A Festival with Tastes of Home

By Carla Ruas, One Journey Festival volunteer

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One Journey Festival celebrates the stories, talents, and contributions of refugees around the world. Our second annual festival on June 29th will feature a variety of cultural attractions with performing artists, speakers, immersive technology, dance workshops, sports, and storytelling, but the festival would not be complete without a very important ingredient – cuisines from around the world.

This year’s Food Lane will have a lineup of 10+ food trucks, all of which are owned by refugees or immigrants featuring a diverse range of multicultural dishes that is sure to satisfy every appetite. For festival goers, it’s an opportunity to celebrate different cultures, try cuisines from all corners of the world, and transcend stories through the power of food. For food truck owners, it’s a chance to spread their love of cooking and to share some of the flavors that remind them of home.

Time Travel with Sambal

For Chef Martinus Setiantoko, owner of Sambal and Sate food trucks, cooking takes him back to his childhood. While some say time travel is impossible, Chef Setiantoko swears by it every time he prepares Indonesian saté – a skewer of grilled chicken, beef, or pork served with traditional peanut sauce. For a few seconds, the aromas transport him back to the 70’s when he was but a child in the city of Lumajang, Indonesia.

The 48-year-old was born in the Indonesian province of East Java, between the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean. As a child, Setiantoko used to order saté from a busy downtown street bustling with food vendors, mopeds, and bicycles. He waited anxiously in line as the meat was grilled on an open flame. “I still remember how that street smelled,” he says.

In his early 20s, Setiantoko came to the United States in search of something different. He landed a job as a dishwasher in New York City. As his English skills improved, he moved up to work in the kitchen of several Asian restaurants in Washington D.C. Eventually, he opened his very own Indonesian restaurant in Alexandria, VA, called Satay Sarinah.

In 2015, after eight years heading Satay Sarinah, Setiantoko was faced with difficult business decisions as rent was hitting astronomical highs with increased competition. “I thought to myself: Why not make things simple?” he says. “I can cook my favorite recipes in a food truck.”

The change was worth it. Setiantoko now owns three food trucks, where he serves traditional Indonesian food. One of the best sellers, and proudly, is his favorite childhood dish: saté.

One of his food trucks, Sambal, will be returning to One Journey Festival for a second time as he can’t wait to share flavors from home.

Bubble TeaLicious & Lao Hot Street Grill

Sisou Kirby, 58, does not need recipes to prepare dishes from her home country, Laos. She simply closes her eyes and thinks of herself as a young girl, standing in her family’s kitchen, watching her loved ones cook around her. She then opens her eyes and knows precisely, just what to do. “Basically, I cook from what I know, from what I remember,” she says.

In 1980, Kirby left Vientiane, her hometown in Laos – a landlocked country of nearly 7 million people between Thailand and Vietnam. She moved to the United States and met her husband, Sean Kirby, 44. They both worked full-time as technicians but soon realized that they needed more purpose in their lives.

Around 2007, a family member asked if they wanted to take one of his ice cream trucks out on the weekends. They took on the challenge, and it was a sweet experience. However, they decided to invest their time in something they enjoyed even more than ice cream – Laotian cuisine.

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The couple started the Bubble TeaLicious food truck, based on Sisou’s childhood memories. She used real fruit to create a wide array of tea flavors, from mango to kiwi. “I used to drink that kind of tea in Laos,” she remembers. “It was smaller, and we didn’t call it bubble tea, but it had tapioca pearls.”

The bubble tea was a success. The couple quit their regular jobs and purchased a bigger truck, with a plan to sell Laotian food as well. Sisou dove deep into her roots and created dishes that used Laos spices but that were also healthy as she practices nutrition in her day to day life.

She was surprised by how much the combination of spice and health was a success with her American customers. “People seem to love it,” she said. One of the most popular dishes on the menu is a mouthwatering lemongrass chicken with rice and vegetables. “It’s simple, healthy, and has lots of flavor.”

The couple is expecting the dish to be a hit at the festival, where they will join the One Journey Festival Food Lane for the second year in a row. “We had a great time last year,” says Sean, “A lot of food trucks that we know were there and it was a very cool setting.”

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10% of all sales will be donated to One Journey to continue celebrating refugees and displaced people around the world. Get ready to enjoy bites from Saran's Vegetarian, From Scratch, Bubble TeaLicious, Korean BBQ Taco Box, NeatMeat DC, Moh Moh Dumpling, La Fondita Mexican Food truck,  Roaming Rooster, Himalayan Soul Foods, Sambal, and PhoWheels.

One Journey Festival 2019 is set to take place at the National Cathedral on Saturday, June 29 11a-6p. Join us for the all-day, family-friendly festival - welcome to all, rain or shine. Grab a friend, neighbor, co-worker, and all. Get your free tickets here.  

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For more from Carla Raus, check out www.carlaruas.contently.com

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