanese street food even though I've never had the real thing. =( Your pictures of the octopus and okonomiyaki made me drool. P.S. You're so pretty!

Annika said...

Great post and lovely pictures. They really bring across the vibrancy of the festival. Do you always ask if you may take a picture of somebody, or do you simply snap away?

ShopLittleGifts said...

Looks like so much fun. I love Vancouver in the summer. It's comfortably warm. Here are some suggestions for places to eat: http://www.mondogelato.com (gelato on Robson) and http://www.shiru-bay.com/ (new japanese food in Yaletown. This magazine is also a pretty good starting point: http://www.where.ca/vancouver/category_guide~category_id~2.htm

Anonymous said...

That guy IS cute!!

prdtofthe80s said...

Hi there, you're featured on Food Gawker.
I was at the Powell Street Festival as well - seems I missed out on the gyoza (I was just way too full by the time I made it over there!). The takoyaki were delicious though! We went back the next day and ordered 3 trays! (Can you say oink?) :p

Nilmandra said...

Veggiegirl: Yeah, it was such a shame, but a known risk when participating in such sports :-/

Noble Pig: It was a great day out indeed!

Mrs Ergul: Yeah, only because we were still in 'holiday mood' then, heh. Now it's back to work for me :)

Commoi: Cool! Can't wait to see your post about it.

Eatingclub Vancouver: Yesterday was rather mugge but not so bad. It felt rather like being back in England haha. Trust me, there's more sunshine here!

Didally: There are many diverse ethnic groups here and sizeable numbers too. They seem to be pretty active, which means plenty of such events (might be smaller scale) year round.

Eula: LOL thanks for the compliment!

Annika: There were plenty of people snapping away at an event like that so I didn't feel too obstructive or rude doing the same. I usually do it from a distance and not 'in their face' about it, so it's usually ok. Although I do ask sometimes if I'm closer, for example, with the two Japanese girls under the umbrella.

Shop Little Gifts: Yum, thanks for the suggestions!

Prdtofthe80s: You're not so much greedy as patient, I think! Perhaps the queue was not so long earlier in the day?

Julia said...

Hi Nil, great to hear it's all going well!

By the way, I've given you an award: http://asliceofcherrypie.blogspot.com/2008/08/sharing-love.html

Little Corner of Mine said...

I love to go to this kind of festival, not only I get to people watch, food tasting but learn about the culture. I'm eyeing those Takoyaki!

Psss...I have an award for you in my blog.

noobcook said...

wow, this is really happening, vancouver looks like a great place 2 b ;) and hehe, yes the guy making the yakisoba is cute! ha ha ha:D

ah Teo said...

ooh takoyaki!! i like...what other flavours? haha..the sumo wrestling looks interesting!!

arachesostufo said...

ciao da venezia, dai che riva fiamma

Nilmandra said...

Julia: Thanks! Really nice to hear from you.

Little Corner of Mine: Yeah I love events like that. I must admit the food is top on my list!

Noobcook: And cute apron too, hehe. Real men are not afraid to wear pink, no? ;)

Ah Teo: I didn't look closely to see what other flavours. Maybe they only had the traditional octopus one for that event. I normally like the prawn or ham fillings. The sumo wrestling was a great crowd puller!

Arachesostufo: Thanks for the comment and hello from Vancouver :)

elsye said...

wo wow wooo...It's make me hungry..hihihihi...takoyaki is my favorite food, during summer I made takoyaki almost every week..:D

thanks for sharing Nilamdra..!

Lizzie said...

I love that Doraemon apron (it was called Ding Dong in Hong Kong)! It sounds like it was a great day out, I wish we had more events (and sunshine) like that in London.

Nolwenn said...

That seem awsome !

Do you know if this event happens every year ? (My family and I will be moving in Vancouver next january... we currently live in France).
We love japanese culture... and japanese food :D

Nilmandra said...

Elsye: Wow, must be a lot of work to make takoyaki yourself! Kudos to you!

Lizzie: Yeah I liked spotting that Doraemon apron, heh. I think there's lots going on in London too, just that the summer weather isn't that reliable!

Nolwenn: It's an annual event so I'm sure it will be held again next summer by the time you get here. Oppenheimer Park is slated for some redevelopment or landscaping, so the venue might change. But I'm sure it will still happen somewhere in the city.

Nolwenn said...

Great ! Thanks a lot for your answer :)

I hope you enjoy the city.

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