Starting the summer off in the Islands of the Pacific…(kinda)
by Alexander Quebec
Sunday morning, the day before Memorial Day. The sun was expected to be at full strength, summer’s unofficial start was about to commence, and I was at History Park in San Jose ready to check out the Cukui summer festival.
I got there early to score some decent parking and to scope out the site. The home of various historic buildings that were either uprooted and brought in or constructed in their entirety dot the “streets” of the park, which resembles a turn of the century view of San Jose. Different ethnic groups have their own buildings; a Portuguese museum, a museum dedicated to the Chinatowns that once populated the downtown area, and even a center dedicated to the relatively recent community of Vietnamese refugees fleeing Vietnam back in the 1970s.
In any event, it was a great setting for Moveable Feast’s summer events: The Taco Festival of Innovation and Cukui Summer Festival. We’ve covered the Taco festival before in a previous post, but I still went and checked it out (pictures on our Instagram). The Cukui Festival, however, was a new one for me, and while I was there to check out the festival I was here for the food as well. Knowing Moveable Feasts and their trucks, I was curious to see which food trucks would be there. I was not disappointed by what I found.
To give you a sense of the festival, it would help to understand the brand a bit more. According to their website, the brand was founded by Orly and Jason Locquiao and Sammy Rodriguez in 2008. The word Cukui comes from two different sources, a name of a candlenut tree native to the Hawaiian Islands, as well as the fictional boogeyman that haunts the imaginations of Mexican children. With the double meaning behind it, the brand represents the fusion of cultures, especially ones that are common in the Bay Area, mainly the Pacific Island and Mexican American cultures. Through tattoo artistry, as well as clothing and other merchandise through thier retail shop in Downtown San Jose, the brand is quite popular among the community, as well with a few celebrities and some local sports teams.
Two of my favorites were there: Paddy Wagon Sliders and Treatbot, as well as some I’ve never seen before like Da Poke Man truck, which Raymond the owner told me made the trip all the way from San Francisco just to be there. I also gave a relative newcomer (to me) a try: Crepe ‘Em Coming. Cukui being a brand influenced by Pacific Islander and Hawaiian motifs, I noticed the menus of the different trucks were also appropriately matched to the theme. Ube, coconut, and other flavors that harken back to the islands were to be found, and I even got to try a few items myself.
The Big Mac from Paddy Wagon came highly recommended, although I am a fan of their chilli slider more. Still, it did not disappoint with a juicy, well-seasoned patty and tater tots that were crispy on the outside and soft inside, minus the excess grease other places might end up with.
I also tried the poke from Da Poke Man’s truck (or bus rather). I’m not a huge poke fan myself, but the texture was super firm and not slimy at all. The spiciness of the in-house sauce had a bit of a kick, with a little bit of a tingle and a burn, but did not overstay its welcome like a lot of places do.
Finally, what would a meal be without dessert? For something sweet, I gave the macapuno crepe from Crepe Em Coming a try. I’m not a super huge fan of cococnut, but after giving this a try, I thought the sweet coconut paired well with the ice cream and ube flavored crepe (made with real ube I might add)
More than just a foodie paradise
Of course, what kind of festival would it be without some merchandising and live entertainment?
Unlike a lot of food festivals which highlight one particular cuisine or culinary item, this festival focused on the work of one man and his brand, Cukui. While this wasn’t a food festival per se, food still is an intrinsic part of any culture, whether that be something from centuries of history or something relatively recent. Going back to the previously mentioned food items, the vendors there did an amazing job of doing their best to accommodate the feel and the meaning of the festival with their menu offerings.
Live entertainment was in no short supply. The acts mainly consisted of Island Reggea and hip hop acts, with a few cultural dancers sprinkled in to drive the message home.
Another thing that stood out to me about this festival is the sense of community around it. Since the brand is local, I arrived at the conclusion that there would no doubt be some overlap between the personal and professional lives of the attendees, what I never anticipated was the level of connection each person had with both each other and the head of Cukui itself, Orly. The man was getting high fives and fist bumps from everyone, people were coming up to him as a family member, rather than some anonymous business owner. It’s always a welcome sign in the business world to meet someone whose approachable enough to his audience, a surefire sign of the loyalty the people have to his brand.
As a person of both Mexican and Filipino background, I enjoy taking the time to attend events that feature one or both cultures together as it offers a moment for me to reflect on parts of me I often take for granted and pay no attention to it as they are usually part of the milieu that makes up my daily life. I have to admit that being a biracial child, it can get pretty muddy when it comes to identifying with two or more ethnic groups, as one wishes to maintain a strong relationship with one without alienating the other, especially if they are groups that have historically not gotten along. On both a professional and personal level, I enjoyed this festival. In my time as a food writer and festival goer, this has been one of my favorite events due to the great food, the strong sense of community and the presence of the founders themselves. Granted, in some ways I felt a bit out of place, but at the same time, I felt more at ease here than I have at other events I’ve been to in the past. My sincerest hope is that we get to see more events like these in the future.
Moveable feasts hosts events throughout the year, be sure to check out their upcoming meets and events here
Interested in learning more about Cukui? check out their website here