This Fall, Bay Area Food Events Emphasize Culture and Community

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Cross section view of Jeepney Guy's lechon-style roast pork belly with crispy skin.
Jeepney Guy's gloriously crisp-skinned lechon will be one of the highlights of the Undiscovered SF Filipino culture crawl. (Jeepney Guy)

It’s no secret that fall is the real Bay Area summer, when temperatures push into the 80s and 90s—and, air quality permitting, food lovers loosen their pants and head outdoors for the region’s biggest and most highly anticipated food festivals. It’s stunt taco season. Fried food on a stick season. 

This year, of course, the delta variant had something to say about all that, and concerns about super spreader events put the kibosh on the largest of these in-person gatherings. Eat Real Fest was canceled months ago. La Cocina’s annual San Francisco Street Food Festival won’t be happening this October.

Still, this fall does offer some of the first opportunities food lovers have had in a year and a half to gather in person—mostly outdoors, with masks—with a few hundred other mooncake connoisseurs or vegan burrito enthusiasts. In fact, this year’s small but mighty slate of food festivals looks more community-oriented and culturally significant than ever. Feel more comfortable chilling out at home with a virtual event? We’ve got a few options for you as well.

Reminder: COVID precautions remain in flux. Proof of vaccination is a requirement for many indoor events. Before making plans, and again before arrival, be sure to check event websites for the latest protocols.

Hand holding a burrito split open so you can see the cross section of the filling: rice, refried beans, avocado.
A vegan burrito from De La Tierra Mexican Food. (Erika Hazel)

Bizerkeley Food Festival

2727 Milvia Street, Berkeley
September 5, 2021, 11am–5pm
Details here

Sponsored

Touted as Berkeley’s first ever dedicated vegan food festival, the Bizerkeley is the brainchild of Erika Hazel, a vegan food blogger and first-time festival organizer whose stated goal is to bring all of California’s most amazing vegan food to her adopted hometown—a daylong event held in Sports Basement’s spacious parking lot. In order to help attendees to experience the breadth and depth of today’s vegan scene, Hazel says the curated vendor lineup won’t include any duplicate cuisines: Brisbane-based Chef Reina will have the only booth selling Filipino food; Cali Dawg, a popular pop-up from the Central Coast, will be the only one selling vegan hot dogs.

The idea, Hazel says, is to change the way that vegan food is perceived—even in famously vegan-friendly Berkeley. “It’s not just rabbit food,” she says. “It can be lasagna, ribs, hot dogs.”

Tickets ($5) for the masked, socially-distanced event must be purchased online in advance, with 50 percent of proceeds benefiting Friends of Berkeley Animal Care Services. On the day of the event itself, everything will be sold a la carte, and each booth is required to offer at least one affordable $5 option.

Schoolchildren in face masks stringing up paper lanterns in Clinton Park, Oakland.
Children string up paper lanterns at Clinton Park during the 2020 edition of the Little Saigon Mid-Autumn Festival. (Good Good Eatz)

Oakland Little Saigon Mid-Autumn Festival

Clinton Park, Oakland
September 18, 2021, noon–5pm
Details here

To prepare for Eastlake Little Saigon’s big Mid-Autumn Festival celebration, the nonprofit Good Good Eatz and the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce are distributing 2,000 colorful paper lanterns to four local schools so that the students can paint and decorate them. On Sept. 18, the lanterns will light up dozens of restaurants around Eastlake, acting as beacons to draw customers toward delicious pho and banh mi at neighborhood standards like Pho Vy, Pho Mekong and Cam Huong. 

Continuing an ongoing cross-promotion with Pokémon Go developer Niantic, many of the restaurants and markets will be designated as Pokéstops, where players of the augmented reality game can accrue power-ups. In further keeping with the Vietnamese emphasis of Mid-Autumn Festival as a children’s holiday—like Halloween for Americans, Good Good Eatz co-founder Trinh Banh explains—kids will be able to go around and collect miniature mooncakes and other goodies from many of the participating merchants.

This will be a masked event, and COVID vaccination and testing will be available at Clinton Park.

Deep red gochujang Korean pepper paste in a traditional earthenware pot.
Homemade gochujang in a traditional earthenware pot. (Sarah Kim-Lee)

K-Food Gochujang Festival

Presidio of San Francisco, Presidio Theatre Outdoor Plaza
September 18, 2021, 11am–2pm
Details here

San Francisco’s Korean Consulate was all set to bring back its in-person Chuseok Festival (i.e., Korean harvest festival) when the delta variant put a damper on plans for such a large gathering. The good news is that while the Chuseok Festival is going all virtual (see below), the organizers had at least one smaller outdoor event in their back pocket, and it’s a rare treat: a gochujang-making class, with all of the materials—including the onggi, or traditional earthenware vessel—provided free of charge. Perhaps best known to American diners as the hot pepper paste used in bibimbap, gochujang is something that many Korean families no longer know how to make in the traditional way, according to event organizer Sarah Kim-Lee. “It’s a dying art in a way,” she says. 

Luckily enough for participants in the workshop, Sun-Young Chang, author of the pioneering cookbook A Korean Mother's Cooking Notes, will walk them through the process of preparing the gochujang and wrapping it beautifully inside the onggi, and participants will bring home the finished product, which will need to ferment at home for three months before it’s ready to eat. 

Spots are extremely limited, so if you’d like to sign up, email Kim-Lee ASAP at koreancookingsf@gmail.com. It’s also fine to just come as a spectator, especially since there will be four local chefs on hand to demonstrate how to cook with gochujang. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test will be required for admission.

Colorfully painted bus with a "SOMA Pilipinas" sign in front.
A colorfully painted "SOMA Pilipinas" bus marks the entrance to Kapwa Gardens, one of the Culture Crawl's featured venues. (Mogli Maureal)

Undiscovered SF Culture Crawl 2021

Mission Street between 3rd and 7th, San Francisco; virtual
October 16, 2021, noon–6pm
Details here

In pre-COVID times, Undiscovered SF’s periodic night markets were a blast of local Filipino American culture at its finest and most rollicking—the DJs, b-boys, traditional folk dancers and, of course, a taste of the most delicious Filipino food the Bay Area has to offer. This year’s edition will be a bit of a hybrid: For social distancing reasons, the live events—the DJ sets and other performances, the food pop-ups, the streetwear and jewelry vendors—will be spread across three indoor and outdoor venues, together forming a “culture crawl” meant to encourage guests to explore all that the SOMA Pilipinas corridor has to offer. For those in it primarily for the lechon (or the sisig or the halo-halo), a food passport will allow customers to access one menu item at every vendor for one fixed price. Confirmed vendors include Jeepney Guy (the local lechon master) and Barya Kitchen.

Meanwhile, those who feel more comfortable avoiding the crowds don’t need to worry about missing out entirely: All of the performances and workshops will be livestreamed.

Woman dressed in traditional Korean clothing prepares a dish made with instant noodles.
A cook demonstrates how to make jjapaguri, a dish made with instant noodles, during the 2020 edition of the virtual Chuseok Festival. (San Francisco Chuseok Festival)

Chuseok Festival

Virtual
Oct. 20–Oct. 27, 2021
Details here

The organizers of San Francisco’s annual Chuseok Festival made a hard pivot just a couple of weeks ago, cancelling their plans for a large, extensive in-person event to instead focus their efforts on building an entire week’s worth of free, all-virtual festivities. Few of those plans have been finalized yet, but the organizers confirm that there will be a number of food and beverage workshops in the mix—perhaps a demonstration of how to make makgeolli, the milky Korean home brew, for instance.   

Two different kinds of lumpia in a cardboard takeout container.
LumpiaPalooza will be a celebration of all things lumpia. (District Six)

LumpiaPalooza

District Six, 428 11th Street, San Francisco
Oct. 23–Oct. 24, 2021
Details here

In just before the end of Filipino American History Month, LumpiaPalooza is, of course, a celebration of all things lumpia. Ten different vendors, including Oakland’s Lumpia Company and Hayward-based Marley’s Treats, will each offer their own signature version of the quintessential Filipino deep-fried treat—from traditional pork- and chicken-filled versions to dessert lumpia, vegan lumpia and unorthodox, hybridized creations inspired by cheeseburgers or elote. And, for the brave of heart, there will be a lumpia eating contest too. 

Because of COVID safety concerns, this year’s LumpiaPalooza will be spread across two days to help reduce the crowds, and District Six’s 18,000-square-foot outdoor space should allow for plenty of social distancing. That said, folks should come expecting a party—especially with legendary hype man Fran Boogie hosting and Bay Area icon DJ Shortkut behind the decks.

A Día de los Muertos family altar display featuring a skull wearing a face mask.
This year's Día de los Muertos Festival will be a socially distanced event. (The Unity Council)

Día de los Muertos Festival and Fruitvale Restaurant Week

International Boulevard, from Fruitvale Ave. to 40th Ave., Oakland
Oct. 24–Oct. 31, 2021
Details here

Normally one of the busiest and most lively days of the year in Oakland’s heavily Mexican and Latin American Fruitvale district, this year’s Día de los Muertos Festival will mark a partial return to the before-times celebration of this holiday honoring the dead. The jaw-droppingly athletic Aztec dancers, the sleek lowriders and the moving and intricately assembled ofrendas will all be back for this year’s festival, which takes place Oct. 31, says Itzel Diaz-Romo, the Interim Director of Development & Communications for the Unity Council, which is organizing the event. The performances and displays will just be spread out throughout the district to prevent crowds from accumulating at any one place. COVID vaccines and testing will be available on site.

The biggest difference, for food lovers, is that there won’t be any street vendors hawking tamales or pupusas this year. Instead, in an effort to support local restaurants, the week leading up to Día de los Muertos has been designated, as it was last year, as Fruitvale Restaurant Week. Details are still being finalized, but it’s likely that all participating restaurants will offer a $20 meal deal that includes a drink.

A collage of images from the 2020 Kimchi Cook-Off.
A collage of images from the 2020 Kimchi Cook-Off. (Kimchi Cook-Off)

Korean Kimchi Festival and Cook-Off

The Culinary Institute of America at Copia, Napa
November 7, 2021
Details here

For those looking for a more hands-on food event, a kimchi cook-off might be just the thing. Part of an international series sponsored by the Jongga kimchi company in partnership with prominent culinary schools, this year’s Bay Area edition will take place at the CIA at Copia in downtown Napa, pitting eight finalists against each other to cook their own original recipes that incorporate kimchi. Top finishers will take home cash prizes. Kimchi enthusiasts who think they’ve got the right stuff simply need to submit an audition video to apply.

Sponsored

Festival director HJ Park says the original plan was to allow up to 200 audience members—each of whom would take home a DIY kimchi goodie bag—but since it’s an indoor event, those plans are up in the air. Either way, the whole competition will be livestreamed via the event’s Facebook page.