Founded in 2017, Taste of Asia is a one-stop answer to St Andrews’ rather humble Asian cuisine options. Held this year in the Holy Trinity Church Hall, 2019’s Food Fayre event was priced at £10 per person and involved eleven cultural societies, including the university’s Bubble Tea Society, Chinese Hongpao Society, Filipino Society, Hong Kong Society, Indonesian Society, Japan Society, Korean Society, Singapore Society, South Asian Society (Sanskriti), St Andrews Malaysian International Group (SMIG), and Thai Society. Each student-run group produced three to four dishes for the event, with options catering to a wide range of dietary restrictions such as “halal, vegetarian, vegan, nut-free, and gluten-free.” On checking into the event, each guest was given an empty plate and five event vouchers which they could then exchange at any of the society tables for a dish of their choice, meaning that every meal was completely customizable. Tables were set up along the outer perimeter of the hall, and guests were encouraged to wander around the space and mingle while perusing the options. Committee members were present on the floor, introducing themselves and explaining their vision and inspiration for the night, as well as pointing guests to a pop-up photobooth. On the whole, the event felt very much like a small-scale street market – communal, packed with happy diners, and full of amazing sights and smells.
Taste of Asia’s student committee is dedicated to “allowing guests to really immerse themselves in the diverse cultures represented through cuisine,” and one way they delivered on an authentic experience was the freshness and quality of the food. Every dish at the Food Fayre was prepared by the societies in separate kitchens and transported to the event within thirty minutes of preparation to ensure that guests would be guaranteed hot food that had not been sitting around buffet-style for hours. To this end, ToA and their partner societies recruited a team of dedicated volunteer drivers for the night. The Food Fayre was also broken into two sittings, each running for an hour and a half, in order to allow societies the time to continually prepare and transport new batches of food between waves of diners. I attended the second sitting from 7pm-8:30pm and without knowing how the event was organized at the time, was impressed by how fresh everything was and by the sheer amount of options. Some societies even prepared guests’ choices in front of them; when I arrived the Korean Society was hard at work putting the finishing glaze on their Korean fried chicken, which certainly drew a hungry crowd.
I’ve grown up with Chinese cuisine but the Food Fayre offered an opportunity for guests to significantly broaden their horizons in a low-cost environment. Most tables served a modest portion per voucher, meaning that taste-testing individual dishes was also fairly low-risk but the five vouchers combined made up a full plate. I started with something familiar: the spicy chicken salad from the Chinese Hongpao Society. Served on a bed of marinated cucumber strips, the chicken was tender and surpassed my expectations for spice levels. I also chose the Korean Society’s fried chicken (hard to pass up after witnessing how recently it had been made!), a hefty salmon onigiri from Japan Society with a fun nori wrapper, Thai Society’s green papaya salad, and seri muka from the St Andrews Malaysian International Group. The green papaya salad was a crisp knockout and was made to order; I ordered the “Thai hot” spice level and between the Chinese and Thai salads, my eyes were watering more than I care to admit. The seri muka was completely new to me and was pleasantly sweet after two rounds of spice. Made from glutinous rice and a vibrant green pandan custard layer, it was one of a small handful of dessert options at the Fayre.
I also had the chance to speak with members of the Taste of Asia committee during the event, while they were attending the night’s VIP guests. As ToA’s three stated goals for 2019 are “to be inclusive of all participating societies, to provide a cultural experience for guests, and be charitable,” their new VIP initiative seeks to integrate the wider St Andrews community into the university event sphere while sharing good food and new experiences with those who may find the entry price a barrier. The committee explained that the decision to “[invite] local homeless people, [our VIPs for the night,] to have some of the delicious food prepared was one of the ways we felt we could be charitable in a unique and direct way.” Since ToA’s founding in 2017 by current fourth-year student Kevin Mochtar, who wished to utilize food in order to create a local celebration of Asian culture, the group has been working towards greater inclusivity for cultural and social communities. To this end, ToA’s events are currently open to everyone and the committee hopes to see attendance from their staff and “student network” as well as the permanent residents of St Andrews.
Taste of Asia currently hosts one food-based event per semester, and in my experience it’s worth the wait. The Food Fayre was reasonably priced and included dozens of culinary options, all of which were assuredly fresh and delicious. For anyone looking to try something outside of St Andrews’ regular offerings, or for those missing home, Taste of Asia’s next event – the theme and scope of which is unannounced as of yet – is something to look forward to in early 2020.