I remember when we all expected the lockdown to be over within a few weeks.
“Are we still planning to go to the Bon Odori festival this year?” I asked my friend.
“Sure-lah!” he replied. “Don’t need to be so stressed. Now it’s just April. Bon Odori is in July mah!”
Sadly, by the time June 2020 rolled around, the pandemic was showing no signs of leaving. When I read the official notice that Bon Odori 2020 had been cancelled, I didn’t even feel disappointed anymore — just resigned.
Saying Goodbye to Bon Odori
Bon Odori was far from the only big event to get cancelled in 2020, but it was definitely the one that felt the most personal.
I know it’s a bit strange for a Malaysian guy to be so into Japanese events, but Bon Odori has always held a special place in my heart ever since my very first visit with all the other members of my university anime club. At the time, I honestly had no idea what was going on. I spent the whole night being dragged around from one spot to another by my more experienced club members.
Together, we ate cheap food on a plastic rug in the corner of the field because all the seats were taken. We joined in the traditional Bon dance with hundreds of other people under the starry sky. And at the end of the night, we all piled into one guy’s van and spent the whole ride back singing the opening songs from all our favourite anime like a bunch of nerds.
Even to this day, I can still remember that first Bon Odori.
The sight of everyone dressed up in their fancy Japanese outfits, the smell of delicious food being carried in the breeze, the sound of everyone trying to talk while the big drums kept going DOM DOM DOM DOM…
There’s really nothing quite like it.
A “Virtual” Festival
Disclaimer: The Tiger Street Food Virtual Festival is an event which serves non-halal food and is only suitable for non-Muslims aged 21 and above.
Fast forward to November 2020, and I first heard of the new “virtual” street food festival that was being organised in Malaysia.
I have to admit that I was a bit confused about the concept. After all, how can you have “street food” if we can’t even go out to the streets?
So when I signed up for the Tiger Street Food Virtual Festival 2020, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t help wondering if I was making a mistake.
Was it going to be like one of those annoying mobile games that keep being advertised on YouTube? What kind of food would they be providing? How much of that authentic festival experience could we really get from behind a computer screen?
In the end, the virtual festival proved to not as good as I was hoping, but not as bad I feared.
Can It Really Replace Reality?
If you haven’t experienced a virtual festival before, here’s how it works.
First, you create an avatar, a virtual representation of yourself. You get to dress them up however you like, then take them through the futuristic, neon-lit streets of a cyber-city.
In some ways, it’s similar to a real life festival. As you walk around the virtual city, you can find games to play, prizes to win and most importantly, a whole bunch of food vendors to choose from.
It’s almost like a glamourised version of an actual festival. The streets are always clean, the music is always playing and there’s always something to see or do.
Yet at the same time, I can’t help feeling that it’s all a little too clean.
You’re surrounded by hundreds of other avatars, but none of them can really talk or interact with you. Going to a vendor just opens up a menu showing what dishes are available, while all the games are really basic side-scrollers or treasure-hunting-style affairs that I honestly got bored with pretty quickly.
Where’s the sound? Where’s the people? Where’s the atmosphere? Without the human element, can it really be called a festival anymore?
But with all that said, I still had fun.
Modern Technology Is Amazing
We’ve gone over the bad side of a virtual festival, so now let’s go over all the things I liked about it.
First up, I just want to say that for an event that was basically put together in a few months, the Tiger Street Food Virtual Festival looks amazing. Seriously, it looks better than some actual games that I’ve paid money for!
The avatars, the setting, even the soundtrack… they all combine to create an immersive mood.
As I explored the virtual city streets, a part of me felt like I was being transported to a cyberpunk-style world. The main area was all neon and gloss, while the food stall areas had more of a gritty back-alley kind of feel that I thought was pretty cool.
Speaking of food, while the lack of people definitely made ordering meals feel less personal, it’s something that I’ve already grown used to from all the food deliveries I’ve ordered during the lockdown months. I did appreciate the variety available. Some stalls such as MyBurgerLab even set up special festival-only dishes that I just had to try!
Despite all its drawbacks, all you have to do is look in my kitchen cupboards to see how much I enjoyed last year’s virtual festival. I’ve still got a shelf full of the Tiger-brand chopsticks that they were giving away with each order!
