Louise Saxton grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, eating spicy, pungent dishes full of onions, garlic, fresh herbs and heat. Lots of heat.
She moved to the United States to attend Wichita State University and ended up staying. She’s been here 13 years and has an American husband and two small children.
Saxton’s family members like some Indonesian food but think it’s a little too hot. To her, American food is OK but a bit bland.
On Saturday, Wichita can decide.
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Saxton and her mother, Sisca Lukman, will be among dozens of cooks preparing food native to their homelands on Saturday at the 34th annual Asian Festival, an event that fills Century II with more than 30 food vendors serving food from 12 countries.
The festival has become a favorite for local foodies, but it’s also intended to showcase other aspects of Asian culture. In addition to the deliciousness, the event will include art vendors and stage shows featuring a traditional Chinese Lion Dance, Tai Chi and kung fu demonstrations, Indian Bollywood-style dancing, and traditional songs and dances from Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and more. The event also includes the Miss Asian Festival Scholarship Pageant.
“We want people to go there and enjoy the food, of course,” said Mohan Kambampati, organizer of the Asian Festival.“That is special. You don’t get some of these foods everyday, not even in restaurants. But at same time, we want people to go and enjoy the stage presentations.”
Admission is free, and the event usually draws between 5,500 and 6,000 people, Kambampati said.
Some of the food venders that will be at the Asian Festival are restaurants. This year, Passage to India, Zaytun, Malaysia Cafe, Boba Zone, Teriyaki House and Beard Papa’s all will be serving at the festival. La Galette, a Lebanese restaurant with French bakery items, will be the only non-Asian restaurant there and will serve desserts.
Others vendors will be home cooks or student groups serving food native to countries including China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India.
They’ll be offering dishes that are familiar to Wichita – egg rolls, spring rolls, banh mi sandwiches, boba tea – as well as food that’s not commonly available. Wichita, for example, doesn’t have any Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi restaurants, and food from both will be sold at the festival. Another popular draw is dosa, an Indian dish that features a crepe-like shell made from soaked and ground rice and lentils that’s stuffed with a spicy potato curry filling and dipped in chutney. It’s not served in local Indian restaurants, mainly because it’s time-consuming to prepare, but Indian cooks will be making it on-site at the Asian Festival.
Dishes are served a la carte and cost about $8 each.
Saxton said her mom is an excellent Indonesian cook and even owns a catering business in her native country. (Lukman is in the U.S. temporarily helping her daughter with her children.)
The two have attended the Asian Festival in the past and always wanted to serve their food there, too.
They’ll be cooking a dish called rendang, a spicy beef stew made with curry and coconut milk and served with steamed rice, as well as spicy chicken, an Indonesian-style stir fry seasoned with coconut milk, chile and lemongrass. The cooks will tame the spice to accommodate Western palates, Saxton said.
They’ll also serve a couple of traditional desserts, including one called teler. It’s made with avocado, coconut and jack fruit topped with ice and condensed milk.
Saxton said she is eager to introduce her food to the crowd, but she also is eager to scope out neighboring booths. Saxton is a big fan of Vietnamese and Thai food, she said.
“I like to go around and try other different food,” she said. “You don’t have to go a lot of different places to get it. It’s all right there in one place.”
If you go
34th annual Asian Festival
What: A festival of Asian culture and food put on by the Wichita Asian Association
When: 5:30-10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Century II Convention Hall, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: Admission is free. Donations will be accepted. Food and crafts are available for purchase.