Festival of Nations: Celebration of Diversity

Tuesday August 6, 2013

Do the words “ethnic food” make your mouth water? If they do, plan to attend the Festival of Nations, one of St. Louis’ premier festivals, later this month. With food and entertainment from an array of countries, it’s like a trip around the world.  Don’t worried–no passport needed. And admission is FREE–what could be better?

If you’re going to be in St. Louis the last full weekend of August, lucky you.

If you’re not, maybe you should plan to be.


So you can attend one of best festivals ever. Believe us, if nothing else your taste buds will thank you!

St. Louis’ calendar is bursting with great festivals but the Festival of Nations, held in late August in beautiful Tower Grove Park, ranks at the top of our list of favorites. It is produced by the International Institute of St. Louis.

The reason? With two full days of top-flight entertainment and food provided by local ethnic groups, the Festival of Nations is like traveling the world without leaving St. Louis. And, no airline tickets or passport are required!

And, in fine St. Louis tradition–admission is FREE!

The festival’s headliner this year will be Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago. The company has performed at the Olympics and the Latin Grammys.

But much of the rest of the entertainment is from ethnic groups performing dances or music from their countries of origin. The entertainment is so extensive this year it takes four stages to accommodate all the performers!

Dance troupes performing include:

  • African American Ensemble
  • Alma de Mexico
  • Bollywood Blast
  • Bulgarian Spirit Folk Dance Studio
  • Capoeira Angola St. Louis
  • Clave Sol
  • Dance Calendonia
  • Grupo Atlantico
  • Hora Gil Israeli Folk Dancing Troupe
  • Hui Hula ‘O Punahele Hula Halau & Polynesian Dance Co.
  • Missouri River Cloggers
  • Navrung Dance School
  • Panamanian Folkloric Dance Troupe of St. LouisSamba Flavor
  • St Louis Cultural Flamenco Society
  • St. Nicholas Greek Dancers
  • O’Faolain Academy of Irish Dance

Singers and musicians include:

  • Acoustik Element
  • Autumn’s Child
  • Butch Moore
  • Clave Sol
  • Edinburgh Quay
  • Group Anatolia
  • Kreative Pandamonium
  • Narda Shirley and the Nation
  • Samba Bon
  • Simply Sergio

For a complete list of performers and performance times, visit the Festival of Nations website.

Here’s some of what awaits you at the Festival of Nations:

  • A Celtic Village where Local Scottish, decked out in the kilts of their clans, demonstrate feats of strength including the awesome caber toss.
  • A “Global Corner” where visitors can explore the cultures of St. Louis’ 15 sister cities–Bologna, Italy; Bogor, Indonesia; Brcko, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Donegal County, Ireland; Galway, Ireland; Georgetown, Guyana; Lyon, France; Nanjing, China; St. Louis, Senegal; Samara, Russia; Stuttgart, Germany; Suwa, Japan; Szcezecin, Poland; San Luis Potosi, Mexico; and Wuhan, China.
  • A Family Arts & Crafts area where visitors can construct a mask, get their face painted and participate in other hands-on activities.
  • Workshops and craft demonstrations where, among other things, visitors can observe, among other things, Taiwanese calligraphy, children’s crafts from the Balkans, Eritrean basket weaving, Japanese origami and Macedonian needlework.
  • Citizens Corner where visitors can learn how American government operates.

Visitors can also take free dance lessons on the Village Green. Learn:

  • Belly dancing from Aalim Belly Dance
  • West African dances from Afriky Lolo
  • Indian dancing with Aparna Kalyanaraman
  • Irish dancing from Clarkson School of Irish Dance
  • Colombian dancing from Grupo Atlantico
  • Polynesian dancing from Hawaiian Polynesian Revue
  • Mexican dancing from Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago and Octavio Nieto
  • Salsa dancing with Carmen Guynn
  • Brazilian Samba with Samba Flavor

Food booths will sell Afghan, American, Argentine, Belizean, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cajun, Caribbean, Chinese, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Filipino, German, Greek, Iranian, Israeli, Ivorian Coast, Jamaican, Kurdish, Mexican, Nigerian, Peruvian, Romanian, Scottish, Taiwanese, Thai, Turkish and Vietnamese foods

New this year will be Japanese, Liberian, Spanish food, and returning from previous years will be Brazilian and Haitian foods.

Just a small sampling from the items on the menu (subject to change): empanadas from Argentina, burek sopska and cevapi (beef sausages) from Bosnia, feijoada (black beans with bacon sausage and beef) from Brazil, butternut squash studel from Bulgaria, Burmese fried gourd, Caribbean jerk chicken, zeni (beef stew) from Eritea, sambosa from Ethiopia, Filipino adobo chicken over rice, Haitian goat in sauce, shirazi from Iran, Israeli croissant (extra rich chocolate!), yassa guinar from the Ivory Coast, Jamaican plantain fritters, Japanese ujikintoki, Kurdish baba ganoush, Scottish haggis and bangers and mash, and Turkish kofte.

Or go American with “fried Oreo cakes.”

And this year — for the first time ever — visitors can take home a taste of the Festival of Nations beyond what they can pile into a carry-out container. The Institute’s first “Festival of Nations Cookbook,” a collection of one recipe from every food vendor participating in this year’s festival will be on sale there.

Gift booths will feature items from Afghanistan, Bengali, Bhuta, Bolivia,  Bosnia, Bulgaria, Burma, Canada, China, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, India, Iran, Israel, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Russia, Senegal, Thailand, Turky, Uganda, West Africa  and Zimbabwe.

“We have been doing festivals off and on since we were founded in 1919,” Crosslin said. In fact, the Institute’s first festival was a Mayfest in May 1920.

The Institute took a decade and a half off many years ago as the International Folklore Federation staged an international festival in Forest Park over Memorial Day weekend. When that event phased out, some ethnic groups shifted their efforts to the VP Fair downtown.

But for many small ethnic organizations, the VP Fair venue proved too big and too difficult to maneuver, Crosslin said. In1992 the International Institute went back into the festival business launching the International Folk Fest which was held for a decade at Queeny Park in St. Louis County. After the International Institute moved to its South Grand location, officials wanted to do something for the community there. “So we launched in 2000 our festival in Tower Grove Park which is the Festival of Nations we know today,” she said.

The festival drew 125,00 visitors last year, and entry surveys show they came from 100 different zipcodes, she added.

Festival of Nations is an unusual multicultural event, Crosslin said. A few other cities have multicultural festivals but often feature food from area restaurants and professional entertainers. “One of the really nice things about this festival is it’s of and by St. Louis’s ethnic community,” she said.

“What we’re trying to do is present St. Louis’ ethnic community to the wider community,” she added.

Insider’s tip:  Crosslin was very diplomatic, declining to answer when asked what her favorite Festival of Nation foods are. A few years ago, however, she let it slip that she loves of the Romania coffee sold at the festival. It’s made with chocolate, coffee, whipped topping and a “secret ingredient.” Trust us–it’s heavenly!

Guest Blogger Kathie Sutin a freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri contributed this blog.


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