Come and savor the many tastes of Lowell’s ethnic cuisines. The tempting aromas of Greek, Polish, Asian, Latin, Burmese and so many other foods, promise a culinary and cultural experience. Non-profit ethnic organizations, mostly local, come together to prepare and sell the foods of their heritage. Their proceeds benefit numerous worthy projects and programs. As you enjoy these delicious foods, know you are supporting “green” concerns (paper plates and bio-degradable utensils only) and good causes.
What makes the ethnic food booths even more sought after during the Lowell Folk Festival, besides the taste, is the nonprofit ethnic organizations and the small army of volunteers who make these booths possible and the history and traditions they are passing on generation to generation. A brief history of some local ethnic groups who you can visit at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival are below:
The Lowell Polish Cultural Committee is a veteran of folk festivals, having been in a local folk festival every year from the first 1974 Regatta Festival Committee event , a forerunner of today’s Lowell Folk Festival, to this year’s anniversary festival. Known for its legendary pierogi line at JFK Plaza, the group also does a brisk business selling Polish kielbasa sandwiches and cabbage soup. Jane Duffley, who pressed her “babcia”, her grandmother, into making pierogi way back when, is the pierogi coordinator for this year. Typically, anywhere from 5000-6000 pierogi are sold each year. Carol Matyka, ethnic chair of the LPCC, emphasizes the committee is proud to have participated so many years and “that it’s fun to watch people enjoy Polish food- followed by dancing to a Polka band.”
In many cases, the volunteers in the booths include family members. Sossy Jeknovorian, of the Armenian Relief Society, recently brought her 96 year old mother to an ethnic meeting. Her mother had served for many years as a festival volunteer. This group, located at JFK Plaza, is also a long time veteran of festivals. A story that might be part myth tells of some women from the Society, who, in their pursuit of grape leaves, aroused the curiosity of some law officers, but all ended well. In addition to stuffed grape leaves and other Armenian traditional food, there is the popular losh kebab sandwich. The group typically makes about 2000 of these appetizingly spiced Armenian hamburgers.
Boarding House Park also has long time ethnic participants. Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Church of Lowell has shared its Mid Eastern food with festival goers for many years and has helped introduce and popularize such items as falafel, fatoosh, and shawarma. It’s not unusual for volunteers in this group to chop 12 cases of tomatoes. Hilda Zananiri, ethnic chair, has shared that what the festival has meant to her group is “connecting with each other…working as a team, proud to serve our ethnic food, proud to be part of the weekend, the Park, the City of Lowell.”
Iskwelahang Pilipino, another participating group for over 25 years, has a range of volunteers including many children, as this Filipino group raises funds for the rent of facilities for a school. The group has a huge operation at Boarding House Park as it prepares and serves inihaw na baboy (pork barbecue), lumpia (egg roll), and many other specialties. In keeping with its focus on both tradition and children, Violaine has stressed that, “The value of the Lowell Folk Festival for us goes beyond the fund raising aspect. Without it, the children will not be able to share their rich cultural heritage through the food that they prepare together with other ethnic groups. It has been the main vehicle by which they learn that working together for a common cause is a very fulfilling and enriching experience.”
At the Dutton Street Dance Pavilion we find the Liberian food booth under the sponsorship of the Emmanuel Temple of Hope in Tyngsboro. This new group has participated for 4 years and as chair, Norma Dennis has said that, “It has been a blessing for us because it has made it possible for us to raise funds and help us to feed the children in Liberia.” This year, some of Norma’s relatives are coming from New York to help the group. Many traditional foods , including Jolloff Rice with either beef or vegetable, siskabar, cassava fish, and donuts, Donuts? Yes, Calla, a kind of Liberian donut. Saydanar Community Development Center is another new group at the Dutton Street site, having participated for 3 years. This Burmese group has an extensive menu – chicken potato curry w/rice, myin khwar ywet kyaw, and many other exotic items. According to James Aung, “It has been one of the most exciting events for our community members because of not only being able to raise money for our organization, which helps refugees from Burma to become more self sufficient, but also being able to work as a group………We are very proud to be able to participate in the festival and become one of the community groups.”
The Lao United Church of Christ ethnic food booth has been a fixture at the JFK Plaza. Menu items include Crab Rangoon, egg roll, chicken wing and a generous combination plate. Ted Rasakham, the longtime chair of the group has expressed appreciation for the chance to be part of the festival.
Reflecting the ancestral home,the Azores, of many Portuguese immigrants to Lowell, the Portuguese booth at JFK Plaza, under the banner of the Portuguese American Veterans, prepares pasteis de bacalhau (cod fish cakes) and polvo guisado (octopus stew w/rice), but grilled items such as linguica are also on the menu. Paolo Godinho, chair of the group, and other volunteers have a long record of participating in the festival.
According to Melissa Gannom, chair of the Hellenic American Academy PTA booth at Boarding House Park, “The Folk Festival enables our school community to re-connect with alumni and fosters new relationships with our parents as well as others in the community.” Food favorites on the menu include gyro sandwiches, lamb skewer, grape leaves, and baklava.
