Eat Real Festival: Foodies Rejoice!by Lauren Lee on Oct, 04 2013
With midterms fast approaching, this past weekend was really all I had before I would have to inevitably hole up in a library with my face buried in papers all day. So, I decided to spend it in the wisest way I could – by celebrating food at the annual Eat Real Festival.
Held this past weekend, Eat Real is a huge yearly street food festival held in Jack London Square, Oakland, and is open to anyone and everyone. All food costs $5 or less, and is sourced from more than 300 Bay Area businesses, incorporating fresh and locally grown ingredients.
Upon walking into the popular waterfront destination that is Jack London Square, my senses were instantly overwhelmed. The place was packed with excited foodies, the whimsical colors of every food truck and tent were aesthetically pleasing and the smell of food being prepared on the spot was making my mouth water.
Slightly intimidated and very awe-struck, I immediately gravitated towards the famous paella stand, Ñora Spanish Catering, where chefs were preparing the signature Spanish rice dish in huge pans.
I had heard a lot about this paella, as it had been hyped up by online reviews, so my expectations were already through the roof.
Unfortunately, I found the rice to be overcooked and overall, disappointingly bland. Compared to the raving 5-star reviews I had scrolled through on Yelp, it definitely fell flat for me. However, I was not discouraged, as there were over 50 other venues at which to try out my luck.
Next, I checked out Bicycle Banh Mi, a business run by a mother-daughter duo that specializes in crafting Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches. They had three different versions of their famous Banh Mi, but I opted for the pork meatball sandwich, topped with pickled vegetables, cucumber, and refreshing cilantro all on a soft baguette.
To be quite honest, I was pleasantly surprised with this sub! From the outside, it looked like just any other Vietnamese sandwich, but the warm pork meatballs were tender and lean, while the fresh vegetables added an enjoyable, contrasting cold crunch to the bite.
Towards the end of my stay, I picked up a simple garlic mac & cheese from the well-known, Oakland-based Homeroom Mac + Cheese. The vendor was making batches of it on the spot, and the smell emitting from their tent was too heavenly to resist.
This picture really doesn’t do it any justice. It was hands down the best macaroni and cheese I have ever had, probably because it was made from fancy artisan cheeses and pasta with great texture.
The highlight of the day, though, had to have been a glass of cold soda from Soda Craft, a San Francisco based business that sells handmade, fermented soda. I had a blend between their signature spicy ginger soda with the hibiscus lime flavor, and the organic ingredients really burst with a unique flavor.
In addition to the outdoor venues, there was a cozy indoor marketplace, where local businesses provided visitors with samples as well as the opportunity to purchase herb-infused coffee, jams, candy bars, flavored honey and other hand-made goods.
There, I encountered a quirky representative from the establishment, Affi’s Marin Gourmet, generously handing out samples of falafel, as well as a variety of delicious different hummus and dips. Affi’s products are sold in Whole Foods, and can even be found at our very own Berkeley Bowl! I highly recommend the Aubergine, an all natural, fire roasted eggplant and garlic dip that, paired with Affi’s baked crackers, makes for a flavorful, light snack.
It took a lot of self-control, but I did not get to eat even close to half the foods I wanted to. If you have never been, be sure to pay a visit to the Eat Real Festival in September 2014, and learn from my mistakes and successes. Or, if you can’t wait until next year, go out and support these local businesses, they’re only a bus ride away!