On Saturday, I went to the 2012 edition of Tucson Meet Yourself. This major, annual event in Tucson celebrates international culture through arts, music, and dance, but the plethora of ethnic food offerings has led some to dub the festival “Tucson Eat Yourself.” This year, the first time I’ve been to the festival since rededicating myself to a vegetarian lifestyle, I decided to make it a “Tucson Meet-Less Yourself.” My goal was to stuff myself like I usually do, but to sample as many vegetarian items as possible. It was a rousing success.
I made a beeline to the Buddhist Temple tent in Jacome Plaza because I knew I could count on them for great offerings. Sure enough, they had several vegetarian options. They also had chicken, which confused me. Isn’t there some Buddhist precept related to that… ? Anyway, I chowed down on a vegetarian spring roll with chili sauce and then got some spinach pakoda from the Indian booth next door. In India, pakoda are a popular street snack of deep-fried batter and veggies. I ate mine with tamarind chutney. Plate #1 was a real success.
El Presidio Park, between the Pima County Courthouse (pictured above) and City Hall also featured a lot of food and entertainment. As soon as I got into the park, I saw folks already queued up for fry bread at the San Ignacio Yaqui tent. Who can blame them? Fry bread is delicious, whether you’re eating it with meat (in red or green chili sauce) or veggie style with beans or sugar and honey. Sadly, I was put off by the line and never did get any fry bread. I did pay a visit to the Polish kiosk across the way, though. They offered two types of vegetable pirogi: Mushroom and cabbage or potato and cheese. I had the potato and cheese, topped with onions.
Lots of cultural beverages were also on offer. In the past, I’ve enjoyed Indian rosewater and Native American cinnamon tea. This year also featured Indonesian iced tea and Turkish coffee. I, however, went with a tried-and-true horchata, the Mexican drink made of rice, vanilla, and cinnamon. After getting a rather large cup, I settled in near the stage and listened to the delightful stylings of the Tucson Sino Choir as they performed Chinese choral music.
By now I had only seen maybe half of the festival, so I wandered off to see the other vendors in La Placita and in the area of the convention center. This part of the fest was less geared toward food and more toward activism and selling crafts, but there was a lot of pretty stuff to look at and I signed some petitions to help wildlife. The Sonoran Pavilion–celebrating the culture of our neighbors to the south, was set up near the convention center. Here I got to see some cool dancing by a Mexican dance group, Grupo Danza Xunuti de Rio Sonora. Their costumes and dancing evoked the Old West, featuring cowboy boots for the men and frilly dresses for the ladies. It reminded me that our histories are not so different after all!
On my way back to the start, I grabbed a delicious pumpkin empanada to benefit the Tucson Mexico Sister Cities scholarship fund. This was $2, but I would easily have paid twice that much. Just a tip to fill those coffers for next year!
There were lots of other options here that I could have tried: Pad thai, the fry bread, gelato, and plenty of pastries at the French and Danish booths. There was an entire vegetarian soul food booth, but it was closed on Saturday. Keeping that in mind, my award for the best vegetarian booth goes–surprisingly–to the Turkish food tent. They had a clearly labeled menu of vegetarian options, several different items available, and they were very good. Kudos to them on their stuffed grape leaves and Turkish coffee.
If all goes to plan, this will probably be the last time I visit Tucson Meet Yourself, which is sad. The festival is one of the things I’ll miss about this town. In a place where politics tends to get ugly (especially right now), it’s a treasure to have a festival that really celebrates everyone. Humanity. Encouraging empathy and understanding. And stuffing your yaw full of fried foods. Thanks for another great year, TMY!