The Lowell Latin Catholic Community of St. Patrick’s Parish booth is located on a corner at Boarding House Park. St Patrick’s Church, a special place to the early Irish, is now a mission church for more recently arrived folks from the Latin countries. This ambitious group has two menus, one for Friday night, the other expanded one for Saturday and Sunday. Some popular Hispanic dishes include arroz con pollo, habichuela y ensalada, and papa rellena de carne(meat stuffed mashed potato ball. Margarita Reyes and Mercedes de Pina are volunteer leaders.
Another Boarding House Park established group is Wat Lao Mixayarm (Wat meaning temple). Kevin Camvan has served as chair of this group for many years, even in the years he has had to travel to Laos. Popular items include BBQ Chicken Wings, BBQ Beef Teriyaki, and the Wat Loa Mixayaram Special.
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church is one of the pioneer groups at JFK Plaza. Lamb, of course, and other Greek traditional food can be found in this Greek booth. Rumor has it that about 1,500 pieces of baklava are usually prepared for the festival. Joan Metropolis, chairperson, was really nervous the first time she gave an interview on the stage at JFK, but now is a seasoned veteran as she responds to questions about her Greek heritage and the traditional food on the menu.
Mitt Chanthavong, chair of the Wat Buddhabhavana Laotian booth at JKF Plaza, in recognizing the 11 years that his group has participated has been happy that the festival, “Brings all people together and the community together….and makes money for his temple.” Vegetarian egg roll, papaya salad, chicken BBQ, and fried rice are some of this booth’s offerings.
Christ Jubilee International Ministries, an African group is participating for the third year at the Dutton Street site. Yvonne Haggard, chair of the group, has mentioned that, “The Lowell Folk Festival means a lot to our group….Christ Jubilee International Ministries is very appreciative of being part of this great and historic event. We showcase our group, meet other wonderful people, sell our food, buy and taste other delicious food.” The menu includes toborgee with rice (beans & kitterly, collard green w/rice, pumpkin/squash stew w/rice.
For as long as the Dutton Street site had ethnic food booths and in a previous site, Kai Zornlai has worn her conical straw hat. She has been Buddhachak’s chairperson for many years and can be seen preparing some of the Southeast Asian food dishes. Popular items include vegetable spring roll, Pad Thai, and mango fried rice.
New this year, the Dutton Street Dance Pavilion welcomes FEALMA, a local Brazilian group, as a first time participant. Joao Lopes and his fellow volunteers plan to sell Cachorro-quente, Esptinho de Frango Empanada, and Pastel de Queijo. The New life kingdom International Ministry, many of whose members hail from Sierra Leone, will be at the newly reconfigured Market Street stage site. This is their first Lowell Folk festival and Philip Jamina, is enthusiastic about grilling African BBQ chicken and ribs. Cassava leaves and Jollof rice are other items on the menu.
The Nigerian Association of Merrimack Valley is no stranger to the Lowell Folk Festival. It has sold food in St Anne’s Churchyard for the past 15 years. This year, the group’s members will sell food at the Dutton Street site on Friday night as they celebrate the performance of King Sunny Ade, a group they helped sponsor. On Saturday and Sunday, under the direction of Rosemary Agbede and Valerie Opara, they will be at Market Street ready to sell goat stew, amala fufu, and other African specialties
Check out all of the menus and plan your own delicious experience sampling the many traditional foods of the Lowell Folk Festival!
Ethnic Food Vendors - 2016
|Performance Stage||Organization||Link to Menu & Price List|
|Boardinghouse Park||Iskwelahang Pilipino||Pilipino Menu|
|The Seed||Jamaican & Indian Menu|
|Latin Catholic Community of St. Patrick's Parish||Latin Menu - Friday Latin Menu - Saturday and Sunday|
|Hellenic American Academy PTA||Greek Menu|
|Wat Lao Mixayaram||Asian Menu|
|St. George Antiochian Church||Middle Eastern Menu|
|JFK Plaza||Lowell Polish Cultural Committee||Polish Menu|
|Lao United Church of Christ||Asian Menu|
|The Seed||Jamaican & Indian Menu|
|Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church||Greek Menu|
|Armenian Relief Society||Armenian Menu|
|Wat Buddhabhavana||Laotion Menu
|Portuguese American Veterans||Portuguese Menu|
|Dutton Street Dance Stage- Sponsored by Lahey Health||Buddhachak||Southeast Asian Menu|
|Emmanuel Temple of Hope||Liberian Menu|
|Christ Jubilee International Ministries||Mixed African Menu|
|Saydanar Community Development Center||Burmese Menu|
|Nigerian Association of Merrimack Valley (Friday night only)||Nigerian Menu|
|Market Street||Nigerian Association of Merrimack Valley||Nigerian Menu|
|New Life Kingdom International Ministries||Sierra Leone / African BBQ Menu|