This year’s Eat Real Festival shifted toward the north end of Jack London Square.
This year’s Eat Real Festival shifted toward the north end of Jack London Square. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Oakland’s marquee food event, Eat Real Festival, took place this weekend for the 11th year at Jack London Square, wrapping up the summer with an array of food and drink vendors, demonstrations, workshops and entertainment.

Once again, Eat Real — which has a mission to build awareness of local, organic and sustainable food — lucked out with warm, sunny weather. But this year, there were some notable changes. The outdoor festival cut back from its usual three days to just two (dropping Friday night because the low attendance didn’t justify the costs) and it shifted the layout to take up more of the north end of Jack London Square near the Waterfront Hotel and the ferry landing.

This year’s festival attendees had a view of the ferry and shipping containers of the Port of Oakland. Photo: Benjamin Seto

As a veteran Eat Real attendee, I did miss the previous years’ view of the sailboats and kayakers on the waterfront from the Ferry Lawn and its use of indoor space that provided a respite from the heat. This year, the festival had a more intimate feel with views of the shipping containers and booths lined along Water Street. Still, the changes each year create a different vibe, as if Eat Real is constantly reinventing itself.

An Eat Real attendee for a consecutive second year, Cynthia Rosales of Turlock, said it seemed like there were more food vendors this time. She and her friend had just finished eating at Gerard’s Paella, a repeat Eat Real vendor from Sonoma County, which perennially has a long line, “but it goes by real quick,” Rosales said.

When we spoke, Rosales was just about to dig into another popular item at the festival — the $12 fried chicken “sando,” a huge chicken sandwich from Oakland’s Aburaya. “We’re going to see how it goes,” she said. “It’s going to be messy.”

As a nod to the rising cost of Bay Area living, this year, Eat Real introduced $5 food deals, where vendors offered at least one item for just $5. Deals, like spicy wontons from Good to Eat Dumplings and a deviled egg with Norwegian smoked salmon and fried capers from Kolobok Russian Soul Food — let attendees sample a variety of foods without filling up. (For those who’ve been attending Eat Real since the beginning, you may remember the festival had a $5 cap on food items for its first five years; the price cap went up in 2014, and Eat Real eliminated the cap altogether last year.) But if you did want to fill up, you can always count on the lechon pork and rice plate from Jeepney Guy or ribs from Smokin Woods BBQ.

Lechon pork rice plate from Jeepney Guy. Photo: Benjamin Seto
Alesia Mosley, left, and Chrishelle C., attend their first Eat Real Festival. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Alesia Mosley of Sacramento was one of many enjoying the whole Neapolitan pizzas from Berkeley’s Lucia’s.  She tried the vegetarian pizza with added eggplant toppings.

This was Mosley’s first visit to Eat Real, visiting with her friend Chrishelle C. of Oakland. “It’s fabulous,” Mosley said, “All the food, all the nice people. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Another Eat Real first-timer was Jackie Low of the Get Low Dumplings pop-up, a first-time vendor at the festival. “It’s really nice to see our food resonates with some people,” said the Oakland-native, adding that eaters were diverse, coming from various parts of the Bay Area and ranging from single millennials to families.

Classic pork and vegetable dumplings aka potstickers from Get Low Dumplings. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Diversity was also represented in Eat Real’s food offerings, including some menu items that combined elements from various cultures, like the “Thai-male,” a Thai version of a tamale from TacoThai, a Thai-Latin fusion restaurant in San Francisco. The “Thai-male” is made of sticky rice instead of masa and steamed in banana leaf.

San Leandro-based KoolFi Creamery offers small-batch Indian ice creams inspired by the founders’ Indian, German and American backgrounds and made with a mix of local and imported ingredients. KoolFi offered flavors like mango lassi and the classic “KoolFi,” a combination of cardamom, saffron and pistachios, using dairy from Straus Family Creamery.

Pickles from Happy Girl Kitchen. Photo: Benjamin Seto
Kirk Lombard, right, of Sea Forager leads a class showing participants how to clean squid. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Eat Real also featured free chef’s demonstrations by Nite Yun of Nyum Bai and Dilsa Lugo of Los Cilantros and music performances. For the second year, it offered ticketed hands-on workshops, including pickling and canning classes with Happy Girl Kitchen and a seafood butchery class with Kirk Lombard of Sea Forager.

“It’s good to have Eat Real,” said Get Low Dumplings owner Low. “Maybe the mission of sustainable food is in the background and it gets people interested, but people also like to be out in the nice weather and support local businesses. If I wasn’t here as a vendor I’d be here as a participant, buying stuff, seeing local businesses and meeting vendors.”

Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.

Freelancer Benjamin Seto has worked as a reporter and editor for various newspapers around the country, and is currently a communications professional and food writer based in Oakland. Ben is also the...