For a few hours this weekend, Wichita experienced a taste of Asian culture.
Potstickers. Curries. Egg rolls. Asian barbeques. Fried rices.
All tempting the senses of friends Debbie Mount, Lisa Donely, Martha Cansler and Wes Cantrell, who surrounded a small table in Century II Convention Hall.
“I could not tell you what they are,” Mount said, waving her spoon at a smattering of colorful Indian dishes ladled generously into foam takeout cartons.
But, the friends agreed, they’re tasty.
Savory-sweet fragrances and succulent dishes were just one aspect that drew thousands to the 32nd annual Wichita Asian Festival, held Saturday at Century II in downtown Wichita. The yearly event gives residents a chance to experience Asian culture and traditions from 16 countries in a group setting, Wichita Asian Association treasurer and coordinator Mohan Kambampati said.
“This is a very unique event. No other cities in the surrounding states have this kind of a program,” Kambampati said above loud drumming accompanying a show by Chinese martial artists.
The free festival, which draws about 6,000 people annually, features more than 40 food booths with cuisine from a dozen countries, craft vendors and shows by Asian performers and dancers.
“The programs are unique. Except the martial arts, you just don’t see these programs,” he said.
But what really draws the crowds?
“The food, of course,” Kambampati said.
Cantrell said he encouraged his friends to attend so they could sample authentic Asian cuisine. He and his son, Benjamin, have attended the event for the past few years. But the women – who say they are avid food festivalgoers – were there for the first time.
“It’s always a good cultural, ethnic experience,” Cantrell said as the group shared spoonfuls of dosa, a rice and lentil crepe dish served with coconut milk and mint sauces.
“When I go out in the country, I love to eat at the local places, so this is a good taste of local culture that you really can’t get inside of a restaurant here in Wichita.
“A lot of it is homemade and things that you can’t find in a restaurant.”