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SPIFFS — 2nd Annual Asian Pacific Rim Festival 2008

by Hilton Kean Jones on October 15, 2008

in Florida, Food


This past weekend, October 11th and 12th, SPIFFS (the St. Petersburg International Folkfair Society) presented its 2nd Annual Asian Pacific Rim Festival 2008. I was fortunate to be able to attend their first one last year. It was a good beginning and this year was even better. I hope this becomes successfully established and as much of a community tradition as SPIFFS’ larger, annual International Folkfair (see SPIFFS — St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society).

SPIFFS (330 5th St. N., St. Petersburg, FL, 33701; 727-552-1896), lists a significant number of Asian member organizations:

• Suncoast Association of Chinese Americans
• The Fiji Club of Central Florida, Inc.
• Filipino-American Club of Pinellas County
• V.I.C.A.S.- Volunteers of India Culture & Art Society
• Korean American Association of West Florida, Inc.
• Laotian American Association of Florida, Inc.
• Florida Hmong Community Association
• Polynesian Connection Club of Vaepopua
• TACO (Taiwanese American Cultural Organization)
• Thai Association of Tampa Bay
• Tongan Cultural Organization of Florida, Inc.
• Vietnamese-American Association of St. Petersburg


By far, the most extensive presence at the fair was the Thai Association with multiple tents, flower collections, carved fruit, steam tables of an entire Thai menu, and gifts. I confess a fondness for Thai culture, attitudes, and cuisine. It pleases me to see how their presentation at the fair has expanded.

I’m not sure exactly what portion of the St. Petersburg population is Thai, but I suspect (along with Vietnamese) it is one of the groups with the highest representation.

According to the 2000 census data (see Hello St. Petersburg), this is the composition of St. Petersburg’s Asian population:

Asian: 6,640 (2.7%)
Asian Indian: 867 (0.3%)
Chinese: 544 (0.2%)
Filipino: 798 (0.3%)
Japanese: 151 (0.1%)
Korean: 317 (0.1%)
Vietnamese: 1,910 (0.8%)
Other Asian: 2,053 (0.8%)
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 130 (0.1%)
Native Hawaiian: 27 (0.0%)
Guamanian or Chamorro: 13 (0.0%)
Samoan: 13 0.0%4,858 (3.9%)
Other Pacific Islander: 77 (0.0%)
Some other race: 2,661 (1.1%)
Two or more races: 5,397 (2.2%)

That’s only for St. Petersburg and doesn’t include the greater Tampa Bay area, but even so, those figures seem incredibly low compared to my own experience. I suspect the next census will show much higher numbers.


In the above picture you can see a couple stands with the label Tonga. Tonga is a country with which I was not familiar until I lived in Hawaii where I supplemented my pension by playing piano for a tiny Methodist church on the island of Oahu in which over half the members were Tongan. Apparently, the South Sea Islands of Tonga were heavily proselytized by Methodist missionaries long ago. When it comes to missionaries versus native religions, I wish the natives had been left alone. The upside, however, is that I got to discover, first-hand, a culture of very warm people who have an intriguing tradition of choral singing a capella (unaccompanied), improvised counterpoint at an extremely intense volume.

If you enjoy folk music and have never heard Tongan choral singing, please consider trying one of these: Music From The Kingdom of Tonga, Vol. 1 or Music From The Kingdom of Tonga, Vol. 2. The men are a big part of this singing culture, especially in their ritual kava circles which you can hear on Pacific Music 2: Tongan Kava Circle. (That particular recording is reviewed at Amazon by David Stanley, an author for Lonely Planet and other publishers, whose acquaintance I have recently made. I’ll be reporting on a book of his in a coming Inkwatu post.)


Bubble Tea! If you’ve never had any, you can now get it in the Tampa Bay area. It’s a treat that began in Taiwan, swept over Hawaii, then California, gradually working its way to the East Coast. Bubble tea, also called “Boba tea” or sometimes “pearl tea,” is not just a taste treat, it’s a texture treat. It’s made with pureed iced fruit or a tea-milk mix plus large tapioca balls. You suck the combination into your mouth through a large straw about 3 times the size of a typical straw. Mostly you get the fruit or tea-milk liquid, but every so often a nice big tapioca ball gets sucked in with a satisfying “schwuck” against the roof of your mouth. Ah…heaven.

