Presented by the Salt Lake City Arts Council, the 27th annual Living Traditions Festival is a gateway into the colorful ethnic communities along the Wasatch Front. While dances, songs, crafts and fine art can offer a window into the cultural core of each, none is tastier -- and, in general, as rich in heritage -- as food.
The lines could be long at some of the 21 food booths, but the smells were so inviting that it didn’t matter. And it was easy enough to buy a sampling from one booth and eat it while you were in the next line. I seriously ate a ton, and here’s what I loved the most. I did try other food, for the record, but it was either just “meh” or way too fried and heavy --l ike something from a sub-par restaurant I wouldn’t want to go to anyway.
What was your favorite? Leave a comment below.
I don’t understand this obsession with churros. When I braved the tremendously long line in front of Basque Club of Utah, all that I received was stale fried dough. Sure, the sugar shower on the top added a kick of sweetness, but based on the annual snake-like line -- up to 30 or 40 people deep (one man said he once waited 45 minutes) -- I expected to be blown away. The boat of fried fingerlings could have been salvaged if served with some sort of custard, but, alas, no. However, a friend of mine had the notion to buy some crema, and that worked out OK.
That is the dipping sauce for the second-most-popular sweet: fried plantainsn-- platanos -- from Fraternidad Salvadorena (pictured above). This booth rightly deserved the attention that many festival-goers gave it.
The fried plantains exceeded eight inches and warranted sharing. The tamales were a little corn-y for our liking, but excelled over the heavier grub offered at neighboring booths. Fraternidad Salvadorena could do no wrong with the savory, hot-pocket-of-goodness, the pupusa -- one of the best dishes at the festival, and only $2.50 a piece.
I’m not one to go nuts over rice at festivals, but next door at the Utah Tibetan Association, the vegetarian fried rice was some of the best rice that I’ve ever eaten. This booth made momos, which didn’t compare to another momo slinger.
New kids on the block, Nepalese Association of Utah just killed it.
The Nepalese booth offered up my second-favorite dish, samosa chat, which combined sweet and savory in an Himalayan-size way. But their chicken momos were my favorite dish -- period, end of story. And that was mainly because of the tangy, zingy sauce. When I asked what it was, I was told “momo sauce,” with no further information indicating ingredients and so forth. It must be a well-guarded secret.
Then it was on to Dinka Community of Salt Lake. The spinach & couscous paired with the chicken sheia was probably the best one-two punch from any one booth -- and could have been enough to fill most folks up. But why stop there, really?
The Saltas clan would probably ring my neck if I didn’t mention the Dionysios Dancers. Truth be told, I was pretty full at this point, but the dolmathes -- those slippery, tricky-to-make, grape-leaf fingers of goodness -- hit the spot. I realized that this would have been the perfect food to nosh while perusing the lengthy line of vendors.
But for a Middle Eastern sandwich, rather than stick with the Greeks, I went with the kibbi from Salt Lake Lebanese Community/St. Jude’s Maronite Catholic Church. Kibbi is ground beef mixed with mint, pine nuts and aromatic spices like cinnamon, allspice and cumin topped with a yogurt sauce. I could have just eaten this without the pita. Either way, writing about it makes my mouth water. Yup, I just drooled. That’s embarrassing.
And to finish things out on a fuller-than-full (above-capacity) belly, I went with the guava, mango & coconut juice from Island Traditions of Polynesia.
Then, at least for the first night, it was time to dance off the calorie spike to the energetic music of%uFFFDMexican Institute of Sound.
All photos courtesy of Annastasia Kaessner.%uFFFD