Five cultural festivals around ASU's Phoenix and Tempe campuses

Taste flavors from around the world at these five cultural festivals this spring

Whether you miss flavors from home or are looking to experience something new, cultural festivals are a great way to get out into the community and have a good time, all while trying some amazing foods.

This spring, there are a number of cultural festivals with an array of foods and drinks to enjoy. While they are primarily in downtown Phoenix, food fans from any campus definitely won’t want to miss out on these unique experiences.

Arizona Matsuri: Festival of Japan — Feb. 23 and 24

This year marks the 35th annual Arizona Matsuri: Festival of Japan. The matsuri, which translates to “festival” in Japanese, focuses on art, music, dance and food and offers nonstop entertainment on four stages. While there will be traditional dancing, there will also be martial arts, haiku poetry, taiko drumming and storytelling.

“The festival itself started at ASU with a group of students who were enthusiasts about Japanese culture, sharing what they had to offer at that time, and it’s continued year after year,” John Sachen, a steering committee member for the festival, said.

The festival will be packed with booths and food vendors offering familiar dishes such as teriyaki chicken, ramen noodles and shaved ice. In terms of beverages, a beer and sake garden is offered to those over 21 years old. For a small fee, there will also be a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

For those looking for a more interesting food experience, try takoyaki, a round snack filled with octopus that Sachen said is “gooey and chewy” and worth a try. 

Polish Festival — March 2 and 3

The 16th annual Polish Festival, which is held outside the Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Phoenix, invites community members to experience Polish culture and tradition through music, dancing and food.

Dave Bonczkiewicz is a member of the Pulaski Club, which is a Polish-American social club in Phoenix. The club is an active vendor with the Polish Festival, and Bonczkiewicz said, from his experience with the festival, that the food is always “very tasty and very delicious.”

“They’re going to have pierogies, which are like Polish dumplings, and they’re filled with either meat or sauerkraut or cheese,” he said. “Then they have the stuffed cabbage rolls, and the Polish ladies make those by hand over there at the church.”

A combination plate is also offered for those who wish to sample a bit of everything, which includes pierogi, a cabbage roll, sausage and potato pancakes. There will also be Polish beer and a variety of cakes and pastries. 

Bonczkiewicz said overall, the festival allows people in the U.S. to experience “what Poland’s all about.”

“You go there one day and you meet so many different people from not only the Polish community, but from different states,” Bonczkiewicz said. “You just have a good time from start to finish.”

Arizona Russian Festival — March 3

Russian culture comes to life at the Arizona Russian Festival at the Enchanted Island amusement park, which highlights the music, dancing, art, culture and cuisine of the Russian and Eastern European communities.

The cuisine includes Russian Shashlik (a type of kebab), Pelmeni (filled dumplings), Draniki (potato pancakes), Blini (traditional thin pancakes), Russian Pierogi (a pastry turnover), hot teas and much more.

While viewing Russian folk costumes and participating in traditional activities, those who attend will also be able to try hearty soups, such as Ukha, a Russian fish soup.

“One of our all-time favorites is Russian Borsh,” said Julie Stepanova, president of the Arizona Russian Festival. “It’s a kind of vegetable soup with many vegetables like carrots and beets.”

People from other cities and even other states travel to the festival, Stepanova said, because it is one of the only Russian festivals in Arizona.

“There is so much culture that we can present and get American people familiar with,” she said. 

Arizona Aloha Festival — March 9 and 10

The South Pacific Islands are celebrated in full spirit at the Arizona Aloha Festival at Tempe Beach Park, where visitors can experience traditional performances, such as dancing, and enjoy a colorful island marketplace. 

“The South Pacific is a mix of cultures,” said Lacretia Bacon, a chairperson with the festival. “It is truly the crossroad of the Pacific, so a lot of the food, some people would call ‘fusion.’"

The festival offers some of the "basics," like teriyaki chicken, Bacon said. But it also offers huli-huli chicken, which is a type of barbecued chicken, she said. 

Popular island foods to try include steamed pork buns, coconut pudding, pineapple curry, coconut shrimp, fruit smoothies and a shaved ice treat.

The “plate lunch” is also a popular must-try at this festival and includes rice, macaroni salad and either kalua pig or teriyaki chicken, all with an island twist.

“We have a saying, 'Don’t eat until you’re full, eat until you’re tired,'” Bacon said. “There’s a lot of eating when you go to a luau.”

Along with great food and festivities, the Arizona Aloha Festival is walking distance from ASU's Tempe campus and the organization welcomes students to volunteer with the event.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Faire — March 16

Don’t forget to wear green as the community celebrates all things Irish at the 36th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Faire at the Irish Cultural Center in Margaret T. Hance Park.

This dog-friendly festival will start with a parade of festive floats, marching bands, performers, Irish dancers and bagpipers. After the parade, attendees can enjoy traditional Irish music, Celtic rock and step dancing performed across four different stages. There will also be booths filled with merchandise, food and beverages.

The flavors of Irish cuisine are celebrated with fish and chips, hamburgers, jumbo bratwurst, ribbon fries, fry bread, funnel cakes and cold drinks, including a diverse beer selection.

“We have a little bit of everything for everyone,” said Mary Moriarty, treasurer and chair of the fair. “Unfortunately, the Irish have a stereotype of imbibing too much, and we want people to see that there’s a lot more to Irish culture than drinking, leprechauns and potatoes.”

For an additional fee, there will also be an Irish tea and coffee ceremony along with a variety of baked goods such as scones and soda bread. It will include a brief lesson on the history of tea in Ireland.

“The United States is a melting pot, and Arizona’s a melting pot," Moriarty said. "We have to celebrate all of the cultures that got together to make this country and to make this state, and that’s the beauty of it."

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