If you want to make bubble tea at home, you can get a Bubble Tea Party Kit for Eight which includes everything you need: black and green tea tapioca pearls, 8 cups & straws, a shaker, and four different flavored tea mixes (honeydew, strawberry, black milk tea and taro)!


Whenever I discover a food that’s new for me, I’m always so grateful that I’ve finally encountered it but sad that I hadn’t learned of it earlier, especially if I’d lived where I could have gotten tons of it if I’d only known about it (“if only” is a pretty useless human sentiment, isn’t it). Such is the case with lumpia that I had at the Filipino stand at the Asian Fest. It’s like a pencil thin very, very long egg roll, but the taste is different. It would be easy to eat too many of these.

The lumpia recipe link above is to the Gumbo Pages, my absolute, tip-top, #1, most favorite New Orleans cooking website. It’s worth repeated visits.


As in Chinese (perhaps all Asian languages), the Hmong language doesn’t use definite and indefinite articles (“the” and “a”); hence the endearing “chicken on the stick” linguistic error on the sign at the Hmong pavilion. I’ve mentioned the Hmong in a couple of earlier posts (Hmong hip-hop poet and SPIFFS). In part, my affection for them is their tragic story of betrayal by the US government after they risked their lives to help us during the Vietnam conflict. As a consequence they are now persecuted in their own lands but denied easy access to the safe haven of immigration here. Of course, the other part of my affection for them is their food. Their grilled chicken kabobs are terrific and the hot sauce you pour on them makes it difficult to eat only one. I tried to get the woman to tell me what was in the hot sauce. She said just hot peppers and oil. I’m not sure…there’s something else in there that’s very fragrant (although, maybe it’s just the quality of the peppers or the oil).


Next year, I hope you make it to the 3rd Annual Asian Pacific Rim Festival 2009. Be sure to get some lumpia, bubble tea, chicken on the stick, and the Thai food of your choice. Because of the extreme miniaturization of the collage images in this post, I encourage you to check one or both of the following links to get a better idea of the displays and people at the fair.

Most images link to larger images.
click on larger image for closeup

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kerry Chen October 17, 2008 at 9:25 pm

Hi, I came across your article from a friend. My name is Kerry and I am the President of TACO (Taiwanese American Cultural Organization) as well as a Director for SPIFFS. TACO was representing the Taiwan village at the Asian Festival. Please make the correction in your article. Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce was NOT a participating organization in this event. Also, Boba, or Tapioca Pearl tea is a Taiwanese food innovation. It was located in the Taiwan village next to the Taiwanese Ice Booth. =) If you want the info for all available boba shops, please let me know =) I can share that info with you =)

Thank You for a wonderful review of the event.


Say Lee October 18, 2008 at 1:43 am

We missed the Second Annual Asian Pacific Rim Festival, but your thorough post more than makes up for it. Thanks.

Yes, chicken on the stick. That reminds me of the “Satay” back home. I especially reminisce about the sauce/gravy, which has chunky peanuts embedded in it.

Some may disagree that Taichi is based on martial arts. If anything, it’s the other way round. Taichi is a philosophy, a state of being. One of the manifestations of Taichi, or Taiji, is in martial arts, Taichi Chuan (the last word literally means fist, or maybe boxing is a better candidate).

I read the above clarifications in Wikipedia.


hkj October 18, 2008 at 5:31 am

Hi, Kerry

Glad to make your acquaintance. Thanks for the clarification on TACO (Taiwanese American Cultural Organization). I’ll update the list in the article. I’d love to know if there’s a bubble tea shop near downtown St. Pete. There were a couple near USF over in North Tampa I frequented. Just haven’t found one here. Thanks for dropping by.



Malia Williams August 7, 2010 at 1:51 pm

When is the next one?

How do we go about participating in the performance?


Hilton Kean Jones August 7, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Just contact SPIFFS at the website address given in the article. Good luck.


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