Search This Blog

Friday, November 06, 2020

Eating Ethnically

From the Food Vault Dept.: Early in my restaurant-reviewing years I spent an afternoon at the Schenectady Museum’s Festival of Nations, a food-centric collection of comestibles organized by country of origin. Started in 1975, this festival ran until I don’t know when; its history is obscured by a parallel Festival of Nations that has run annually in Albany since 1972. Its 2020 edition was held, just a few days ago, in a virtual manner that couldn’t have been as delicious as what I attended in 1986 and describe below. The people referenced therein include Drew Kinum, the photographer who captured my first few months of reviews, and Paul Grossman, who was the editor of Metroland at the time.

“YOU AND YOUR ETHNIC FOOD,” Drew grumbled as I described the proposed outing.
“Don't forget - it includes ethnic beer!”

Kielbasa and Kapusta
He brightened immediately.

You won’t be able to make a reservation for this meal – you’ll have to wait a year before it takes place again. But Schenectady’s annual Festival of Nations took place last Saturday on the grounds of the Schenectady Museum and boasted 19 booths of foods from all over the world.

The Two Guys lot was packed with cars; the throng milling the grounds of the Festival was so varied that there were conversations from as many nations as there were recipes.

Our first stop at the first booth, Scotland, got things off to a great start. My wife and I split a sausage roll (she had this idea about pacing ourselves, flying in the face of what I knew was my duty) and Drew bought a meat-filled Scotch Pie. We augmented the order with cool bottles of MacAndrew’s Scotch Ale, a dark, sweet, nutty brew that complemented the strong flavors of the meats nicely. The incredibly flaky crust of the sausage roll, it turned out, came from a distributor in New Jersey.

We met editor Paul and his wife at the Great Britain booth, where really only England and Wales were represented (Ireland was off on its own). Paul was lamenting the sell-out of Cornish Pasties. booth attendant Sarah Eaton-Kalohn, who made them, described the difficult process of filling a thick crust and folding it carefully, so not enough are ever available. A native of Surrey, England, she did serve us a little portion of shepherd’s pie, which Susan followed with a chocolate gilly whoppy. [Note: I didn’t define this in the original piece, which was irresponsible; internet research suggests it’s a marshmallow-enriched type of brownie.]

“Let’s not OD on Great Britain,” Paul suggested. “We’ve got other aspects of Europe to discover, not to mention the Far East.” He stopped at the Denmark booth “to see if I can get a Danish danish,” while the rest of us headed for France.

Every booth had something outstanding to offer, there were mediocrities as well (the incidence of canned ingredients was depressing). But here are some of the highlights:

The French booth featured omelettes and crepes, freshly turned out over a rank of gas burners. The staff, members of the Schenectady Chapter of the American Association of University Women, also had tasty quiches to offer and fresh croissants.

Cookies were the mainstay of the Lithuanian booth, and Mrs. Edward Baranauskas had prepared a tray of Mushroom Cookies, shaped like the fungus and with a spongy texture and rich taste.

Along with Kraukus beer, the Polish menu included pierogi (as server Marcia Galka observed, it’s no picnic making 800 pierogi in one night) along with kielbasa (available with kapusta), golbki, and chruscik. Galka was part of the Polkabration group that staffed the booth.

Anneka Bull was peddling smoked eel in the Holland booth and insisted we try some. As Drew fetched us some Grolsch beer, I sampled the slippery thing on a cracker. It wasn’t slippery: it was, in fact, delicious. “I serve this at parties,” Bull explained, “and I don’t tell them it’s eel. I get raves.”

What remains of Drew's photo after it was cruelly
cropped by
Metroland and survives in my collection
only as a lousy photocopy.

Over in Norway, a Mazarin torte made with an almond paste was sinfully good. “Are we going to eat in all these places?” Susan asked warily. I was trying to eat only a bite or two of each selection. She was eating the rest.

In Africa, I got a dish of codfish and eggplant curry, while a woman behind stepped up to order samosas (“This was named after a dictator,” she theorized incorrectly).

 The Indian booth offered a selection of curries and tandoori preparations, from which I chose a bean and potato curry.

We couldn’t get near the line for the Japanese teriyaki beef and chicken, and settled for some tall (22 oz.) cans of Sapporo draft instead.

Susan was full by the time we got to the German booth, but I’d saved room enough for a hunk of Bratwurst on rye with mustard. But that left me unable to join Paul for his creamy Schwarzwaldekirchetorte, which was fine with him; his wife was pestering him for a share in it. A circle of Germans formed a ring around the back of the booth and sang (a cappella) the glories of Rhine wine in “Rüdesheimer Wein.”

Next to the Philippines stand was a charcoal pit over which a pig’s carcass slowly turned. The chef inspected its doneness and sent it back for more baking.

The last booth, just before the back-of-the-planetarium stage upon which all-day entertainment took place, was American. There the local Kiwanis chapter offered – what else? – hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, and Michelob.

Metroland Magazine, 22 May 1986

No comments: