The problem with celebrating Songkran, the Thai New Year, in Chicago is that it’s too cold for a water fight in mid-April. One of the popular features of Songkran in Bangkok originated as a ceremony offering blessings to your elders by anointing their hands with scented water, but the custom’s evolved into a friendly no-holds-barred mass water fight, a euphoric respite from the withering heat that essentially takes over the city this time of year.
Dew Suriyawan, owner and chef of Uptown’s great Immm Rice & Beyond, was so intent on hosting a water fight at the inaugural Thai New Year Water Festival that he pushed the date up more than a month so that he could hold it on a (hopefully) warm May weekend: this weekend, that is.
He also bought 1,000 water guns.
Suriyawan, who helped organize last summer’s Thai Food Festival at Thorek Hospital, has lined up 19 restaurants to feed the combatants (and those who choose to stay out of it too). They include more than a few of the city’s best, most interesting, and beloved restaurants, including Paula’s Thai Kitchen, Rainbow Thai Cuisine, Spoon Thai, and Me Dee Cafe.
It seems likely that the last won’t be ladling out steaming bowls of its signature rice porridge, and Suriyawan isn’t yet sure what others are putting on their menus. But he expects them to feature everything from Tiger Cry to egg rolls to grilled seafood . . . and some fusion. For Immm he’s planning on serving fried chicken skins and a pad thai taco (chicken, bean sprouts, peanuts, and chives on a flour tortilla). Here’s me hoping you can get Paula’s naem tod sa mun pai, or preserved pork herb salad, full of crispy fried shallots, peanuts, and Chinese sausage; and that Rainbow will be slinging its righteous Isan sausage. Other restaurants include Bangkok Tokyo, Bites, Fireside, Gorilla on Clark, Kinnaree Thai Kitchen, Krungthep Thai Cuisine, Manee Thai, New Pot, Opart, Pho Thai Cuisine, Seafood on the Tables, and Thai Inbox Glenview. There will be Singha and Leo on tap under the beer tents.
Saturday’s activities include an amateur som tam-making contest, folk dancing, a drum parade, fashion show, and musical headliner the Rit Thai Band. Sunday’s bill features Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing), plus the musical stylings of Z Bear and an eating contest during which the competing gurgitators will consume food from all of the vendors.
Throughout the festival staffers armed with squirt guns will engage and hopefully encourage festivalgoers to join in. At the festival gate guests will be offered some white powdery paeng to smear on their faces and necks; it’s really supposed to go on your loved ones and statues of the Buddha, but it’s a feature of the modern water fight as well. It’ll wash off in the water.
The Thai New Year Water Festival starts at 10 AM Saturday at the parking lot of Bridgeview Bank, 4753 N. Broadway, and runs through Sunday evening. A $5 donation is requested. The full schedule follows.