Have you ever wanted to go on an adventure? It’s easier than you think to explore new and exciting places and you don’t even have to pack a suitcase or get a passport! Your path to new places and new ideas leads you as far as the dinner table for our next Get Real Resolution: Take a Culinary Trip!
Okay, so you think all those foods are scary? What if we told you that many of the most familiar foods you already know and love are “ethnic” foods — foods that are part of a shared culture or national heritage.
Did you know every food is an ethnic food? Even your familiar favorites!
Think about that burger and fries you may have just had in the last week. This seems like “American” food, but French fries or frites originated in Belgium and France! While no one is sure where the hamburger was first created, some stories say Hamburg, Germany and others give credit for the creation to a Danish immigrant.
Pizza is, well, Italian! Along with another favorite from the kids’ menu — spaghetti! But noodles are not just Italian food or even just for mac-and-cheese, either. Different cultures have been eating noodles for at least the 4,000 years. Besides the familiar pastas from Italy and American egg noodles, you can find udon, soba and somen noodles in Japan, ramen in Chinese cultures, spatzle for both Germany and Austrian dishes. Other cultures that include noodles in their cuisines include Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Afghanistan, Tibet, and India.
One of the craziest things you may find while trying a new cuisine isn’t how different it is, but how much the same we are!
Ready for your adventure?
Here are some tips to make the most of your culinary journey.
- Choose an ethnic cuisine as a family, it can be based on the types of food you all agree on like noodles, or on a country you find interesting.
- You can make your meal at home, which could include a trip to an Ethnic grocery store. Don’t forget to ask about all the ingredients you find and traditions!
- If you go out, have everyone in the family order different foods so you can try a lot of dishes to see what you like
- Don’t be afraid that you won’t like something. Not knowing exactly what is ahead is what makes this an adventure.
- Take some time to learn about the country or culture behind your meal. Have your parents help you with online research.
- During summer there are a lot of cultural festivals that provide a fun outing as well as the chance to try new foods. Some events are even multi-cultural ones — you could travel the world’s flavors in a day!
Travel Journal Time
Take a few moments to share what you learned together on your adventure:
1. What does the food you tried tell you about the culture?
2. What foods and flavors did you like best? What did you like least?
3. What ingredients in the dish were familiar to you?
4. What were any new ingredients you tried?
5. Where would you like your culinary travels to take you next?
Here’s our culinary adventure we’ve taken as a family for five years:
A Weekend at the World’s Table
Kansas City’s Ethnic Enrichment Festival Represents Our City at Its Best and Tastiest
By Beth Bader
August’s scorching heat took an extended vacation last year, leaving a perfect eighty degrees and a cool breeze in its place. It was the kind of breeze that makes you close your eyes and bask in its gentle coolness, but made all the better with a deep inhalation of the air that smelled like nothing short of food heaven.
One short stroll around the Ethnic Enrichment Festival at Swope Park and your nose can travel the world from exotic, intoxicating Indian curries to crisp Columbian fried plantains, the honey-soaked cinnamon of Serbian baklava and Croatian povitica. For one magical weekend the whole world — or at least sixty of its cultures — shares a table in Kansas City.
Among the favorite dishes served are those from India’s booth. Jarnail Kandola has been cooking at the festival for thirty years of its thirty-four year history. At one time, he owned Taj Mahal, an Indian restaurant, on Wornall Road. These days, he still caters and his experience in professional cooking shows in the dishes he creates each year for the festival. Despite cooking for hundreds at a time, Kandola’s delicate, complex sauces hold and the vegetables in the curries are tender-crisp. Even the samosas and pakoras stay light and not greasy.
Kandola’s kitchen “staff” is an experienced crew as well. It includes close friends and his three sons and nephew who literally grew up helping at the festival every year.
“Washing dishes was the favorite thing to do because you got to ride the golf carts,” laughs Gurbhushan Singh, Kandola’s nephew, recalling his younger days of festival work. He has young kids himself right now, but expects to bring a third generation of the family to work at the festival booth one day.
