Ok ok. Just one more article 'cause this one is time sensitive, then I'll start my Canada series. I promise.)
Every year, the city of Irvine holds a sprawling carnival at Bill Barber Park to celebrate the city's cultural diversity. The euphonically named Irvine Global Village Festival invites restaurants, religions, and cultural organizations to participate in the event and foster understanding, tolerance, and appreciation of the disparate groups that share our fair city. Cat and I have been avid supporters of the festival since our first visit in 2006.
The cultural exhibits are something I look forward to. I have a lot of fun learning about new cultures, particularly ones I didn't expect to find in Irvine. Chinese, Persian, and Korean exhibits are to be expected, and are always fun to visit, but I had no idea that Irvine boasts representatives from Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Slovenia, and Kurdish Iraq. It was nice to see a display by the Daughters of the American Revolution. When exploring the diversity of cultures in our country, we often forget to honor the evolution of our own distinctly American culture. From the Native Americans who first inhabited the land to British colonists that formed the original Union, the Dutch and German settlers that expanded the Union, the Spanish settlers subsumed as Spain sold its rights to the New World, the African slaves, without which the wealth of the fledgling Union could not have been built, and the eventual inclusion of representatives from every culture under the sun, the United States has a culture truly unique in the world due to its inclusiveness. I couldn't be prouder to be a citizen.
Nowhere at the Irvine Global Village Festival wass the city's diversity more evident than on the fair's three entertainment stages. Spaced throughout the park, each stage boasted a variety of performances representing a number of cultures, including Aztec warriors, a patriotic children's choir, Hawaiian dancers, and Taiko drummers. Wandering entertainers, such as an African drumming trio, stilt walkers, and a belly dancer, livened things up. There were also rows of craft booths and an entire tent dedicated to the religions of the world.
Intellectual nourishment aside, the main draw for most celebrants, myself included, was the food. There was a lot of it this year, even more than last year, from restaurants in and around Irvine. As usual, I tried to get a sampling of everything.
However, I first had to get my hands on some food tickets. For some reason, food vendors at the Irvine Global Village Festival won't accept cash; at least they're not supposed to. Instead, you purchase tickets from one of several booths for a dollar a ticket, then exchange the tickets for food. Luckily, the lines weren't too bad and moved quickly.
To my great disappointment, Formosa Chinese Restaurant was a no-show this year, despite being listed in the program as a participant. Russell's Seafood Palace, one of my preferred haunts for weekend dim sum, was also absent. Instead, Cat and I decided to hit up Crystal Jade, a recently opened Cantonese eatery on Quail Hill Parkway. It was the perfect opportunity, since I'd been meaning to try their dim sum for my Dim Sum Series.
The dim sum was very good. Surprisingly good, actually, given that they were prepared at the restaurant and driven to the park fifteen minutes away to be served from foil containers. Even more amazing was that half the items were steamed dim sum, which have a notoriously brief lifespan once cooked. However, the Xiao Jiao (Shrimp Dumplings), Shao Mai (Pork Meatball Dumplings), and Cha Shao Bao (Steamed BBQ Pork Buns) were all moist and flavorful. Cat decided to try some of their Chen Pi Ji (Orange Chicken), which really hit the spot for her. I'm definitely giving Crystal Jade a try at their restaurant sometime soon.
Price: $1 for two dim sum items, $5 for the Orange Chicken.
ROI: B+ (The dim sum were worth it, the chicken wasn't.)
6511 Quail Hill Parkway
Irvine, CA 92620
Next, a quick stop at the Champion Food Company from Fountain Valley for something to drink. As with last year, I was surprised that the one in Irvine didn't attend, although I think I recognized the owner from the Irvine branch running the booth. Maybe they're both owned by the same person.
I picked up a Milk Tea which was quite refreshing. There weren't any tea eggs this time, although they were frying up some delicious looking Taiwanese sausages. Still full from my dim sum gorge fest, I decided to move on.
Price: $2 for the milk tea
Champion Food Corporation
17090 Magnolia St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Still quite hungry, Cat decided to get something from May Garden Chinese Restaurant, which seemed to be serving more standard steam table Chinese fare. She chose a bowl of fried rice topped with a stir-fry of bell peppers and chicken, which was a lot sweeter than it looked. We weren't too impressed with what they were offering at the Irvine Global Village Festival, but some of the Yelp reviews I looked up afterwards were interesting enough that I plan to give them another try.
May Garden Chinese Restaurant
1400 S.E. Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92707
Without the Shire Nomad as backup this time, Cat and I were about at our limit. We decided to finish up at the African Hut for some hearty South African fare. The smell of grilling sausage was irresistible, so Cat and I split a Boerewors Sausage Roll, which was served with an onion tomato sauce. Boerewors are spiced South African farm sausages made using pork and beef. Cat found it too greasy for her taste, and didn't like the combination of flavors from the meat and spices. I, on the other hand, enjoyed the unique taste, especially when topped with the onion tomato sauce. The sauce helped tone down the gamey flavor of the boerewors and added a mellow sweetness.
For dessert, I picked up a plate of Malva Pudding. A popular South African dish of Dutch origin, Malva pudding is a dense, moist cake made with apricot and topped with custard. It was very rich and not as sweet as I expected. I rather enjoyed it.
As a side note, if you read my review of the festival last year, you might recall I experienced a bit of unpleasantness interacting with one of the South African workers at the booth. There wasn't any sign of that this year. My entire experience was very pleasant, as it always it when I visit the African Hut's brick and mortar location.
Price: $3 for the sausage roll and $2 for the Malva pudding
The African Hut
27601 Forbes Rd
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
Cat's sweet tooth still needed to be satisfied, but she barely had any stomach space left. Layer Cake Bakery's assortment of cookies was perfect. One chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie later, she was a happy kitty.
As a side note, I think Layer Cake Bakery is opening a branch up on Barranca, at the site of the ill-fated Irvine J's Market. If anyone knows what happened to the owners of Irvine J's, please let me know. They were very nice people.
Layer Cake Bakery
Irvine, CA 92606
(One of our boys in blue patrolling the fair on a really cool T3 Motion scooter thing. Go Irvine PD!)
Irvine Global Village Festival - Come take a bite out of our community. You can fill your stomach, heart, and mind all at once.
The Irvine Global Village Festival
Bill Barber Park
4 Civic Center Plaza
Irvine, CA 92606
Irvine Global Village Festival Website
One day every September from 10:00am-6:00pm
Click here to read my review of the 2006 Irvine Global Village Festival.