Folk festival is one day full of many flavors


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If you can't make it to Europe or South America this year, the kitchens at the Pittsburgh Folk Festival can provide an alternative.

"We'll have a passport to tastes from around the world," festival board president Karen Hall said. "And you won't have to buy an airplane ticket or get any shots."

A dozen organizations representing many of Southwestern Pennsylvania's ethnic groups will be serving both traditional and some newer culinary treats during the one-day-only event, which has been renamed "Celebrate Pittsburgh," on Friday.

"Many of these are authentic recipes that were brought over by immigrant ancestors," Ms. Hall promised.

Stuffed grape leaves, for example, have been a mainstay at the festival's Lebanese cafe for more than half a century, according to Anne Ayoob, kitchen coordinator for the festival. "There used to be more food booths," she said. "But a lot of [ethnic] groups don't have enough younger people to staff their kitchens."

She is a member of Our Lady of Victory Maronite Church, which sponsors the Lebanese group -- one of the fest's founding groups. Much of the initial food preparation is done in the church kitchen in Scott.

While the recipe for the stuffed grape leaves is authentic, it has been tweaked to reflect taste and economics. "The meat would be lamb in Lebanon," she said. "But lamb is very expensive when you are cooking for a lot of people so we use sirloin or top round."

While many festival kitchen will offer plenty of higher-calorie sausages and filled dumplings, healthier options have become common as well.

Workers in the Peruvian kitchen will prepare roasted chicken with rice, while the Turkish booth will have multiple vegetarian dishes, Ms. Hall said. The Lebanese non-meat options will include falafel wraps, Ms. Ayoob said. The wraps are fried chickpea patties served on pita bread. They are garnished with fresh and pickled vegetables and a sesame-and-lemon sauce called tahini.

Choices at the Philippines booth this year will include lumpia sariwa, a vegetarian spring roll. "I don't know how well it will sell," Carmen Shively said of the new offering. "But a lot of kids are vegetarian." She oversees the kitchen booth for the Filipino American Association of Pittsburgh.

The booth also will offer grilled chicken kebobs, several types of stir-fried noodles called pancit, and small, pork-stuffed eggrolls called lumpianitos.

A native of the Philippines, Mrs. Shively became involved with the Filipino American Association more than a decade ago. That was when her daughter, Charise, then in high school, said she wanted to learn more about the Asian side of her heritage.

Both mother and daughter have performed with the Filipino dance group. That dance group, which has more than 50 members, has proved to be a powerful recruiting tool for the ethnic organization.

By learning the traditional dances, customs and foods popular on the more than 7,100 islands that comprise the Philippines, young people learn about and help to keep alive the nation's varied culture, she said.

It is not unusual to have multiple generations represented among the cooks, servers and entertainers at the festival.

Bela Pater is president of the G.T.E.V. D'lustigen Isartaler, which sponsors the festival's German cafe. The group's name refers to the Isar River Valley in southern Germany and Austria.

The club has several families where parents and children perform in adult and youth dance groups while grandparents volunteer to work at club events, Mr. Pater said.

"For example, my mother, Kathi Pater, and Kathy Imhoff are our Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte cake ladies, plus my mother is head Strudel lady as well," he wrote in an e-mail. "My Oma [grandmother] has been deceased since 1995, but she would be very proud her daughter and grandsons keep up the family cultural heritage."

Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte is a traditional Black Forest cherry cake.

While many groups report problems attracting younger people, Mr. Pater said the D'lustigen Isartaler has found recruitment success. "We have dance practice almost weekly," he said. "And after practice we spend time with each other socializing, with cultural themes.

"We are lucky, that in Western Pennsylvania, there are so many Americans with German or Austrian blood who are interested in their cultural heritage," he said.

The German group has been participating in the folk festival since the early 1970s. "I want our club to be around for decades to come, especially for my children and, someday, my grandchildren. In America we are a melting pot, but our roots are important and individual. The motto of the folk festival -- unity in diversity -- truly rings well."

The menu at the German food booth will include two kinds of sausage with sauerkraut, lentil soup, hot potato salad and red cabbage cooked with apples.

Strudel, gummi bears, cherry torte and hot pretzels, known as Bayrisch Brez'n, also will be offered.

"I am proud that my grandparents and great grandparents immigrated to Pittsburgh, but moreover, I am proud that I have their heritage running in my veins," Mr. Pater said. "We keep up the language, customs, food and most important, the Gemuetlichkeit [camaraderie] amongst our members."

This year's "Celebrate Pittsburgh" event is highlighting Italy with an evening performance by singer Christina Chirumbolo and the Metropolitan Italian Symphonic Band, directed by Anthony L. Dilanni.

While there will not be an Italian cafe, Parma Sausage, a family owned business in Pittsburgh's Strip District, will be selling its products.

"Celebrate Pittsburgh" will be open to the public from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at the Monroeville Convention Center, 209 Mall Boulevard. Admission is $5 for adults, free for veterans and serving military with IDs and children age 12 and younger. Call 412-278-1267 or visit pghfolkfest.org.

German Red Lentil Soup

8-ounce package red lentils

3 onions, coarsely chopped

5 cups water

1 bay leaf

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme

3 carrots, peeled, then thinly sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and drain lentils. Combine lentils, onions, water, bay leaf and garlic. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Add thyme and carrots. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes longer. Remove bay leaf. Add parsley, salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.

Makes about 8¾-cup servings.

-- Bela Pater


Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.

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