Satsuki Bazaar on Channing Way

    One blue-sky Sunday in May. A section of Channing Way, between Shattuck and Fulton, was blocked. Two girls draped in summery garments danced to joyous Hawaiian tunes on a sunlit wooden stage, surrounded by a small crowd of both familiar spectators and curious passing pedestrians. The seductive smell of grill beef got caught in the wind here and there.

    So it was the street front of the 61st annual Satsuki Bazaar and Arts Festival at the Berkeley Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temple on Channing Way. Inside the temple, a multitude of items displayed for silent auction held visitors’ footsteps, starting with orchids, matted photos and paintings, gift cards to sushi bars and diving lessons…

    …to porcelain sets, stuffed toys, a wooden sculpture of Daruma, and Shichi Fukujin in a glass box.

    But few things can attract everybody like food. The “dining hall” was packed to the door like a beehive overflowed with nectar.

    Every few minutes there were tiny old ladies weaving among the crowd with big trays of musubi and sweets from the dining hall to the “bakery”, a front desk covered with homemade edible goods, baked, rolled, fried, pickled, and jarred.

    We just couldn’t help it. The umeboshi (pickled plum) was going fast at $5 per small jar and $8 per big one. Mudpie hungrily grabbed onto two jelly jars, kumquat ($4) and persimmon-pineapple-apricot ($5), which have the exact same color. Then we started loading pastries into our bag…

    First came the blueberry scone, which tasted like wet sand, but we paid only one buck for it, can’t complain.

    Then there were little squares of mochi (and a lonely piece of brown banana cake). Each square cost a buck too (and they are about 20 times smaller than the scone), but none was as good as the mochi cubes in front of Cafe Hana. Pretty scrumptious lonely piece of brown banana cake though.

    Now these are the real disappointment. The manju, mochi balls with red bean paste, looked so much better than they tasted. Is the yellow egg-shaped pastry dotted with poppy seed and filled with sweetened taro paste also a manju? Guess how much they were. $1.25 each. Sugar excess.

    Fortunately the savory side is a greener pasture. The 2-dollar spam musubi hit the spot just right (processed meat always tastes so good after you reprocess it with sugar and soy sauce). The nori was mild, thick, and moist.

    We top things off with a lustrous loco moco, a burger patty squatted on a bed of extremely moist short-grained rice, covered with a runny egg and a ladle of beef gravy. After one spoonful, Mudpie couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the afternoon. The whole thing was like a peppery, creamy, rich butter boat. All for $5, and honestly it would be just as spoon-licking without the grilled meat.

    And so I learned something new. At Vietnamese Buddhist pagodas, you can find only vegan food regardless of festive occasions or normal days. Here at a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple, there is plenty of meat, crackling and sizzling on one blue-sky Sunday in May.

    61st Annual Satsuki Bazaar and Arts Festival, May 22-23, 2009
    Berkeley Buddhist Temple
    2121 Channing Way
    Berkeley, CA 94704
    (510) 841-1356

    Update: I WON something in the silent auction: an adorable set of tea cups and tea bowls, notice the matching pairs with one tea cup slightly taller than the other. The visit was a success!

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