Asian Food Week Returns Next Week

The event highlights the diversity of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s Asian restaurant community.

Just in time for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the second annual Asian Food Week kicks off next week. The celebration runs from May 3 to 9 at more than 50 Asian restaurants in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Participants can choose from a $30 three-course prix fixe menu, a $20 three-course prix fixe menu, or a “secret item” not typically found on the menu.

Thai Papaya Salad with Grilled Chicken Sticky Rice and Sushi Bento Box from Sawasdee Thai in Fairfield

Photograph by Catie Viox

The event is presented by Asianati, a digital platform launched last fall by the Asian American Cultural Association of Cincinnati (AACAC) to celebrate Asian food and culture. The brand’s goal is to expose the community to Asian culture and “bridge different Asian cultures together,” says Koji Sado, cofounder of Asianati and Asian Food Week manager.

This year’s Asian Food Week will feature a handful of changes from the inaugural edition. Last November’s event included 38 restaurants—the increase in participants this year means a greater variety of cuisines will be available, including tea houses, ramen places, and bubble tea from various Asian cultures. The restaurants also cover a wider geographical area than last year, spanning all regions of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky (there are even two participating restaurants in Oxford, Ohio).

“[Asian Food Week] got everybody out to see that there’s more than just traditional Chinese carryout food,” says Kam Siu, owner of DOPE! Asian Street Fare in Over-the-Rhine, a returning participant. “I think the lineup that we have this year feels pretty widespread. It’s nice to really represent the entire continent, not just one area.”

Red Dry Chili Chicken, Sichuan Mung Bean Noodle, and Green Beans from Sichuan Palace in
Clifton Heights

Photography by Catie Viox

AACAC launched Asian Food Week after its annual weekend-long Asian Food Fest was postponed and then canceled last year.

“We were about to not do anything for a year,” says Sado, who’s also a board member of AACAC. “And that’s when, as a board, we started discussing, ‘Is there something COVID-proof that we could still do?’ ”

Rather than host one mass gathering, the board decided to encourage Cincinnatians to decentralize at various Asian restaurants. The board landed on Asian Food Week, a campaign to get people to experience “what Cincinnati Asian culture has to offer” while helping local businesses suffering during the pandemic. The inaugural event boosted some of the participating businesses’ profits by 10 to 20 percent, according to a survey conducted by Asianati, which also received feedback from people who thanked the website for introducing them to new cuisines.

Vegetable Samosa, Chicken Curry, Butter Naan and Basmati rice, and Mango Lassi from Baba India in Oakley

Photography by Catie Viox

“We saw a huge uptick in sales for the week,” Siu notes. “During the pandemic, our sales were pretty stagnant. We were doing enough to get through the day and pay our bills, but that event really helped give us a surge going into the holiday season.”

With the 2021 Asian Food Fest now postponed until August, Sado and his team decided to host Asian Food Week again.

And the timing is critical. During the pandemic, anti-Asian violence and hate crimes have grown. Nearly 3,8000 Anti-Asian hate incidents were reported between March 2020 and Feb 2021 to Stop AAPI Hate, though the actual number could be higher. And Asian-owned restaurants are not exempt from this racism. Participating restaurant Tea ‘n’ Bowl experienced a slew of racist harassments and fake orders that cost the business nearly $400 worth of revenue this spring. In fact, the increase in anti-Asian racism is one reason why Sado encourages consumers to participate in Asian Food Week.

“They need it more than ever,” he says. “They really appreciate it every time a customer says your food is great or here’s some extra tip. That gives them a little bit of encouragement. It really touches them.”

In addition to Asian Food Week, the showcase of Asian culture will continue throughout the entire month with events organized by Asianati, including a movie night, food demos, and seminars on Asian culture, race, and stereotypes.

The restaurants participating in Asian Food Week 2021 include:

Click here to find the full list of participating restaurants and menus for the week.

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