Taste test

May 9, 2011, 3:02 a.m.

Festival brings Palo Alto restaurants and student performance groups to White Plaza

Fried plantains, an indie band’s lead singer crooning unintelligible syllables into a microphone and a group of friends dipping their feet into a fountain evoke a carefree vacation in a world beyond the Stanford campus — but the band, The Sea People, is made up of students, and the fountain is the Claw. In fact, the only exotic part of the scene is those plantains, courtesy of Coconuts, a Caribbean restaurant in Palo Alto.

Taste test
Students enjoy food from nine vendors at “A Taste of Palo Alto” on Saturday. The event was organized by fraternity Phi Kappa Psi and sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi, and all proceeds will go to the Ecumenical Hunger Program (EHP).(Courtesy of Yitao Zhang)

On Saturday afternoon, White Plaza was home to “A Taste of Palo Alto,” an annual food festival organized by fraternity Phi Kappa Psi and sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi (AEPhi) to benefit the Ecumenical Hunger Program (EHP), a food bank in East Palo Alto. The event brought food vendors from Palo Alto to campus, so attendees could buy food and watch student groups perform. Corporate sponsors covered the event’s costs, and all proceeds went to EHP.

The vendors donated the food to support the cause as well as to gain more exposure in the Stanford community.

“We like to support the community and local events, especially with the campus and students,” said Lucy Montoya, marketing manager at The Counter, one of the food vendors. “They support us so much throughout the school year, so it’s great to be able to support them and the cause [EHP].”

At noon, nine vendors opened their stalls, selling Thai food, sushi, cider, frozen yogurt, cake, Jamaican jerk chicken and chili, among other options. Student groups, including a cappella group Mixed Company, belly dance group Arabesque and juggling group Down with Gravity, took the makeshift stage over the course of the next four hours to entertain the meandering crowd.

“The event works to promote community in three ways,” said co-director Arty Rivera ‘11. “First, to support a local charity, such as EHP. Second, to promote local small businesses…and third, to provide a venue for student groups to perform.”

Last year, the event raised $3,600, a number this year’s organizers sought to beat. Although there was only one more food stall this year, turnout was significantly higher, according to Rivera. He credited the turnout to more aggressive marketing and a change in layout.

“We chose to put seating around White Plaza, so people can sit down and linger, and let the crowd build up,” he said.

Students and families wandered around from stall to stall, sampling foods, tie-dying shirts or spinning the wheel at Stanford Federal Credit Union’s (SFCU) stall to win SFCU gear.

“There’s a great cause, good people, good music and long lines, which indicate popularity,” said Praveen Bommannavar, a third year graduate student in Management Science and Engineering (MS&E).

The popularity of the event surpassed organizer expectations. Only halfway through the event, The Counter’s chili stall was the only vendor left standing. Thai vendor Siam Orchid fully restocked its dishes earlier but still was unable to keep up with demand. Latecomers grumbled about the lack of food, but the organizers reached their goal of surpassing last year’s total early on.

“I’m happy that people are sticking around because they’re having genuine fun,” Rivera said, noting “getting more food” as a goal for next year’s festival.

“The event gets people who aren’t necessarily aware of all the tastes available right by the campus to experience new foods and lets restaurants get their name out,” he added.

Indeed, festival-goers, particularly the ones who came early enough to get food, enjoyed the variety, camaraderie and sunshine.

“We get to be outside, there’s music and you get to hang out with your friends,” said Sarah Itani ’12, a member of AEPhi. “It’s one of my favorite events at Stanford.”

A Taste of Palo Alto 2011 raised $5,243.23 including charitable donations for the Ecumenical Hunger Program.

Marwa Farag is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, she was the managing editor of news, managing editor of the former features section, a features desk editor and a news writer.

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