Ethnic Food Festival Returns to Balboa Park, Offering International Flavors

Every cultural dish has a story behind it. Sharing those stories and food brings people together.

Ink Kim Welch, president of the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages in Balboa Park, said:th The annual ethnic food fair resumed on Sunday after a pandemic hiatus.

“Food brings you together,” said Welch, who heads the U.S. House of Representatives at the International Cottage. “If you have strangers, bring them over and eat with them. You can share food and drink and get to know them on a personal level.”

The event drew huge crowds with queues for Chinese steamed dumplings, Lebanese kofta, Puerto Rican empanadas, Spanish paella, Swedish pancakes, Norwegian apple cakes and more. Thousands were expected to attend the all-day event.

In a Hungarian home, half a dozen cooks would flock to tiny kitchens to make rango. This is usually a fried bread topped with garlic, sour cream and cheese. Traditionally, langos were baked near a flame in front of a brick oven. “Langu” means flame in Hungarian. Fried foods are common these days.

“It’s very popular in Hungary,” said Bea Sopko, Youth Program Director of the Hungarian Parliament. “This is street food, and it used to come from the countryside. You can only buy it in Hungary, or at food fairs here.”

Cultural dance, music and entertainment were also part of the daytime festival, including traditional Chinese dragon and lion dances. House of Ukraine featured U3Zub, a reggae band formed after the Russian invasion. Sunday’s performance included two refugees from the war.

About 20 of the 31 International Cottages served meals during the event, while others who did not provide refreshments opened their homes to introduce themselves to visitors.

“It’s about showcasing our cottages and letting people see what we do and what we stand for,” said Mike Salazar, the public relations chair for the event. “And it’s also a fundraiser. We’re a nonprofit. Our biggest event is December night. This is our second biggest event.”

Alice Breakstalker, 78, and Ratna Vatrap, 54, dance to Indian dances at the 40th Annual Ethnic Food Fair.

Alice Blake Stoker, 78, and Ratna Vatrap, 54, dance to Indian dances at the 40th Annual Ethnic Food Fair at International Cottages in Balboa Park on Sunday, May 7, 2023.

(Christian Calleon/San Diego Union-Tribune)

At Scottish House, President Pat Goodman explained the story behind the traditional meat pie. While Scotland is rich in tradition and culture, she said, the country lacked widespread wealth for its citizens. The pastry had a firm bottom and was convenient for workers to carry in their pockets.

Today, meat pies have become exotic, featuring fillings such as spinach and feta, curried chicken and steak, and jalapeno and cheese.

In the tent in front of the House of Iran, Mehdi Moein served ash leshte, or noodle soup. Green soup is stuffed with vegetables, herbs, chickpeas, peas, fried onions and fried mint.

“It’s a traditional food. We usually eat it in winter, especially when it snows and rains,” said Moein, former president and now adviser to the Iranian House of Representatives. It has all the carbs, all the calories, and all the protein in. It’s everyone’s favorite.”

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