NAPLES — Food, fashion, dancing and music helped the crowds at the Mercato celebrate the Year of the Tiger and learn more about different cultures during Asia Fest on Saturday.
The event was organized by the National Association of Asian American Professionals in Southwest Florida to showcase different Asian cultures and to help raise money for the organization’s scholarship fund.
“Our group wanted to give back to the community and share our culture,” said Judy Wright, coordinator of Asia Fest. “It’s a great opportunity to show people there’s a lot more to Asian culture than just their Chinese take-out.”
While Chinese food was available at the event, crowds also gathered around other food booths for a chance to try less-traditional cuisines.
Scott Halbert and his sister, Linda Woody, both tasted Korean and Indian dishes while waiting for the Japanese taiko drum group to perform.
“Food is a great uniter,” Woody said. “You start out with food and if they like the food, people become interested in other aspects of the culture.”
The food available at Asia Fest included Bengali coconut shrimp curry over basmati rice and ginger chicken meatballs with homemade tomato chutney.
“I thought it would be fun to do something that is part of my heritage,” said Rita Bhaduri-Sterk, owner and executive chef of Saute Catering. “I’m half Indian _ my father is from Calcutta.”
A few booths down from Bhaduri-Sterk, the Korean American Baptist Church of Fort Myers was so busy, the workers ran out of rice and kimchi.
“It was very overwhelming at times,” said Soona Guak, who was helping cook fried dumplings.
A steady stream of visitors also stopped by a booth featuring demonstrations of Chinese calligraphy and water color paintings.
“People are very interested in what they are seeing and it’s a good time to demonstrate our Chinese culture,” said Kim Chen, who volunteered at the booth.
In addition to Chinese, Indian, Korean and Japanese, other Asian cultures represented at Asia Fest included Thai, Filipino, and Indonesian.
“This is a great way to bring some culture and diversity to Naples,” Halbert said.
Organizers hope it also shows the diversity already present in the area.
“The Asian population is growing from when I first came here in 1988,” said Wright, who was born in New York City, but whose parents are both Chinese. “Now we have two Asian grocery stores in Naples. We also have people who look forward to coming to Asia Fest every single year.”
E-mail Catherine Howden at firstname.lastname@example.org