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Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Food Observations


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Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Food Observations

Indy 67 | Jul 1, 2007 04:25 AM

We took advantage of the wonderful weather yesterday to spend the whole day at the Folklife Festival. This year's three cultures are Northern Ireland, Mekong River, and Virginia.

Although the festival focuses on three cultures, there are four main food tents since the Mekong River is represented by food from two countries: Thailand and Vietnam. Regent Thai restaurant and Minh's Vietnamese restaurant are catering the food tents. There's no indication who is catering either the Virginia or N. Ireland food tents. (Menus, except for snack food items, listed below.)

We bought lunch from Minh's tent. A big disappointment. I only remembered that Minh's gets mentioned on Chowhound, but I didn't remember the substance of the discussion. This morning, after reading the disparaging comments about Minh's on Chowhoud, the only thing to say is that if they can't deliver in the restaurant setting, I shouldn't have been surprised by their struggles in the large catering tent of the festival.

We stood on line for over 30 minutes. When we sat down at a picnic table to eat, we made the unhappy discovery that they had not packed a crispy spring roll in either order of Grilled Pork. In both of the small divisions of the styrofoam container they had placed a ball of rice. I took our lunches back to the serving counter to ask for a spring roll only to be told that they had run out. This was around 1:30 p.m.

Until I returned to complain, I don't know if the cash register person knew this problem had developed. He was simply going to the serving area and picking up a prepared styrofoam container. Clearly, that's a management problem. Management should have told the cashiers who, in turn, could have let diners know. We might have changed our order. I had no intention of eating any of the rice, so I bought a green papaya for two of us to share. The grilled pork was delicious. The marinade assertive and the grilling did not dry out the meat. The papaya salad was served with the dressing on the side. Pouring it over the shredded papaya, I don't think I processed the fact that there was no chili visible in the dressing. One bite and the dumbed-down taste was obvious; there was no interplay of sweet and spicy.

FWIW, later diners who came to the picnic table with orders of grilled pork were served rice and papaya salad.

We didn't eat food from any of the other food tents, but we did buy limeade from one of the three beverage tents. Pleasant and cold.

There are cooking demonstrations for each of the three cultures in an appropriately named site: the Pu'er Teahouse, the Tastes of Ulster tent, and the Garden Kitchen. We didn't attend any of these, focusing more on the music and dance performances.

We had a long and pleasant conversation with DeeDee Darden of Darden's Country Store about the similarities/differences between the Virginia ham process and the prosciutto process. Since the similarities are bigger than the differences, she said that folks at S. Wallace Edwards, another Virginia ham producer who will be at the festival next weekend, are in the process of developing a Virginia-made version of Serrano ham. There were no food samples offered at the booth. Just information and a feast for the eyes.

Thai menu:
Chicken Fresh Ginger
Stir-fried chicken, fresh ginger, carrots and broccoli.
Chicken Sweet Basil with steamed white rice and a spring roll
Vegetable Fried Rice
Pad Thai
Larb Gai
Vegetable Spring Rolls
Sticky Rice with mango

Vietnamese menu:
Vietnamese grilled pork on skewer served with steamed rice and crispy spring roll
Yunnan Chicken
Combination Fried Rice
Shredded Green Papaya Salad with shrimp
Shredded Green Papaya Salad with tofu
Crispy Spring Rolls
Black Sticky Rice with coconut milk

Virginia menu:
Virginia Barbecue Chicken (cooked on open grill)
Traditional English Fish & Chips
Virginia Country Ham Biscuit Sandwich with chutney
Three Sisters Succotash Salad Vinaigrette
Kent Strawberry Biscuit Shortcake

Northern Ireland menu:
Northern Ireland Smoked Salmon
Mourne Rambler Ploughman's Platter (Fresh produce, cold meats, local cheeses)
Vegetarian Platter (Irish cheeses, roast beets, chopped egg, & raw vegetables)
Causeway Shepherd's Pie
O'Neill's Sausage Rolls
Finn MacCool Irish sausage
Vanilla Ice Cream topped with a Baileys and Bushmills sauce

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