D.C. Food Fair celebrates diverse vegetarian food

By CHAEBIN JEON | September 20, 2018

On Sunday, Sept. 16 I traveled with a friend to Capital Memorial Church (CMC) in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Washingon, D.C. for its 26th annual International Food Fair.

Since CMC is a Seventh-day Adventist Church, all the food was either vegetarian or vegan, in compliance with the religion’s dietary beliefs. There were dishes from Asia, Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Europe and North America. The dishes were prepared by CMC members from almost 50 different countries and provided authentic “samplings” from those countries.

I was only there for a limited time, but I got to try an incredibly diverse array of dishes from Asian and African countries.

Tickets were $15 for the general public, $10 for seniors and free for children ages 10 and under. The ticket came in the form of a yellow wristband which granted access to the inside of the church where tables were laid out with unlimited food.

In the largest room, which had the North American booths (complete with such exotic dishes as spaghetti and lentil loaves), there was a jazz band — consisting of a trumpet, saxophone, bass, electric guitar, keyboard and singer — playing old hits such as “Moon River” and Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” This supplied a good ambiance for the festival. There was sitting and standing room open to attendees as well.

We proceeded past the room into the hallways where multiple signs indicated which region of cuisine was covered in each particular room. I began my food-filled journey in the Asia-Pacific room. I grabbed a plate and walked over to the booths, where Adventist volunteers greeted me and offered to plate me with the dishes they had made that morning. 

First I picked up gado-gado, an Indonesian dish consisting of vegetables and peanuts that naturally have a watery and nutty flavor. 

Afterward I received a scoop of chana masala curry, a spicy Indian dish consisting of chickpeas, and a serving of soy veggie-meat curry. 

There was also a bright-red, spicy curry called Thai red curry. At another table, I picked up some tofu karaage, a Japanese dish in which tofu was used instead of the popcorn chicken normally used in the traditional preparation of the dish. 

Next to it, some volunteers handed me some lettuce wraps with lentil, onion, carrot, pepper, water chestnuts and Hoisin sauce.

My favorite dishes were the chana masala curry and the gado-gado; I enjoyed the spice of the chana masala and the meaty texture from the chickpeas. The gado-gado was great because of its delicate flavor and its lightness. The soy veggie-meat curry was, unfortunately, mixed into part of the chana masala, and I lost the taste. The Thai red curry was nice and spicy, and this particular version had bamboo shoots that added a nice crunch to the dish. I didn’t think the tofu karaage would be very good, but I was pleasantly surprised by the nicely fried pieces and the absence of grease which was due to the dish being vegetarian. The lettuce wraps felt the healthiest and would be nice to have as a light meal in the future.

Next I stepped into the Africa room, which was extremely popular; most of the food had been taken. Luckily, I was able to scrape the rest of each dish onto my plate. I received some bulgur kinche, an Ethiopian porridge made with cracked wheat (specifically, bulgur) and butter. 

On top of this base, I loaded on some red lentils, which, as the name denotes, were red, mashed and spicy. 

Next to this combo, I placed fit-fit, an Eritrean and Ethiopian mixture of injera flatbread and tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, Jalapeno peppers and olive oil. This one was particularly delicious. For a vegetable side I had tikil gomen — another Ethiopian dish made of cabbage, carrots, potatoes, garlic and tumeric.

I found that most of the dishes in the room were Ethiopian, though the room was technically covering all of Africa — not that I minded since it was all delicious. My favorite foods were definitely the kinche combined with the red lentils; the combination was similar to curry with rice, but drier and with a kick. 

Because the bulgur was rougher than white rice, it had a texture akin to brown rice or barley, and it would definitely pair well with any curry or paste-like dish. The fit-fit was pretty filling and was seasoned very well; I could see how it would make a nice breakfast meal.

The tikil gomen also paired well with the bulgur kinche and made a pretty simple dish.

After visiting those two rooms and talking with some of the people at Capital Memorial, we were ready to head out. There were cookbooks written by the church for sale at the table on the way out with the title, “I Want That Recipe! International Vegetarian Cookbook.” We each bought one. 

The cookbook is a great compilation of different recipes from the same regions showcased at the International Food Fair. Reading through the cookbook, I found dishes from regions that I wasn’t able to try at the fair, like Europe, North America and South America, and I can’t wait to cook the new recipes at home.

I left the food fair feeling incredibly full and overwhelmingly refreshed — after all, how often do you get to explore so many different cultural dishes in one sitting?

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