So How Does 2021’s Virtual Festival Compare?
Before we get into all the big differences, let’s go through the nitty gritty details of this year’s Tiger Street Food Virtual Festival 2021.
It’s going to be running 11am to 9pm (last order 8.30pm) every Thursday to Sunday from 12 November to 19 December 2021.
The basic idea is the same as last year. You create an avatar, use it to travel around a miniature virtual city and take part in all sorts of activities. However, this year there are a few noticeable differences that any festival-goer should be aware of, both good and bad.
Bigger and Better: During the last festival, only those who lived in Penang and the Klang Valley were able to order food. This year, they’ve added Ipoh and Johor Bahru to their delivery range, allowing even more people to take part in this virtual festival.
They have over a hundred food vendors to choose from, with dishes ranging from the traditional to the innovative. With such a variety available, you’re sure to find something to suit your taste… assuming that you live within appropriate the delivery area, of course.
More Merch: What’s a festival without souvenirs? This year’s festival has brought in a number of local streetwear brands such as EK Collective, The Swagger Salon and Pestle & Mortar to create the Hypefeast Drop — a special package containing exclusive limited-edition food-inspired merchandise that you can order straight to your doorstep.
Note that while the Hypefeast Drops are sold on a first-come-first-served basis, you can still get individual items through their online store if necessary.
Tiger Coins: Compared to last year, there are a lot more options for avatar customisation. You earn “Tiger Coins” by taking part in activities, buying food, playing games, etc. Once you’ve collected enough, you can spend them at a special vendor to unlock new outfits for your avatar to wear.
Personally, I’d rather save up my Tiger Coins to buy the promo codes for my food and drinks. But if you’re the kind of person who wants to get their #swag on even in a virtual setting, you can totally do that now.
It’s Still Pretty Small: The improved graphics are nice and all, but this year’s virtual festival feels a lot smaller than the last one. There’s only two areas: The Central Area and The Street, both of which you can explore in two or three minutes.
Aside from that, it just feels like there’s less to do in general.
I don’t know if they’re planning to release more activities over the next few weeks, but right now there’s just two games and four unique shops, which feels… kinda underwhelming for something that’s supposed to be a festival.
Still No Interaction: Just like last year, there’s still no real way of interacting with the people around you. Even when you’re in the middle of a crowd, it still feels like you’re the only real person there. One of the best parts about being in a festival is hanging out with your friends, but if you bring your friends to this virtual festival you can’t even talk to them!
Granted, there is a chat feature, but it’s mostly really cringey pre-written messages like “I can totally beat you at Street Food Dash!” and “Do you like my new top from the X-Clusives Store?”.
Now, I get that the organisers didn’t want to risk people spamming slurs or insults all over the place, but surely they could have come up with something that doesn’t sound like it was written by some soulless PR guy?
Couldn’t they use some kind of chat filter or text messaging thing so that festival-goers can communicate with each other?
They Took Away The Stalls: Last year, every food vendor had their own individual stall on the street. If you wanted to order something, you had to walk down the road, looking for the perfect place to tapau your meal.
But this year, I couldn’t figure out how to order food. Looking at the background of The Street, I saw that there were actual shops and restaurants, which made me excited at first because I thought that everyone had been upgraded from stalls to shops.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Instead, if you want to order food, you have to go to a specific vendor in the middle of The Central Area, who’ll provide you with a list of available restaurants based on your address.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely more efficient compared to last year. But putting all the food vendors into one stall like this just makes it feel less… festival-like. I felt like I might as well have just ordered Grab instead.
At Least The Food Is Still Good
Putting all that aside, the Tiger Street Food Virtual Festival 2021 is still an event I’d recommend to any non-Muslim foodies. Whether you’re more into burgers or buns, spare ribs or Sarawak noodles, they’ve got it all and more!
Pricewise, the festival itself is free to join. All the games and activities are also free — the only time you have to pay is when you buy food or merch.
Protip: Don’t forget to check your e-wallet. I didn’t realise that they’d given me a free Promo Code until after paying for my meal.
Of course, after eating all this delicious food, you need to burn off all those calories. If you’re interested in finding a new way to exercise, be sure to check out: