American international festival celebrates traditional food and dance

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The Washington, DC area is multicultural, with embassies, international businesses, and a host of ethnic restaurants.

Residents from Ethiopia, El Salvador, the Caribbean, and others live in the city and surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

To highlight the gastronomy, artisans and traditional dance of these many cultures, the Around the World Cultural Food Festival recently held for the 6th year. The event is the Washington area’s largest outdoor cultural food festival.

With flags flying, 40 nations were represented in a park in historic Alexandria, Virginia. The event brought together African countries, such as Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Thailand, Lebanon, Jamaica and El Salvador were also included.

Monica Mensah showed off a beautiful batik fabric from her home country, Ghana. (Deborah Block/VOA)

Corina Serbanescu, the event manager, said the festival offers the opportunity to experience different cultures.

“Although the Washington area is multinational,” she said, “people don’t necessarily know each other’s cultures, including food.”

Feride Ozkan, owner of Istanbul Kitchen in McLean, Va., offered visitors a taste of Turkish cuisine, including chicken borek, made with vegetables and mozzarella cheese, and simit, a Turkish bagel.

“Turkish cuisine is a melting pot of cultures brought together over centuries,” she said. “I serve dishes that I learned to cook from my mother and that she learned from her mother.”

As Washington’s Devin Holum took a bite of beef-based borek, he said: “I had a great time going on vacation to Turkey a few years ago…and I enjoy the food and I feeling like you’re back in the country again.”

Food vendor Sus Grondin-Butler served Indonesian chicken satay, considered the national dish of Indonesia.  (Deborah Block/VOA)

Food vendor Sus Grondin-Butler served Indonesian chicken satay, considered the national dish of Indonesia. (Deborah Block/VOA)

With a long queue at another stall, Sus Grondin-Butler was serving Indonesian chicken satay. Considered a national dish of Indonesia, satay is marinated meat skewered and grilled.

“What makes Indonesian cuisine unique is that each of the islands has its own style of cooking. Some are sweeter, while others are spicier,” she said. “Since Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, there is also this influence.”

Visitors also got a taste of cultures through traditional dance performances.

As the dancers wiggled and moved their hips, the Raqs El Hob dance company performed an Egyptian belly dance.

Adriane Whalen, artistic director of the Washington-based troupe, said: “There’s the beauty of the dancing and the costumes, of course, but I also love that it celebrates women coming together. Some of the moves today can be seen in hip hop and jazz dance.”

The dynamic folk dance company Armonias Peruanas, which means Peruvian harmony, offered a sample of dances from different regions of Peru.  (Deborah Block/VOA)

The dynamic folk dance company Armonias Peruanas, which means Peruvian harmony, offered a sample of dances from different regions of Peru. (Deborah Block/VOA)

Shortly after, the brightly dressed Armonias Peruanas — which means Peruvian harmony — kicked their heels up.

Lourdes Curay, the director of the troupe, said: “We have hundreds of unique dances in different regions of Peru, and we wanted the public to see the richness of our country.

Ricardo Martinez, who grew up in El Salvador, danced to the music.

“You can’t help but get up because the music and the dancing are so exciting.”

Another popular performance featured Indian dancers from the Kalavaridhi Center for the Performing Arts in Herndon, Virginia.

Sheela Ramanath, founder of the Kalavaridhi Center, was born in India.

“Traditional Indian dance tells stories of good and evil and draws a lot from Indian mythology,” she said. “The dances are also linked to nature, where every living creature is respected.”

Besides dancing, the vendors were showing their artistic side.

Henna artist Kavita Dutia, from India to the United States, has painted intricate leaf designs on people's hands.  (Deborah Block/VOA)

Henna artist Kavita Dutia, from India to the United States, has painted intricate leaf designs on people’s hands. (Deborah Block/VOA)

Henna artist Kavita Dutia immigrated to the United States from India 15 years ago.

“The art of applying henna to the hands and feet is a very ancient custom,” she explained as she painted a leaf design on a young woman’s hand with a brown paste. “Henna brings happiness and joie de vivre.”

“I thought it would be fun to do this,” said student Cara Shawly. “It’s pretty and it’s like getting a tattoo, but you know this one won’t last forever.”

Items from all over the world were sold at the festival.

Monica Mensah from Ghana was selling traditional clothes and baskets. His company is called Back to the Roots.

“I am here to present Ghana,” she said. “I want everyone to know that Ghana has a beautiful culture with peaceful, friendly and welcoming people.”

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