The opportunity to try other cuisines is one of the benefits of returning to the festival every year, as well. Singh ‘s favorites — besides the mango lassi and chicken curry — include the fresh-squeezed lemonade from Italy, the chicken and beef kebob’s from Vietnam and the Ahi sauce served with the dishes from Columbia.
It’s not a surprise there is great food. Many of the booths have professional chefs and cooks at work, including Spain’s booth where you can find Carmen Cabia Garcia. When she is not creating the rich, chilled almond soup with grapes and olive oil and the spicy potatoes bravas on this August weekend, Carmen is serving her signature paellas and tapas from her food truck, El Tenedor. She started the business in the last two years, but has worked at the festival for nearly five years now.
“I started El Tenedor because I wanted to work outside and be on the move, so I guess the festival did help me realize that,” says Carmen. She says she loves the diversity the festival offers and talking to people from all over the world.
Surprisingly, even these experienced chefs admit that cooking for the crowds at the festival is no easy feat even with a few years experience.
“I love being part of the festival, every year it becomes easier and more enjoyable for me,” says Carmen.
Kandola’s youngest son laughs a bit over the sheer effort cooking for hundreds in each day of the three-day event takes. He describes the feeling of “Never again!” exhaustion at the end of the event, but then by the following July, finds himself getting excited for the event all over again.
If cooking on that scale is daunting for a professional, imagine the learning curve for home cooks that staff the booths. Festival-goers can also experience a family’s traditional recipes such as the pollo empanadas from Ecuador’s booth where Jeff Harkness works in a tent behind the booth, painstakingly folding and frying each empanada in the summer heat.
For Jeff, it’s a labor of love literally. His wife is from Ecuador and he married into the culture and food traditions. Each year, he supports his wife in the monumental effort to help make sure their daughters stay in touch with their heritage.
It’s not uncommon to see a blend of cultures like this even within each booth. While a few may consider this as “unauthentic,” it is perhaps the most authentic reflection of our whole as Americans.
To willingly and so fully embrace another culture as to spend three 18-hour long hot August days over a stove or grill is a commitment to the cause. These hours are all volunteer time even for professional chefs who help with booths. No restaurants are allowed to represent a country. In fact, few booths make a real profit over their expenses and time that includes not just the three-day festival but weeks of preparation and planning beforehand. All do this for the joy of sharing their culture both within the booths and throughout the event.
The unseasonably mild August weather kept attendance at a high. Things are winding down in the gray trailer that houses the festival’s true communal kitchen — four stoves and ovens, three sinks, and hundreds of different dishes from all cuisines with recipes being shared in a multitude of languages. It’s a crazy, wonderful melting pot both on the stoves and in the kitchen.
Long before the festival’s end that year, the wash station was packed as the booths ran out of food and the staff began hours-long clean up and take down of the booths.
Despite the effort ahead, a man from the Moroccan booth was disappointed at running out of food early.
“We need the time,” he says. “We need a bit longer to stay with one another’s cultures.”
It’s a sentiment you can sense in the air just as much as the heavenly spices. This sentiment is more than the food, more than the traditional dress, music, crafts and the performances. It’s the heart of the festival itself.
The lead up to the 2013 festival year was marred by several events in the news — most notably the Trayvon Martin trial ending just weeks prior. The headlines felt like a crushing leap backward in overcoming our racial divides.
“The people who come here,” remarked a city park worker as he looked around at our blended mix of community, “they are the best people in Kansas City.” He paused for a moment. “I needed this festival this year. I needed to see this.”
The 2014 Ethnic Enrichment Festival will be held August 15-17th at Swope Park. Hours are 6 pm to 10 pm Friday, 12 pm to 10 pm Saturday, and 12 pm to 6 pm on Sunday. Admission is only $3.00 for adults. Kids 12 and under are free. Parking is also free. You can find out more information about the event at http://eeckc.net/?page_id=130.