Pistahan Highlights Food, Boxing, Art, and More in Celebration of Filipino Culture

The Saturday afternoon parade was a grand moving showcase of Filipino customs and culture along with community (All photos by Karen Datangel).

Last weekend in San Francisco was a busy one with Outside Lands, baseball, and preseason football going on, but there was one other big event that brought more hustle and bustle to the city: The 19th Annual Pistahan Parade and Festival at Yerba Buena Gardens was also the only event where you could hear good music and watch a live sport at the same time, plus find the rare entertainment in watching people eat ice cream and duck eggs. Pistahan—which ran for two days on August 11th and 12th—is the largest street celebration of Filipino culture in San Francisco, and this year’s event broke some new ground as well as kept up with beloved traditions.

This year’s theme for Pistahan was “Bridging Cultures and Communities” to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Saturday morning parade kicked off the event, presenting a colorful contingent of entertainers, traditional and modern dance troupes, and community leaders and groups. Jose Antonio Vargas, who became the face and voice of  the DREAM Act with his New York Times Magazine article “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” served as the 2012 Community Grand Marshal. The 2012 Celebrity Parade Marshals included comedian Joey Guila, Broadway star Ali Ewoldt (West Side Story, Les Miserables), Cheesa Laureta of The Voice, and Meleana Brown of Duets. These entertainers and many others performed on two stages over the weekend.

One of the festival’s most exciting new events was the introduction of the Pistahan Boxing Championship. Sanctioned by USA Boxing, male and female amateurs of all ages and weight classes duked it out in a real boxing ring for titles, trophies, and medals. The atmosphere here was particularly spirited as many family members, friends, and fans cheered on their favorite athletes.

Passerbys check out The Filipino Food Movement exhibit at the Culinary Pavillion. (credit: Ramar Foods International)

Of course, what is a festival without food? Filipinos are known for their love of food, and Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike are fans of all the traditional dishes, delicacies, and desserts. “Food is constantly at the epicenter of Filipino culture and events as it is one of the most tangible methods of interacting with the culture,” said PJ Quesada, the VP of Marketing at Ramar Foods International. “This year, the culinary pavilion evolved from a product-centric showing to a cultural & culinary movement focus.” This was demonstrated specifically with The Filipino Food Movement pictorial exhibit, showcasing the development of Filipino cuisine by Bay Area chefs.

But it also consisted of more interactive and competitive methods, such as cooking demonstrations by local chefs, adobo cook-offs, and ice cream taste testings. One of Pistahan’s most cherished and unique traditions is their balut-eating contest, presented by Mama Sita. Balut is fertilized duck embryos, and they are considered a delicacy in the Philippines. About ten contestants took part in the contest this year, with the goal in mind to eat as much of the five balut eggs on their plates in two minutes. The winner received a $100 gift certificate prize.

There were more than plenty of sights and sounds to take in at Pistahan and lots of activities to partake in: watch and participate in folk and open floor ballroom dancing, attend a wine tasting, check out art exhibits, purchase merchandise from vendors, and connect with sponsors and community organizations.

Additionally, this year’s festival marked the first time Pistahan fully integrated social media as part of the festivalgoer experience. Attendees were able to check in at pavilions on FourSquare and be entered for prizes such as tickets to Bay Area zoos and museums, gift codes to online merchants, and Oakland A’s t-shirts and caps. Twitter and Instagram contests were in place as well, and Tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram photos by attendees were shared on Pistahan’s official social media pages during the weekend. Ultimately, all of it was documented on a cool social front page!

Check out some of our photos from the parade and festival below: