This first weekend in October is Raleigh’s 25th annual International Festival. If you haven’t gone yet, I highly recommend it – it’s still open Sunday from 11-7! There was a moment today when I saw a multi-ethnic group of people spontaneously dancing together to Shakira’s Waka Waka in between stage performances. I stopped in my tracks and watched all of the people in their fun and colorful varied garb, moving around me in the crowd and speaking so many different languages, many of which I couldn’t even identify. I just stood there and marveled in it all and was overcome with the infectious joy of everyone coming together in one place to celebrate this multitude of cultures.
I have been volunteering over the past few months to schedule and organize the cooking demonstrations that are being held throughout the weekend. I was invited to be a part of this team by my friend Deniz who is a librarian at Rex Healthcare. Our third team member Amanda works at the Interfaith Food Shuttle (an amazing program!) with my friend Jason from church. We were able to schedule professional and amateur chefs to fill 14 slots throughout the weekend. This experience is partly to blame for my renewed excitement in international cooking. It’s also why I felt that this weekend was a good time to start my Savor the World project.
I always enjoy eating at the Festival but I’m usually only there for a few hours on one day, so it’s really nice this year to be able to spread out the eating a little bit :) On Friday I had a Czech apple strudel, a dish of Nepalese dumplings and a Kenyan beef samosa. I also assisted with a Pakistani cooking demonstration, they cooked fresh vegetable pakora along with a pakora chaat, where the vegetable fritters were soaked in yogurt and spices with garbanzo beans, and served with mint chutney. It was all delicious!
Today my shift was from 1-4, so I arrived a little early for some lunch. I started with this Iranian (Persian) plate shown above that included Koreshteh Bamieh (okra stew), and Kashk-o-Bademjan (roasted eggplant) served with yogurt and a mint relish. The Persian booth is always one of my favorites, and today I also got to help with an Iranian cooking demonstration where we made a pomegranate chicken stew and a very interesting presentation of rice. I’ll probably be doing Persian cooking in March during their New Year, so I’ll wait and tell you more about that later. The chef from today’s session, Shahrzade, said that she’d be happy to help me out with some recipes and that we could cook together sometime.
I also visited the Egyptian booth for macaroni bechamel with ground beef (similar to Greek pastichio), and a chocolate ball for dessert. Now, I was suspicious so I asked if the chocolate ball was really “Egyptian”, and the cashier kinda grinned at me and admitted that no – it wasn’t really as authentic as the other two dessert choices on the menu. But I couldn’t resist, the chocolate ball had walnuts and cherries in the middle and reminded me a lot of a rum ball, except without the rum :( But it was delicious, nonetheless. I’ll go back tomorrow and try the more traditional Basbousa, a sweet semolina and coconut bar.
I sat down to eat these treats and listen to an Irish folk band, and got to chatting with some others at my table, including a couple who had lived for 3 years in Egypt, so I was able to quiz them some more about traditional Egyptian food. It was confirmed that the chocolate ball was not authentic, but I was told that Egyptians have quite a sweet tooth. Apparently, they have adopted many other sweet pastry and dessert creations from other cultures.
It has always been fun to go with a group of friends to the International Festival, but I’ve been enjoying being by myself and having this role of coordinating sessions. It has allowed me to meet some interesting people and have some great conversations about their cultures, specifically their food. These connections are making me feel more confident about being able to find people who will tell me about their food experiences throughout my year’s adventure!