A few weeks ago, Lindsay invited me to experience a venerable Twin Cities event I have never tried before; the Festival of Nations, the oldest multicultural festival in the entire Midwest! Held at the St. Paul RiverCentre, this was definitely a fun thing to do as late spring begins to warm up the streets of downtown St. Paul. Celebrating the role of immigrants in the community, each year focuses on a different aspect of the world cultures. The theme this year was a great one for me to start with considering my interests; Folklore and Fairytales, which are always a fascinating way to get deeper insight into the varied worldviews of nations, and how they are similar as well.
In the exhibition area, a multitude of countries had storytellers to introduce other people to their famous stories and legends they are known for, such as the various yokai and yurei of Japan, a Mongolian storytelling yurt, and, of course, the krampus of Austria, among many others. In addition, there were plenty of vendors selling the arts and crafts of people from around the world, including some very nice Senegalese pottery, of which Lindsay picked up a pretty blue bowl. As St. Paul continues to be a hub for new immigrants to the US, the festival was a diverse and vibrant taste of global cultures. In most cases literally, as the bulk of the festival (or at least what Lindsay and I were most drawn to) seems to be the treats and delicacies offered by the various participating cultures.
Lindsay and I arrived hungry, and we set upon the first couple of nations represented in the line of venders selling the cultural treats of each national heritage- the Dutch and the Palestinians, where we snacked on some Dutch cheeses, some sort of fig bread, and some cheap Lipton-esque tea, along with a tasty mango drink and a thick, doughy spinach pie. It became apparent that, as much as we would want to, we would not be able to taste every single country represented, it was just too much. Staring down the line of painted facades that served as storefronts for the makeshift restaurants of the festival, I was reminded of the Renaissance festival with their funny 2-D cultural monickers on each booth.
Grabbing a whole young coconut from the Cambodian booth, a delicious fry bread from the Native American, wonderful Colombian arepas, a pile of delectable Danish desserts (stroopwafels and aebleskiver), and a Turkish borek (another spinach pastry) we quickly dug into our feast. These were all great, but we were stuffed and there was still half the nations to get through, so we digested and went up to the Roy Wilkins Auditorium to watch some dance performances. We took in the national ethnic dances of the Polish, Egyptian, Tamil, and Czech and Slovak peoples performed by local dance troupes. After we’d watched enough vibrant dancing and colorful traditional garb, we headed back for some Korean dumplings and, sadly, the worst churro we’d ever had. Oh well!
I would definitely be excited to return next year, and $11 for adults is not too bad a price! The food, of course, is not included with admission, but for the most part was not too expensive, though some were of better value than others.