Off the Press

October 6, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Warren Kagarise Press Reporter

Warren Kagarise Press Reporter

Like the fish it celebrates, Salmon Days is history. Planners will huddle to dream up a theme and a boatload of fishy puns for the 2010 ode to the returning salmon.

Since the festival originated in 1970 — and a mere 15,000 people showed up — Salmon Days has provided a chance to showcase Issaquah to the Puget Sound region and, as the festival grew, the world.As a first-time visitor to Salmon Days, I was on the lookout for the ways in which organizers use the festival to spotlight Issaquah. Conversations around the festival grounds last weekend inevitably included the efforts to reduce the footprint of the four-decade-old festival. The sustainability buzzword came up, too.

Why? Because, with so much to nosh, festival organizers also had to contend with the plates and utensils left behind. Salmon Days organizers tout efforts to green the festival, and with good reason. Every cup, plate, fork and spoon used at the festival was made from bamboo, corn or some other plant — and, hence, biodegradable.

Not a bad idea, either, considering the number of food stalls lining the downtown streets. Though the festival is a celebration of the salmon run, a big draw — maybe the big draw — is the food. Anyone who walked down Front Street as festivalgoers balanced compostable plates or plunked down at picnic tables could see the importance of the gustatory offerings.

On the first day the festival, as I trudged down East Sunset Way toward The Issaquah Press building, I passed clipboard-carrying organizers and volunteers — doubtless awake before dawn to set up booths — clutching cups of coffee against the morning chill. The first wafts of toothachingly sweet cotton candy and kettle corn hung in the air.

As the festival grew throughout the day, attendees sampled hometown favorites, such as ice cream bars from Boehm’s Candies, Italian sodas from Grimaldi’s and beer cheese soup from the Issaquah Brewhouse. Vendors also peddled enough fried dough, fried cheese, fried onions and oversized turkey legs to put the Puyallup Fair to shame. Along Front Street and the festival grounds was the title dish: salmon aplenty, whether blackened, broiled, grilled or smoked.

Crowds lined up for the Kiwanis Salmon Barbecue, where volunteers grilled oceans of salmon and plated slabs of fish alongside fixings.

Salmon Days and similar festivals in burgs and hamlets across the United States do more than raise money and instill community pride. Events such as Salmon Days show how food imbues a place with distinctive qualities. Salmon Days, in a tangible way, shows the residents and out-of-towners alike who crowd downtown Issaquah how important salmon is to the character, economy and history of the city.

Take a look at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, buzzing with Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery docents and curious tourists clamoring for photos with the salmon sculptures in front of the administration building.

But there was plenty of time for snacks, too, as anyone who waited in line for a Boehm’s Bar — like I did — or wolfed down a free piece of grilled Kiwanis coho — me, again. Salmon Days attendees got, quite literally, a taste of Issaquah.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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