8/15/2013 - Have brunch from El Salvador, followed by a Middle Eastern snack, dinner from Thailand and a New England peach pie for dessert. This weekend marks a marathon of annual cultural festivals and flavors in Manchester, Milford and Lowell, Mass.
Mahrajan Middle Eastern Festival began as a day to celebrate Lebanese culture.
“We’re not a large parish, and this has become a big festival,” said Rev. Thomas Steinmetz of Our Lady of the Cedars Church. “There’s such an excitement for people to plunge into this ethnic event.”
It’s been a Manchester tradition for over 40 years, and now, the festival is a weekend-long event with a petting zoo, music, dancing and a food tent.
“The grape leaves are very popular,” Steinmetz said. “I think we made 5,000 of them this year. They’re a mixture of lamb, rice and spices. Then they’re rolled inside the leaves and put into a pan. They’re baked, and the steam softens the rice.”
The food tent will have appetizers like Hummous bi Tahini, Tabouleh Salad and Fatayar (meat or spinach pies in a dough pastry). Shawarma lamb, beef and chicken kabobs, falafel, stuffed grape leaves and a kibbee platter (made with spiced beef, cracked wheat, pine nuts, lamb and onions) are all featured entrees, with Baklawa, date fingers, Coosa Pita and Ghrybe (almond butter cookies) for dessert.
“It’s all made by the people here in the church and prepared in the parish kitchen,” Steinmetz said. “We’ll be here late into the night preparing more for the next day.”
The Mahrajan Middle Eastern Festival runs Friday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at Our Lady of the Cedars Church, 140 Mitchell St., Manchester.
Alejandro Urrutia, president of Latinos Unidos de New Hampshire, recommends a strategy for trying a little bit of everything at the Latino Festival in Manchester on Saturday, Aug. 17.
“The food of Latin America is very colorful — a lot of variety [and] a lot of different cultures,” Urrutia said. “The restaurants that are going to be at the festival are not going to be Americanized. They are doing the real thing.”
Five restaurants will feature the cuisine of the Caribbean islands, El Salvador, Mexico and Cuba. Urrutia said festival attendees can expect to try salsas, guacamole, pico de gallo and flavors that range from hot to “not that hot.”
Other dishes include green and red enchiladas, rice and refried beans, fried plantains, El Salvadorean pupusas and hibiscus tea. There are also sweets like dulce de leche, rice pudding and cakes.
Urrutia said 10,000 people typically attend the annual festival, which includes music from a variety of traditions, like merengue and Mexican folk. There’s dancing, vendors and educational booths that feature different countries, including Puerto Rico, a new addition this year, Urrutia said. Local organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees also set up informational booths in the park.
The organization Latinos Unidos de New Hampshire raises funds for scholarships awarded to Latino students, and the annual festival has been one of its largest events for 14 years.
“We are trying to show the Latin American cultures,” Urrutia said. “There are some basic things in common, like language. … We want to show that we are not uniform. We are a different group of people with very rich cultures.”
The festival runs from 11:45 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Veterans Memorial Park on Elm Street.
It’s a peach-lover’s dream on Saturday, Aug. 17. The Church of Our Savior in Milford will host its annual New England Peach Festival at Lull Farm in Milford, where members of the congregation prepare hundreds of jars of peach jams and sauces, plus peach pies, peach pockets, peach bread and peach shortbread cookies.
Then there’s the peach iced tea and peach sundaes made with vanilla ice cream from Jake’s Homemade Ice Cream, shortbread cake, peach sundae or rum sauce and whipped cream.
“We make all of our own peach products,” festival co-chairman Michael Therrien said. “We do everything from scratch, and it’s a labor of love from church parishioners.”
Therrien said the pies go fast — they’re planning on baking 130 this year, and they’ll make 300 jars of homemade jam.
“As soon as this festival is over we’ll be planning for next year’s [festival],” Therrien said. “It’s a lot of planning and prep work behind the scenes, and then it all depends on the peaches themselves.”
There’s also a kids’ area with a bounce house, face painting and some peachy games, like peach bowling, bean bag tosses in a peach tree and a peach pit toss. Funds raised from the festival support the church’s outreach programming, which includes local food pantries, Habitat for Humanity, CROP Walk and the Antrim Girls shelter.
The festival concludes with a Lobster Dinner at the farm, though you have to purchase tickets in advance because lobsters are brought in fresh in Kittery, Maine. (It’s too late for this year’s dinner, but there’s always next year!) The menu includes a one-and-quarter-pound Maine lobster, corn on the cob, potato salad, peach bread, peach iced tea and peach shortcake. Proceeds from the dinner support the congregation’s partnership with St. Andre Anglican Church in Ondjiva, Angola.
Fried rice, fast
There’s more than one race to catch at the Southeast Asian Water Festival this year. Five teams, made up of 16 to 20 rowers, will race traditional long boats on the Merrimack River in Lowell, Mass., during the festival, but anyone can be picked from the crowd for the first annual Fried Rice Eating Contest.
Festival organizer Molyka Tieng said fried rice was chosen for the event because it spans the different cultures represented at the festival. She said the contest will be similar to a pie eating competition, and five participants will be chosen from the audience to compete.
Besides scoffing down fried rice, the festival includes traditional Southeast Asian cooking, like chicken wings, barbecue, coconut, sugar cane drinks, chicken, beef and shrimp balls and sticky rice, made with black beans and coconut milk in a bamboo stick.
“Most of the time they can only get [sticky rice] at the Water Festival,” Tieng said.
Then there’s traditional papaya salad, which Tieng said is a staple in Thai and Cambodian cultures. Food vendors will participate in the annual Best Papaya Contest.
In Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, water festivals are held in the fall to celebrate and honor water as a significant resource for agriculture and community. Cuisine, traditional song and dance performances, bands and long boat races are the highlights of the festival, which began in Lowell in 1997.
“We wanted to bring some of the Southeast Asian traditions to the States,” Tieng said.