Mark your calendars: Houston’s Korea Festival returns to Discovery Green on October 22.
Once again, the Korean American Society of Houston (KASH) has partnered with dozens of sponsors – from local family restaurants to the Republic of Korea Consulate General in Houston – to bring the best of Korean culture to the center- city of Houston. This includes food, games, traditional performances, clothing, martial arts, K-beauty, K-pop, and more.
And according to KASH President Janet Hong and Marketing Director Kimmy Gaskins, that’s no small feat.
“I think one of the misconceptions people have is that we have a huge full-time paid staff,” Gaskins says. “We plan the festival 100% with volunteers. Sometimes there are years when I – after, I wonder how the hell did we do this.
It’s “a small group of brave people,” says Gaskins, who are responsible for bringing the right experience to the 40 to 45,000 people who will converge on Discovery Green for the festival.
“It’s a sacrifice to put in the time, but it’s a sacrifice we’re all for because we know the Korean community in Houston is really loved by Houstonians,” says Gaskins. “And it’s actually small compared to some of the other cultural communities in Houston, so to be able to showcase them once a year is really awesome.”
Because there’s a lot to do and see at the one-day festival, which culminates with a sunset performance by K-pop groups Triger and Asome.D, we asked Gaskins and Hong for their tips on how to approach the festival.
They agree on one thing: start with a stop at the Korean Village, or K-Village.
“It’s centered around activities that kids can do, but it’s really for all ages,” Gaskins says of the mini cultural experiences you can find in K-Village, experiences that include traditional games that you you may not encounter anywhere else.
“People don’t necessarily sit at home and say, ‘Oh, I should google how to play a Korean game today,'” Gaskins says. “But [in K-Village] you experience things like playing the traditional games and going home with gonggi.”
K-Village will also be the site of a kimchi-eating contest, and if Instagram is any indication, you can expect some intense competition. “When we announced we were having the kimchi eating contest, our Instagram exploded,” Gaskins says. “So it will be really fun.”
In addition to the kimchi eating contest, there will be a chopstick eating contest with a twist – giant chopsticks.
“We make it difficult because we know people know how to use chopsticks,” says Gaskins. “And, of course, if you’re not the participant, at least you can scream and have fun.”
After stopping at K-Village, Hong recommends attending the traditional performances, especially if you’re a first-timer who’s never been to the festival before. “I think it’s very important to share the true roots of Korean culture,” Hong said.
“I know a lot of K-pop fans just want to show up to see the K-pop cover bands and our headliners, of course, but we have some amazing mainstream artists,” Gaskins adds. “They do dances that have been passed down from generation to generation…These people are amazing and they are an integral part of the entertainment for most of the day.”
“They are definitely an integral part of our Korean community in Houston,” Hong acknowledges. “We love that they can come and be part of what we want to introduce to the greater Houston area, so that would be my [recommendation] – next to the food!
“Everyone is drawn to food vendors,” Gaskins says.
And to name a few, this year’s festival-goers will find traditional Korean fare from Jumma Food and St. Andrew Kim’s Catholic Church, boba tea from the festival’s official beverage vendor, Royal Tea Bubble, and “an amazing Korean fried chicken” from Seoulside Wings. , who Gaskins says is one of the festival’s “biggest supporters”.
Gaskins also points out that Seoulside Wings has a food truck that travels all over Houston, so they, like many vendors and organizations that will be at the festival, have a year-round presence.
“It’s not like a carnival vendor where they’re just here for a carnival and then pack up and leave,” says Gaskins. “These are people who really live in our community on a daily basis.”
Because the festival can introduce guests to aspects of Korean culture they didn’t even know were so close to, Gaskins hopes people will leave with an interest in learning more about what’s going on in the Korean community of Houston all year round – and it’s not just about finding new hot spots to dine.
If you want to learn more about Korean culture, Hong and Gaskins recommend visiting KASH, the Asia Society Texas Center, and the Korean Community Center.
And on that note, the final advice from Hong and Gaskins is quite simple: go ahead and hit all the pits you can.
“[Some booths] may not have the same glitz and glamor as Eve Pink, but at the same time, you can find some real gems and meet people who work every day in our Houston community,” says Gaskins.
In addition to these less glitzy community partners — another draw of which, Gaskins adds, is that “a lot of times they give out free stuff, and people like free stuff” — there will be a free COVID vaccination clinic for anyone who has not yet received his vaccine.
After spending the day “behind the scenes, running around to get things done and making sure the festival runs as it should,” Hong says seeing the festival come to life, and “seeing the meaning of community” and “all the guests come to enjoy their time”, is the best part of the day for her.
Gaskins says the best part of the day for her is “the golden hour.”
“No one else calls it that, it’s just me, but there’s a golden hour that happens at every festival I’ve worked at Discovery Green. It happens when the headliners go up on stage for the first time and because of the time and time of year, the sun is just starting to set and the lighting is perfect, and you’re looking over the lawn and there’s only people crammed in like all the way out the back,” Gaskins says. “It gives you the warm fluff, so you’re ready to clean up after the festival is over!”
Korean Festival Houston is scheduled for Saturday, October 22 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney. For more information, please visit kfesthouston.com. Free.