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article imageTucson puts the taste in Asia at first ever festival Special

By Kim Hartman     May 4, 2010 in Food
Tucson - For the first time ever, Tucsonans experienced a blending of cultures and ethnicities at the Taste of Asia festival. The never before held event drew in thousands.
It was an Asian shish kebob with eight countries on the skewer.
At the first annual Taste of Asia festival in the city, Tucsonans indulged in a cornucopia of Eastern food from eight different booths. Job-chae from Korea, tom kha kai from Thailand, chicken curry from Sri Lanka, beef sticks and sticky rice from Laos, shashlik from Kazakhstan and spring rolls from Vietnam were just some of the available plates.
Although it was the focus of the event, the diverse cuisine was just part of Taste of Asia.
Held on Apr. 31-May 1 at the Chinese Cultural Center, the festival also featured three stages of music, cultural demonstrations, activities and a barrage of Eastern merchandise. The event represented at least 11 different countries. Tucsonans turned out in the thousands at the Asian fair, which had never been held in the city before this past weekend.
“I was so excited about Taste of Asia coming to Tucson that I was eagerly counting down the days,” Muso musician Hiroko Coates said. “I’m so appreciative that the people of Tucson are interested in Japanese music and want to come out and listen to it.”
The final song that the bi-racial duo Muso performed at Taste of Asia was called “Song of the Matsuri.” This was fitting, as the word matsuri refers to a Japanese festival that celebrates community togetherness. And that’s exactly what this year’s event was: Tucsonans unifying and rejoicing in an Eastern melting pot of cultures.
In fact, the Japanese native Coates’s other half in Muso is Paul Amiel, a shakuhachi-playing Caucasian who specializes in an array of Eastern music. A shakuhachi is a Japanese end-blown flute made of bamboo or wood. Coates’s instrument is called a koto, a Japanese harp measuring 6 feet by 14 inches.
“I’ve learned that what ethnicity you are isn’t always the same as your culture,” Amiel said. “I’ve met a lot of Asians who are into heavy metal or folk music, while here I am – this white guy from Los Angeles – who loves Asian music and performs sounds from the East. It’s not always people’s racial makeup that defines their culture – it’s more about their personalities.”
The smorgasbord of cultures and ethnicities spread beyond the performers. Vietnamese festival attendee An Kim has lived in the United States her entire life, but said her heritage has value.
“With me being Vietnamese and my husband being Korean, we try to find Asians that we can relate to in Tucson,” Kim said. “Our background is important to us.”
Others at the festival were native Asians who immigrated to the United States and continue to make their ethnicity compatible with their culture. One example of this is Sudhir Nath Newa, a Nepalian merchandise vendor,who had a table full of imported handmade silver rings, bracelets and his most popular seller at Taste of Asia – bone necklaces.
“I came over from Nepal in September to sell my jewelry to Tucson stores,” Newa said. “Business has been slow, but Tucson is very pretty and my sister-in-law lives here, so I’d like to stay here for awhile.”
In addition to Newa’s booth, the event had many separate stands on display, including Chinese calligraphy, martial arts, clothing, artwork, language classes, packaged snacks and Odaiko. Certified instructor Don Lightner hosted a workshop called the Japanese tea ceremony, a meditative practice involving tea that takes decades to master.
“(The tea ceremony) has made me slow down and appreciate everything more,” he said. “It forces you not to be lazy and be more aware of everything, like the sound of the birds.”
The half-hour workshop was offered to attendees in four time slots on Saturday for five dollars a session.
On the topic of the festival itself, Lightner continued saying, “The turnout was better than I expected. We’re probably going to sell out.”
Taste of Asia coincided with the conclusion of April, Asian heritage month.
“I really love sharing culture with others,” the Muso member Amiel said. “We need more events like this.”
More about Taste asia, Tucson, Chinese cultural center, Asian food, Muso
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