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World of food 

At Rochester festivals, the quickest way to connect with a culture is through food

There are numerous cultures that will hold celebrations this summer during Rochester's dozens of festivals. Greek, Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Turkish, African, Asian, Italian, Ukrainian, and many other cultures will showcase their living traditions during the season.

While these festivals will showcase their traditions through dance and art, one of the quickest ways attendees can connect to another culture is through its cuisine. Many of the cultural festivals offer a lot of interesting dishes, from stuffed cabbage rolls at the Polish Arts Festival and cheesy fritters at the Puerto Rican Festival to tender kebobs at the Macedonian Ethnic Festival.

While a dance or song can showcase a culture's history, you are only watching it from a distance. By eating a traditional dish, an attendee can actually in a way participate with another culture and gain insight into the history and flavors that make each culture so unique.

Food preparation for the Polish Arts Festival (Friday, August 3, and Saturday, August 4; saintstanislausrochester.org) is overseen by Ludwika Kardela, the 95-year-old head of the kitchen at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church of Rochester. Ludwika uses traditional Polish recipes that have been passed down for generations.

click to enlarge Among the dishes at the Polish Arts Festival is the sweet, flaky dessert dish Chrusciki. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Among the dishes at the Polish Arts Festival is the sweet, flaky dessert dish Chrusciki.

Most people may be familiar with the potato pancake or pierogi (potato- and cheese-stuffed dumplings), but some may have yet to discover golabki, which are cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, beef, and pork, and often topped with tomato sauce. Polish sausage with Kapusta (Polish sauerkraut) can also be found on the menu along with the sweet, flaky dessert dish Chrusciki.

According to co-chair of the festival Jan Vorndran, Polish people enjoy getting together and sharing these dishes, and the festival provides an opportunity to keep that tradition alive. "Keeping the Polish culture alive in Rochester is what is most important to us," Vorndran says. "The food draw is very well received. You can't deny that the food is made with love and pride."

The Polish Arts Festival will also feature music, a display of pisanki (decorated eggs), Polish costumes, dances, and tours of the St. Stanislaus Church.

In Macedonian culture, according to Macedonian Ethnic Festival organizer Dave Georgiev, people pride themselves on taking simple household items and seasoning them to perfection, making even something like peppers into a main part of a meal. The festival (Friday, June 22, through Sunday, June 24; macedonianfest.com) will feature a menu of the culture's staple dishes, such as grilled minced meat kebobs made of beef and pork and seasoned with a special pepper mix known as "Bukovska Piper."

"Food was the center of the family," Georgiev says. "Most of these people came from very humble, meek beginnings, so they ate hefty meals for survival. They had to take common meals, like beans, for example, and through their own herbs, spices, and seasoning, made it a premier meal for their family."

A popular Macedonian dish, Tavche Gravche will be featured for the first time at the festival this year. For all the vegetarians in the crowd, Tavche Gravche is a healthy and delicious bean casserole, made with special spices and without meat.

According to Leslie Rivera, vice president of the Puerto Rican Festival's board of directors, taking a bite of a traditional Puerto Rican dish gives a full understanding of the culture — you're actually experiencing it for yourself.  "These foods are staples in our community that bring us all together," she says. They "are typically made with the help of the entire family. So when people come to the festival to indulge in it, they are reminded of family and of home."

click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED

The 48th annual Puerto Rican Festival (Saturday, July 28, through Monday, July 30; prfestival.com) will feature traditional recipes on the menu, one of which is called pincho, which is Spanish for "spike." Commonly made of marinated and grilled chicken and pork, these little delights are named after the skewers on which they are cooked. The Puerto Rican festival also features a variety of frituras, or fried pastry appetizers. These include beef-filled alcapurria; empanadillas filled with chicken, rabbit, or ham and cheese; bacalaitos filled with cod and a cilantro-onion mixture; and the delectable Relleno de Papa, which is basically a fried ball of mashed potato filled with seasoned ground beef.  Sorullos de Maiz, or sweet corn fritters, are the festival's prime dessert item, made with flour, salt, sugar, and butter.

One can learn a lot about other cultures by experiencing their cuisine. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike at Rochester's cultural festivals can find all sorts of freshly made dishes by authentic chefs. If you haven't had a chance to check out any of the local cultural festivals, there's a whole other world of cuisine and culture out there, just waiting to be discovered.

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