Saturday, August 23, 2014

Event - Taste of Manila

I think the Taste of Manila may be the last Street Festival that I am probably going to visit this summer and unfortunately it didn't end on a high note for me.

This was the first year for the Taste of Manila festival which was located on Bathurst street at Wilson Ave in North York.  This area has turned into little Manila over the past couple of years.  In the past it was mostly Jewish or Canadian born residents.  I don't know what causes areas to shift so dramatically in a few years but this area certainly has.  I used to hang out at the Country Style Donuts Coffee Shop at the corner of Wilson and Bathurst when I was in high school because a few of my friends worked there.  There was a whole different culture in that area back then.   Times have changed.

Ok enough history, back to the present day and this inaugural festival.  I really love street festivals for the fact that you can walk around and try different things and talk to people you may never meet otherwise.   But not all street festivals are created alike.   Some are run by people that understand logistics and crowds and some just wing it.    This one felt like a just wing it type of thing.

I usually like to give a festival in the first year the benefit of not knowing what to expect but there were a bunch of things that were set up really dumb for this festival.  

And here's my list of what not to do when setting up a street festival.

1.  Don't have a bunch of useless booths taking up space close to a stage where people could actually sit or stand and watch the entertainers performing on stage.

2. Useless booths that hand out useless pieces of paper that just end up on the street or in overflowing garbages.

3. Politicians setting up useless booths that are manned by representatives handing out useless Vote for ........ pieces of paper or trying to get you to come to their side.  I don't go to street festivals to talk to politicians representatives.  You have a million debates for that.  Don't waste limited festival space for nothing and waste money on stupid paper materials that just end up in the garbage.

4.  Garbages.  It seems to me that there are never enough garbages for these things...  Maybe a solution would be to set up a booth at the entrance and give people re-usable containers for wet and dry foods and special logo cups and cutlery that people might actually keep and re use another time.  It would certainly help lessen the landfill burden after one of these festivals.   Eg. the wine and cheese shows give out wine glasses that people take with them or they can leave them and they get recycled.   I am not suggesting glass at a street festival but think interesting tupperware style containers.

5.   Music,  back to the entertainers... please move the stage far away from vendors so that people can actually hear what the vendors are saying and people that want to hear the entertainers can hear the entertainers.

6.  Closing of streets.... sometimes I agree with Rob Ford on this issue.  I don't think this new festival was publicized enough to prepare a lot of people in the area for the partial street closures in what is normally a festival free area.   What I found dumb was that they closed off the south bound lanes only and used the north bound lanes to go north only...   here's an idea... why not move the whole festival to Earl Bales Park where there's nobody around to cause Gridlock.  Better money might be spent in building an area just off of Bathurst for special event parking and an area for vendors to set up for special events... people can get off buses and walk in and room for people to drive and park and not tie up the streets.

7.  Size and Logistics. The size of the street festival and the spacing of the vendors.  This festival as I said was set up using 2 southbound lanes of street on Bathurst Street that ran through the length of about 3 blocks.   Why not move it away from an intersection instead.   There is open grassland on the other side of Wilson where vendors could have also been set up.  It's unused park space.
Having back to back vendors in one long row creates overlapping, confusing and long lineups for food.

8.  Seating.  There were some tables set up way at the north end of the festival row but it seems that people just sat on the curb and wherever they could find a spot.  Thus causing more congestion and the trail they leave behind.

9.  Vendors -  There should be guidelines for vendors.  The vendor I waited in line for had a buffet line that took up 2 booths but it was hard to tell that it was the same vendor.  There are a few things when it comes to the vendors that came up with this experience.   Combos... clearly state what you get in those combos please.  One item, 2 items, only certain things... what?  Menus..  It would be really nice if some of these vendors would learn from some of the smarter food truck vendors who have large chalkboard signs outside of their food trucks.   The smart ones place them away from the lineup so that people can read the menu before stepping up to order their food and be prepared for what they want and how much it will be.   Here's the sign that was placed at this particular booth with the buffet style set up.   You need to be standing in front of it or have binoculars to see what's on it from the lineup.   And it might be nice if you put a description on things that are ethnic dishes that people might not be familiar with.   One dish I saw was a banana leaf wrapped something.  It might be nice to actually write on a menu what's inside instead of having to keep asking while tying up the lineup.   I stood in this line for probably about a half an hour.  I think I ordered and was done in less than 5 minutes but I am sure just trying to ask what stuff was made the line longer.  I get that you might not have the money to make fancy signs... Go to Dollarama and buy some bristol board that is mounted on foamcore and find someone with nice writing to draw your menu.  It might cost you less than $5 including markers.

10.  Containers, utensils and other things.   After lining up for a half an hour I was given a black styrofoam container with 3 items in it which was then placed in a plastic bag.  I was told there was a fork in the bag.  I walked away to where the tables were and took it out and no cutlery or napkins inside the bag.  I would have preferred to skip the bag and gotten the utensils to be able to actually eat it.  The take out box contained some noodles, a beef stew and a bbq meat stick.  The stick doesn't need a fork but noodles and rice need a little help.  This takes me back to maybe providing reusable things.   How about charging $5 for the re-usable things and then donating some proceeds to an environmental group.  hmmm there's an idea.

Ok that's probably enough for now.  I am sure if I think about it I could come up with a bunch of ideas that might help some of these street festivals.  Hey, how about a dedicated area in each municipality for a street festival that let's people still get to and from them.  We want people to still run their businesses don't we?  Let's find a way to keep people able to get to them.

This festival was certainly not catering to me and my culture as it pretty much leaned to a Filipino crowd with some of the signs not even being in English and the vendors seemed to cater to newly immigrated Filipinos.   But I do live in North York and I would have liked to try some of the food from a few of the Filipino vendors but I just couldn't do anymore than the one vendor.  I don't know enough about Filipino food to know where to go get some in Toronto where it's authentic and good quality so these street festivals should be a way for people like me to try new foods from new vendors that we might be able to frequent at another time.

Ok so one last thing... How was the food?   Well having only had food from one vendor it's hard to give a good picture of all of the food, but I can tell you what was common and how the food I purchased tasted.   What was common was a lot of meat on a stick.  Loads of smoke all over the place with ladies spraying water on the meat and creating smoke stacks around their booths.   You could smell the BBQ for miles.  Great if you like meat on a stick.  Luckily I do.  I had one skewer of meat that was really tasty.  I also had some noodles that were ok but not amazing, and a beef stew kind of dish that was a little sauce of a can tasting, but the beef was pretty tender.

I didn't see very many original things and a lot of vendors were just selling flea market junky things.

While this post is mostly negative it is not only directed to the Taste of Manila but a lot of other street festivals that have been clogging up all of the Toronto streets this summer.

Recommendation:  If you are Filipino and miss your family and food from back home you will probably love to go to this street event.   If you travelled to the Phillipines and loved your experience you might like this festival to see some entertainers and have some of the food.

But... be prepared for lineups for food and trying to figure out how to get there and navigate your way through the crowds.

Tip:  Don't bring strollers if you can help it...  that is my tip for almost All street festivals where there are large crowds.   Taste of the Danforth is a good example of that tip.

I hope that some festival organizers read this post and see what it's like from an attendees perspective and from my point of view of someone that has been to many of them this summer.

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