by Annette Hinkle
Cheryl Bedini, a mom with a young daughter at Sag Harbor Elementary School, recalls approaching last year’s multicultural feast in the school gymnasium with high hopes. Her husband, Andrew, made empanadas inspired by his native Argentina for the event and she expected to sample a wide range of diverse food offerings.
But overall, she came away a bit disappointed.
“The Italian table was pizza and garlic knots,” recalls Bedini.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a good garlic knot now and then — it’s just that Bedini felt the selections hardly reflected the vast range of flavors offered by the world’s cuisines — to say nothing of the many nationalities represented by families attending the school.
Sensing room for improvement, and inspired by a popular multicultural event at Springs School, Bedini set out to remake this year’s PTA sponsored feast.
She began by enlisting parents to organize country-themed tables and contribute food reflecting their culture, ethnic heritage or interest. Many jumped at the chance to share with the community a taste of their nation, and at last count, some 22 countries will be represented at this Friday’s feast. From Peru, Mexico and Colombia, to Poland, Greece, Germany, as well as the Caribbean, China and Thailand, the offerings will now truly span the globe.
Parent Ken Dorph, who travels frequently to the Middle East on business, plans to offer “Africa — north to south” including a Moroccan tagine and recipes from South Africa that he sampled while traveling there with his family on vacation last week. At the Lithuanian table, expect dishes like kugelis (grated potato cakes), potato dumplings (a.k.a. bulviu kukuliai) and saltibarsciai, or cold beet soup.
Bedini took the theme a step further by writing to several embassies, which sent posters and brochures on the countries.
“Everybody gets a passport when they come in that they can fill with flag stickers,” explains Bedini. “They will go to each table, answer a question about the country and get a sticker. Kids will be able to color maracas and we’ll have dancers. The Mexicans, Scots and Greeks are all going to dance.”
Kenna Mackay-Panton, who hails from Aberdeen, Scotland, is planning to make her country’s signature dish — haggis, which is sheep’s stomach stuffed with minced heart, lungs and other sheep offal (some might opt for a different spelling of this word here). Haggis is typically served in Scotland on January 25 to honor poet Robert Burns, born that day in Scotland in 1759. Haggis recently made news here when the U.S. lifted a 21-year ban on its importation, which was put in place due to fear of mad cow disease.
Mackay-Panton notes that her haggis, however, will be decidedly sheep free.
“I’m making a vegetarian haggis knowing people will be squeamish about the real thing,” she says. “The Scottish Vegetarian Society recreated the taste and texture without meat. It has lentils, mushrooms, kidney beans, oatmeal and lots of spices. Haggis can be really spicy.”
“I’m also making cranachen – it’s a dessert with raspberries, whipped cream, toasted oatmeal and a tiny splash of whiskey.”
Though the haggis may not be quite authentic, the Scottish music will be — offered courtesy of bagpiping parent Todd Bennett.
Across the room (and around the globe) Hamra Ozsu, the mother of three young boys, is organizing the Turkish table. With the help of other parents, including one whose mother owns a Turkish restaurant, Ozsu expects to offer 10 different dishes, including borek (a puff pastry with cheese, spinach or meat filling), lahmacun (Turkish pizza with lamb), and sirkeli palican (an eggplant salad with vinegar and basil).
“Good food is an important part of Turkish culture,” says Ozsu. “It’s partly in Europe and partly in Asia, and the crossroads of many cultures. Food is a way of gathering everyone. Hospitality is a big thing in Turkish culture, it’s done with food.”
But it’s not all about the food for Ozsu. She will also take the opportunity to share other aspects of Turkish culture at the feast.
“I made a poster, and I’m going to have the most scenic areas in Turkey,” she says. “The thing I want to show is the past and the present. There’s so much history and archaeology, like the Trojan Horse and Cappadocia, the caves people lived in for thousands of years.”
Countries located near one another geographically often have cuisines that overlap as well, and though Ozsu is still not sure whether her table will include baklava, the pastry with nuts and honey, the Greek table, manned by parent Stephanie Bitis, likely will.
“I’m hoping for a baklava showdown,” confides Bedini.
The Multicultural Festival is Friday, March 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the gymnasium at Sag Harbor Elementary School, 68 Hampton Street, Sag Harbor. Admission is free.