If you’re interested in sharing your traditional foods with festival-goers as one of the ethnic food vendors at the 2022 Lowell Folk Festival, please contact the ethnic food committee chair, Janis Malisewski firstname.lastname@example.org
Come and savor the many tastes of Lowell’s ethnic cuisines. The tempting aromas of Portuguese, Brazilian, 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 so popular during the Lowell Folk Festival, besides the tastes, 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, 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.”
The Armenian Relief Society 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.
There are also other 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.”
The Liberian food booth is under the sponsorship of the Emmanuel Temple of Hope in Tyngsboro. This group has participated for 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 5 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.”
According to Melissa Gannom, chair of the Hellenic American Academy PTA booth at Boarding House Park, “The Lowell 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. 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 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 the festival. 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 Lowell Folk Festival, 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, 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 a longtime participant, which will be at JFK Plaza during this year’s festival. 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 we’ve had ethnic food booths, 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.
Six years ago, the Lowell Folk Festival welcomed 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.