I had never been to WorldFest before this past weekend, and I was excited to finally have a chance to attend. I have always been fascinated by cultures other than our own, but most importantly, I have an ardent love of ethnic foods. I am always astounded by people who refuse to try foods whose names they can’t pronounce; these are what I seek out. The excitement of treating your taste buds to food and flavor combinations formerly unimagined is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
As my family and I approached the Belvedere I was a bit confused about the giant Hard Rock Café truck parked at the entrance, next to a Budweiser truck. I was also perplexed by the fact that the first tent we came to represented the Kentucky Lottery. This was standing next to a Coca-Cola booth. Where was the “world” part of WorldFest?
Moving past the Lottery tent and the WorldFest info booth, we came upon rows and rows of tents and booths, where one could buy souvenir store-style knick-knacks or get information about insurance premiums. (Insurance booths? At Louisville’s annual celebration of global culture?) Eventually we found a few booths selling authentic jewelry and wood carvings. There was also a tent representing Soka Gakkai, a voting registration booth, two henna tents, and a booth about the library’s International Month.
While disappointed by the lack of worldliness at WorldFest, the real reason I came was for the food. I found the food tents tucked away in a back corner - after passing two or three fair-style corn dog and nacho booths to get there. (Two more of these nestled snugly among the tents actually selling ethnic foods.)
I had a variety of ethnicities from which to choose: Latin America, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Jamaica, Latin America again, Italy, Asia (represented by Asiatique), and Latin America (yet again), to name a few. I scanned the menus, looking for something especially enticing or adventurous. At first glance, though, it looked as if my options were mostly of the –on-a-stick variety: lemongrass beef on a stick, curried chicken on a stick, pork on a stick. I felt like I was back at the State Fair, except with an attempted ethnic twist.
For my first taste, I settled on a basic chicken curry from a tent labeled Taste of Africa. Five dollars bought me a steaming pile of white rice, topped with onion slices, slices of green bell pepper, and two egg-sized chunks of chicken breast, smothered in curry sauce. I was not disappointed; the chicken was tender, the bell pepper had softened while retaining just the right amount of crispness and best of all, the ample sauce had soaked down into the rice, making every last bite moist and delightful. The curry sauce was just about perfect: spicy, but not so hot as to compromise on flavor.
Encouraged by this success, I moved on to the next tent over: Chope’s Kitchen. Their menu, filled with foreign words I had never before heard, pleased me. I decided to try the imboga, a traditional Rwandan dish made with spinach, eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions. I asked what spices or seasonings were used, and I was informed that there were none - just the vegetables (although peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are technically fruits). This all went on yet another pile of rice, and I dug in.
As promised, there did not seem to be any seasonings used beyond salt and pepper, but it didn’t really matter. The spinach was of excellent quality – well-cooked, but not slimy – and, along with the eggplant, it soaked up the flavors of the tomato, pepper, and onion to create a mellow, but satisfying combination.
Finally, I spotted a tent serving Jamaican food. My wife and I honeymooned in Jamaica, and since then I have made it my goal to find here in Louisville the equal of the authentic jerk chicken we had there. So far, everything I have tried has been a failure in comparison. I was eager to put another sample to the test. Unfortunately, the chicken had just been put on the grill and was not ready, and as our daughter was getting fussy, I decided to settle on dessert to go: a slice of Caribbean rum cake.
I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure this cake came from a store. I am familiar enough with freshly made cake versus store-bought cake to tell the difference most of the time, and this seemed store-bought. Not that I am necessarily faulting them for taking the easy route; I was just a little disappointed. I can buy cake myself anywhere.
That said, it was actually quite tasty: properly moist, and the rum flavors shone through quite nicely, complementing the sweetness of the cake without overpowering it with its alcoholness.
Thus ended my first ever WorldFest experience. It was a little disappointing, but at least the food was good. I would have just liked to see a wider variety, both of food and culture represented. Maybe I’ll try again next year.
Photo: Allan Day