Festival of Cultures brings convergence of cuisines to South Park

Olha Korinets, left, and Oksana Husieva, right, talk to festival-goers about Ukrainian culture Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 at the Festival of Cultures at South Park. Items on display included pysanka, handcrafted Easter eggs with traditional Ukrainian designs etched in wax.

Lawrence offers diverse cultures and cuisine year-round, but on one fun Sunday in September, most of those cultures converge in one place.

On Sunday, cultural representatives set up booths for the 9th annual Festival of Cultures in South Park.

Raghsidad dancers perform a Middle Eastern dance at the annual Festival of Cultures Sunday afternoon in South Park.

Baha Safadi, chairman of the Lawrence Alliance and director of the event, said this showcase of international food, music and culture exhibits the best qualities of Lawrence. Safadi, who left Jordan 41 years ago to study at the University of Kansas, said the city’s diversity of culture helped it become his first home.

“Lawrence offers this international flavor, filled with beautiful and open-minded people who are inviting of other cultures,” Safadi said. “We are working together to make Lawrence the most beautiful place to live in the Midwest and hopefully in the U.S. one day; that is our goal.”

Although many festivalgoers were learning and experiencing new cultures, some were re-experiencing smells and tastes for which they had already grown a passion. Mohammed Aldamen said he was a little surprised when people buying food from him at the Islamic Center’s booth were completely accustomed to his cuisine.

“They already knew about the sweets,” Aldamen said. “Some people said they had served in the army in Saudi Arabia and other countries, even knew some Arabic.”

Festivalgoers stop by the Islamic Center of Lawrence's booth for traditional Middle Eastern dishes of basbousa and baklava, which were fan favorites, as well as beef pastries and shawarma.

The Islamic Center’s traditional Middle Eastern dishes of basbousa and baklava were fan favorites, as well as beef pastries and shawarma. The booth also gave out roses as a way of thanking the community for its support.

Liliia Koreba opened up the live music by singing folk music from her Ukrainian childhood. Koreba sang “Oh, in the Cherry Garden,” a song about a girl spurning her young lover as she attempts to rush home before her mother finds out where she’s been. The girl gets caught, but the mother’s only concern is her daughter’s hair has come out of its braid.

Koreba said braided hair, as well as embroidered clothing, are important parts of Ukrainian culture. She had various handcrafted garments for sale at her booth.

Safadi said the festival keeps growing every year and had many new additions this year, including representatives of Vietnam, Iran and Turkey. The Vietnamese booth included egg rolls, vegetarian spring rolls, crab rangoons, meatballs and chicken wings.