US International Festival Celebrates Traditional Food and Dance – Voice of America – VOA News | Directory Mayhem

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

People from Ethiopia, El Salvador, the Caribbean and more live in the city and surrounding suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.

To showcase the food, artisans and traditional dance of these many cultures, the Around the World Cultural Food Festival was recently held for the 6th time. The event is the largest open-air cultural festival in the Washington metro area.

40 nations were represented with flags flying at a park in historic Alexandria, Virginia. African countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia attended the event. Thailand, Lebanon, Jamaica and El Salvador were also there.

Monica Mensah showed beautiful batik fabrics from her home country of Ghana. (Deborah Block/VOA)

Corina Serbanescu, the event manager, said the festival offers an opportunity to learn about different cultures.

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

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

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

As Washington’s Devin Holum ate a bite of beef borek, he said, “I had a good time on vacation in Turkey a few years ago… and I’m enjoying the food and feeling like I’m back in the country again.”

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

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

With a long line at another stand, Su’s Grondin butler served Indonesian chicken satay. Considered the national dish of Indonesia, satay is made from skewered and grilled marinated meat.

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

Traditional dance performances also gave visitors an insight into the cultures.

As dancers wiggled and moved their hips, dance group Raqs El Hob performed Egyptian belly dancing.

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

The lively folk dance group Armonias Peruanas, meaning

The lively folk dance group Armonias Peruanas, meaning “Peruvian Harmony”, offered a taste of dances from different regions of Peru. (Deborah Block/VOA)

Shortly thereafter, the colorfully dressed Armonias Peruanas – which means Peruvian harmony – put their heels up.

Lourdes Curay, the leader of the troupe, said: “We have hundreds of dances that are unique from different regions of Peru and we wanted the audience 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 dancing is so exciting.”

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

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

“Indian traditional dance tells stories of right and wrong and draws a lot from Indian mythology,” she said. “The dances are also connected to nature, where every living being is respected.”

In addition to the dance, the vendors showed their artistic side.

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

Henna artist Kavita Dutia, who came to the United States from India, painted intricate leaf patterns 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 hands and feet is a very old practice,” she explained while using brown paste to draw a leaf design on a young woman’s hand. “Henna brings happiness and joy to life.”

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

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

Monica Mensah from Ghana sold traditional clothes and baskets. Her shop is called Back to the Roots.

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

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