The city smorgasbord called Ethnic Expo became a culinary adventure for a Cummins Technical Center team Friday.
This group of Cummins employees, mostly from India, browsed the 31 food booths at First and Washington streets in Columbus, tempted by aroma and also what looked tasty, with just one rule to follow.
“Nothing from your home country or any neighboring country,” Aniket Vagha reminded his cohorts.
Vagha laughed about the idea of becoming daring diners amid such eclectic fare, ranging from the bite of gator chili at the French-Canadian booth to the biryana mixed rice dish at the Pakistan booth.
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“Normally, I probably am not a very adventurous guy,” Vagha said.
The the 33rd annual international festival, a two-day global village that continues today from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., allows nationalities to blend in exuberant unison to share culture via food, music and a world-oriented bazaar.
The late Barbara Stewart, wife of then-Mayor Robert Stewart, launched Ethnic Expo in 1984 to help a small town-gone-cosmopolitan build bridges of understanding as several worldwide firms began hiring more international workers.
Hiu Liu, president of the Columbus Chinese Association, hardly could contain his enthusiasm at the China booth, situated just under the bright Expo banner at the festival entrance.
“We very much wanted to bring authentic features of China to the Expo,” Liu said, explaining that much Chinese food in the Midwest has been given an American twist. “These foods (at this booth) are prepared the way we actually eat them in China.”
The menu ranges from fried sweet sesame balls to the crowd favorite sweet and sour chicken. At the table next to the food, a variety of authentic Chinese items, including intricate, handmade fans were available to purchase for $15.
“This is all very good publicity for our culture and our country,” souvenir booth volunteer Vivian Wang said.
China and Taiwan are serving as host countries this year.
Expo booth elements highlight culture but also just plain fun.
Members of the volunteer team at the Mexico booth, for instance, cranked up energetic, pop-style recorded mariachi tunes just as the event opened.
“Music and dance is very much a part of our culture,” Jesus Escobar said.
A bit of that culture got the attention of Northside Middle School student Ashley Lara, who got in line for a taco. She and her peers were escorted to the festival by social studies teachers who have the youngsters studying Chinese dynasties.
“This is a little different (kind of learning),” Lara said.
Yet, Expo founder Stewart always said people would readily learn about others in a human, joyful, entertaining environment.
Venezuelan native Mary Pinango relates to that. She helped prepare foods such as arepas, patties of ground maize, with family members who flew in from their host country exclusively for the event.
“We do all this,” Pinango said, “because we all love to cook. We love to share with others. We love to share our culture.
“And we love to share our happiness.”
Ethnic Expo is held rain or shine at First and Second and Washington streets in downtown Columbus. Admission is free, although food and other items are sold.
11 a.m.: Parade beginning on Eighth Street, south on Washington, west on Third.
Noon to 12:30 p.m.: Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums (Scottish/Irish)
12:30 to 12:40 p.m.: Chinese Lion Dance with the Columbus Chinese Association
12:40 to 1:30 p.m.: Chinese Band
1:30 to 2:30 p.m.: Mariachi Sol Jalisciense (Mexican tunes)
2 to 4 p.m.: kidscommons children’s activities
2 to 2:25 p.m.: Chinese Zodiac Lessons for Kids
2:30 to 3 p.m.: Sankofa Fare Dance & Drum Ensemble (mixing African, Caribbean and Latin tunes)
3 to 3:45 p.m.: Chinese Association Talent
3:45 to 4:15 p.m.: Fabrics From Around the World (fashion show)
4:15 to 5 p.m.: Winners of Columbus Got Talent competition
5 to 6 p.m.: Daily Bread & Butter (European dance music)
9 p.m.: Fireworks
10 p.m.: Food and bazaar booths close.
Information: Visit ethnicexpo.org