Reopening Festival Features Local Asian Restaurateurs

“IlluminAsia: A Festival of Asian Art, Food, and Cultures,” will celebrate the reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler galleries Oct. 14 and 15 with an exciting “first.” Building on the museum’s legacy of fostering empathy for other cultures, the reopening will unite diverse groups of visitors and local Asian restaurateurs in the first-ever Asian night market on the National Mall. The festival’s food activities will extend beyond the museum grounds with sights, scents and tastes. Visitors can stroll through the market to find out more about unique ingredients and techniques from participating chefs who will also offer a behind-the-scenes look at their cooking.

Food is an essential ingredient in the telling of cultural stories and interactions of where Asia meets America: through aromas, flavors and recipes passed down for generations and in kitchens, dining rooms and restaurants across the country. As part of this ongoing exploration of food as culture, Freer|Sackler tapped Simone Jacobson, a Burmese American culinary entrepreneur and former commissioner for the Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Commission on Asian & Pacific Islander Affairs, to collaborate with local chefs and restaurants to participate in the festival and share their distinct cultural histories through food.

In recent years, many stories have highlighted the dynamic culinary innovations and contributions made in American cuisine by Asians, the fastest growing racial group in the United States today. Using readily available ingredients and resources, they have been transforming longstanding culinary traditions. In 2016, Bon Appétit magazine named Washington’s own Bad Saint, known for its Filipino comfort food, as the No. 2 restaurant in all of America. During the past five years, globally inspired food markets and food halls have become cultural staples in major metropolitan areas. While the excitement of Asian Night Markets have been experienced in cities throughout California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, Washingtonians have yet to experience the multisensory journey in the nation’s capital.

“As a museum of Asian and American art, we felt compelled to shine a light on one particular art form central to both cultures that is often overlooked and rarely discussed in museums: cooking,” said Julian Raby, The Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art. “Our institution is in the heart of Washington, D.C., and we recognize just how much our local food scene has been influenced by both Asian and American chefs. For our reopening celebration, we are thrilled to highlight such incredible chefs on one of the most public of stages—the National Mall. We believe visitors will experience the connective power of food on a deeper level, which is inseparable from these cultures, and will help to create a friendly familiarity.”

Culinary programming at IlluminAsia will include a lively food market representing diverse traditions from Asian and Middle Eastern diasporas, cooking demonstrations featuring local and international chefs, tea tastings, a book signing, a global spice lounge and an imaginative DIY zine cookbook project and pop-up library.

“You get to know someone who feeds you on a personal level,” said Johnny Dubbaneh, Middle Eastern street food vendor and co-founder of Z&Z, when asked about the power of eating together as a tool for reconciliation and bonding.

Food vendors and food demonstrations include:

  • Global spice lounge by Bazaar Spices
  • Tea tastings by Ching Cha
  • Tibetan momos by Dorjee Momo
  • Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine by Himitsu
  • Non-alcoholic Asian beverages by Kruba
  • Afghan cuisine by Lapis Bistro
  • Pan-Asian bao buns by People’s Bao
  • Uyghur cuisine by Queen Amannisa
  • Sri Lankan rotis by Short Eats
  • Hong Kong street food by Tigerfork
  • Middle Eastern street food by Z&Z

A full list of activities and schedule of events for “IlluminAsia” is available at

About the Freer|Sackler Galleries

Founded in 1923, the Freer Gallery of Art was the Smithsonian’s first art museum, and it was joined by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 1987. Together they have long been known for preserving and sharing the treasures of Asia, making inspiring connections between Asia, America and the world. Today, the museum offers exhibitions that highlight the compelling beauty of ancient worlds as well as the vitality of contemporary Asian artists. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the wonders of Asian art in the Freer|Sackler galleries and online.

The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., together comprise the nation’s museums of Asian art and contain one of the most important collections of Asian art in the world. The collections feature more than 40,000 objects ranging in time from the Neolithic to the present day, with especially fine groupings of Islamic art, Chinese jades, bronzes and paintings and the art of the ancient Near East. The galleries also contain important masterworks from Japan, ancient Egypt, South and Southeast Asia and Korea, as well as the Freer’s noted collection of works by American artist James McNeill Whistler.

The Freer|Sackler is a part of the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, which is dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge.

For more information about Free|Sackler programs, visit