Festival of Nations - St. Louis, MO - August 28, 2010
As you can see, this is a pretty well attended festival set in the sprawling Tower Grove Park. Although the pathways in front of the vendors was pretty treacherous, there was ample tree shaded space available to enjoy it. There were three different pathways just like this one at the festival, with each vendor tent offering food from across the globe. There was food from Ghana to Argentina to Russia and back to Eritrea (which borders one of my favorite country names: Djibouti). Sadly there was an American tent which featured hot dogs, but strangely no hamburgers.
Of course my first stop was to an Indian vendor, which supplied this samosa. The samosa is the quintessential Indian appetizer, and this sample of spicy potato and peas encased in a GBD pastry did not disappoint. The only problem was the tamarind sauce that was ladled into the same tray made the crust a little soggy. Normally the sweetness of the sauce and the spiciness of the samosa play well. For a festival food though, I was pleasantly surprised. A filled pastry is a standard in every country from dumplings to pierogis to empanadas. Check out the Samosa Connection for even more examples (It even includes the runza of Nebraska for US)
My next stop was an Ethiopian vendor for this Doro Wot. You are looking at a chicken leg floating within a rich tomato based slightly spicy sauce. On the side was a very thin crepe like bread. This was much like an Indian dosa. It smelled amazing, and my taster ate every piece of it. This sure beats the normal festival fare so far.
Next on the tour was this Cevapi from Bosnia. It was advertised as a handmade beef sausage in a fresh baked bread. The bread was excellent. The sausages were a little rubbery, and looked suspiciously like the frozen links you can buy at the market for a dollar. They did have a mellow kabob taste that was actually pleasant with the excellent bread. Normally a sausage would be assorted meat, ground, and encased in its own intestine. This was not that. Instead it was more of a kabob taste. Normally a kabob is either chunks of meat or ground meat formed onto a skewer and grilled. Again this was neither. I'm not sure what to make of it in the end, but I liked it anyway.
Many of the vendors at the festival were from local restaurants. Yet, there were some booths like this one, where it seemed like local families got together for a picnic in the park and decided to share their food with strangers. These ladies were like an assembly line of egg roll making.
The best part of the festival is that while you are eating all the great food, there are 4 stages of music and demonstrations of cultures from around the world. Pictured here is a dancer from a West African drum and dance demonstration. It was entrancing, and I couldn't take my eye off that orange faced man.
Festive Trinket of the Week: A hand knitted Alpaca from Bolivia. The vendor told me that some ladies in Bolivia knit these animals, and a portion of the proceeds would return to them. I'm not sure I believed her, but it made my purchase a little easier to enjoy. What's the difference between a llama and an alpaca you ask? Well, one has banana shaped ears. Simply put, llamas are work animals that transport goods like mules, and alpacas are primarily used for their fur. I would prefer to be the alpaca.
Video of the Week: I had some technical difficulties this week. I had video of DJ Ranx and Dubtronix playing one of my all time favorite songs in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" by Michael Rose and Black Uhuru, but it didn't come out. I also had video of the dance routine pictured above, but again the same result. Sadly, I checked down like an NFL quarterback to this strange karate routine. It doesn't really go anywhere and for three people doing slow tai chi or karate they should have been more coordinated. I also would have preferred Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" for the music.
This festival is quickly moving up in my favorite festivals to attend each year. I have been going to the Festival of Nations for years, and remember when there was just one stage and only a handful of vendor tents. I would estimate there were about 100 vendor tents and there is always something going on. You can just aimlessly walk around the park and come across something you have never seen before, something I truly enjoyed here.
I'll be honest. I didn't actually eat any of these items at the time of purchase. Instead, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Festive Friend Kim who courageously came along to be the official taster. I was able to stow away some items into her purse in order to try later. I am currently fasting for Ramadan, and can not eat or drink anything between sunrise to sunset (A fact that is very troublesome for a food blogger). If you want more information on Ramadan click here.
This festival reminded me of one of my favorite trips I ever took with my family to Dubai. Every year there is an International Shopping Festival in Dubai that features exhibits and even grandiose Country themed sections of buildings. Think of an authentic Epcot Center. Although on a much smaller scale, this festival made me think of it. (Pictured is the India section from the festival in Dubai to show the scale. Thanks to Bala of Flickr)
Here are some links if you would like to learn more about the aforementioned Eritrea or Djibouti. Did you know Akon was born in St. Louis then moved to Senegal? How about trying a very simple game to help Maggie get around the world using the power of math? So you always wanted to learn how to say hello in different languages but never could find a suitable method to learn them. Well my Friend, here are some creepy muppets (and even creepier guy) singing a "hello" song from around the world. Or if you want to hear Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn try to pass off G'Day Mate as a different language click here. There are also a lot of weird paranormal alleged activities around the world. Finally, one of my favorite music videos of all time, "Around the World". (The song is mildly annoying but I can't stop watching it). It has always been amazing to me how much silliness is available in just a short radius from the middle of the country in St. Louis. Sometimes you don't have to go too far to get away. movie "The Namesake" (one of my favorite movies), "they say that's what books are for...to travel without moving an inch".