Columbus’ Ethnic Expo international festival long has been known for its food from around the world. But planners for Harrison College’s Poland booth have taken that idea literally, and it has helped them add a twist to the menu to keep a long-running event as fresh as the fare.

“We really wanted to be authentic,” the college’s Rose Ellen Adams said.

Adams’ friend, Krystyna Leonarska, a Polish native, brought ingredients from her homeland to add two dessert items, including a cheesecake called sernik, to the booth’s menu. In fact, Adams was up until 2 a.m. Friday making the desserts — with proceeds going to one of college’s funds to help struggling students.

“We all just want our students to succeed,” she said.

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Many of the event’s 31 food vendors said early Friday they expected new menu items to succeed with diners they view as generally adventurous — especially at a festival meant to open people’s eyes to the world’s variety.

The free-admission gathering at First and Washington streets began on a smaller scale in 1984 to promote cultural diversity at a time when Cummins Inc. and other global employers were hiring more people from around the world to work at offices in the area. Founder Barbara Stewart aimed for a festive and entertaining way to educate people about diversity — while also embracing people’s commonalities.

Organizers estimated that it attracts up to 30,000 people during two days with its offering of food, music, an international bazaar, a parade, and children’s and cultural activities.

Charlotte Pritchard stopped for a Vietnamese regional sandwich, featuring a variety of meats, a generous layer of carrots, cilantro, peppers and other adornments on thick, folding roll.

“I picked it because of all the vegetables,” Pritchard said. “But I usually end up with one same thing every year at the African American booth, because their collard greens are absolutely awesome.”

At the combined China and Taiwan booth, Helen Lu gushed about volunteers’ new steamed dumplings, in a soy, pork and vegetable sauce, as if her life depended upon them.

“We always have something new every year,” Lu said. “We want to bring and share more of our culture in Columbus. We enjoy that so much.”

Yet, some people still reach for the well-known and familiar amid Expo’s smorgasbord.

Bill Fisher, working downtown on a firm’s air conditioning units, said he smelled the food nearly two blocks away late morning, and he said he entertained a singular thought: “It’s got to be time to eat something.”

The Expo first-timer said he appreciates those willing to take a little risk with a new dish. But he let others take their chances.

And he sat down at a table under a tent on First Street for something he’d had at eateries many a time: an old-fashioned gyro — which, he mentioned, tasted just like he expected.

Expo parade today

When: 11 a.m. today.

Route: Downtown Columbus, beginning at Eighth and Brown streets then heading east on Eighth, south on Washington Street past The Commons, west on Third Street and north on Brown Street until the parade ends near Fifth Street.

Entries: 50, including bands, motorized-performing entries, pre-1960 classic cars, classic cars 1960 and newer, community youth groups, community religion groups, adult community groups and businesses — with prizes in each category. Watch for floats, walkers, bicyclists and a horse-and-carriage entry.

Parade rules: No throwing of candy from parade entries, but walkers can distribute items to people lining the route.

Ethnic Expo host country: Pakistan’s float will be near the beginning of the parade.

Expo overview

What: Ethnic Expo, Columbus’ annual international festival featuring food, music, children’s activities and an international bazaar with items ranging from jewelry to handbags. Held rain or shine.

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. today.

Where: First and Washington streets, downtown Columbus.

Admission: Free. Food costs vary from $1 for some single items to about $5 to $7 for complete meals.

Organizer: City of Columbus.

Title sponsor: First Financial Bank.

Parking: Various downtown lots, including City Hall, downtown streets and the parking garages.

Information: ethnicexpo.org.

Expo entertainment today

12:30 p.m. — Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums performing Scottish music. City Hall.

1 p.m. — Salaam, performing Middle Eastern and North African music.

1:45 p.m. — Southern Indiana Taiko drummers. City Hall.

2 to 4 p.m. — Children’s activities led by kidscommons staff. First and Washington streets.

2:15 p.m. — Celtica, performing Celtic, Irish and other tunes. First Street.

3 p.m. — Michelle Kight. First and Washington streets.

3 p.m. — Indianapolis’ Minyo Dancers, Japanese dance. City Hall.

3:30 p.m. — Indian drummer Benny Singh.

4:15 p.m, — Ballet Folklorico Mosaicos Columbus/Indianapolis, highlighting Latino/Hispanic roots. First Street.

5 p.m. — Pakistani band Kaarma Nation. City Hall.

6:30 p.m. — Columbus Got Talent winners. First Street.

7:30 p.m. — Guitarist Albert Nolting. Beer garden.

9 p.m. — Fireworks. City Hall.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.