Recognizing the Asian-Pacific American Heritage Festival

The celebration is bringing together Asian food, entertainment and more to promote the minority culture in the city.

Most people are probably unaware of the fact that May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and that’s why the Pan Asian Association of Greater Philadelphia is continuing their effort of promoting and recognizing the month with their 8th Annual Asian-Pacific American Heritage Festival this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Franklin Square Park. The event is free for all to attend.

The festival is a celebration of the many cultures and accomplishments of the Asian-Pacific American community in the local area, including  Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian and Filipino-Americans and immigrants, just a few of the communities have made an impact on the globalization of the city.

Alan Gung, Media Subcommittee for the Asian-American Heritage Festival and Temple alum has been a part of the Pan Asian Association for three years. Since then, he has noticed that the Asian-Pacific American community has grown not only in size but in influence.

“There weren’t as many restaurants and Asian-American businesses, but now it’s expanded,” Gung said. “Now there’s a larger influence and it does have some influence on a lot of these businesses.”

One such influence has been on the street food scene, particularly in food trucks combining different Asian cultures’ ingredients and dishes with inspiration from Philly. Three food trucks that are set to represent this growing, changing Asian influence at the festival are Foo Truck, Poi Dog and Koja Food Truck.

George Pan, also a Temple alum, opened Foo Truck in 2011 and was one of the only few Asian food trucks around to participate in a previous festival.

His take on Asian food strays away from traditional fare, having been raised in Philly his whole life. In using Korean, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese influences with his popular ‘Foowiches’, he makes creates dishes like kimchi fried rice and thai curry quinoa.

“I think with food trucks, we have a little more different take on food,” Pan said. “I was raised here so my palette’s a little different.”

Poi Dog, a food truck specializing in Hawaiian-influenced snacks and platters, has taken this same approach. Kiki Aranita, co-owner of Poi Dog, feels that the Hawaiian theme isn’t a limiting factor for them in terms of their menu.

“At Poi, we have many, many different cultures in terms of what we call our local identity,” Aranita said.

Having been raised half of her life in Hawaii and the other half in Hong Kong, the concept of melding other cultures’ foods and ingredients is something Aranita embraces with the name, “Poi Dog” meaning “mixed breed or mutt.”

The truck serves Hawaiian Kalua Pork, Japanese-inspired Mochi Nori Fried Chicken and Pineapple Bibingka, a Filipino coconut rice cake, and Hawaiian-style tacos.

“We definitely wanted to represent the food that Philly likes to eat,” Aranita said.

In addition to the food, there will be entertainment from local organizations like the Philadelphia Suns’ Lion Dance and Old City Aikido’s martial arts performance, as well as guest appearances from local Asian Americans like NBC 10’s Denise Nakano and City Councilman David Oh. There are also a number of workshops planned for the Children’s Fair from the Please Touch Museum and the Philadelphia Zoo.

All these preparations and promotions are done by volunteers like Gung who want the festival to be much more than “just an ethnic or cultural festival,” he said.

“We’re really trying to target the area as a whole, not just the city, not just the Asian-Pacific population,” Gung said. “It’s for people to really enjoy and learn more about the various Asian cultures throughout their region.”

In the same way, both Pan and Aranita hope that the number of Asian-Pacific food trucks will grow and that they will be more recognized.

“Asian-Pacific Americans are not well-represented at all,” Aranita said. “A lot of different food trucks have been coming out and everybody has a different type of theme but not too many Asian trucks,” Pan said. “We’re still the minority.”

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