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Published: June 29th 2005
Said and Samira cook an Omani lunch
There were plenty of things cooking in Washington DC last week including yours truly. Our nation's capital is infamous for its summertime heat and humidity. I, along with the locals and out-of-town tourists, was overcooked, almost burned in the soaring outside temps. Food: That was a big part of what last week (June 23-27) in DC was all about.
The 39TH annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival was taking place on the National Mall. Sheltered under giant canvas tents from DC’s sweltering late June heat , Food Culture USA gave center stage to famous chefs, everyday cooks, farmers, and food lovers in general, all of whom, shared their knowledge about food.
An Edible Schoolyard display was set up with The Capitol Building as a backdrop; beans (frijoles), corn, tomatoes, herbs, cukes, sunflowers, kale, lettuce, nasturtiums and much more were all growing on the National Mall in the shadow of Smithsonian museums.
Oman (Desert, Oasis, and Sea) was another of this year’s Folklife participants. The first ever Arab country to be featured—long overdue. The Omani cooks shared their food culture of halwa (in Arabic) or halvah ( a sweet concoction of crushed sesame seeds in a honey base), coffee, camel milk
Omani curried chicken....yummy!
and dates. Samira, Said and Chef Jean prepared an Omani lunch of curried chicken and dried fish salad. Yummy!
The Forest Service also a featured program this year, not to be left out about food, made presentations on cooking in the field, Dutch oven delights, edible wild plants and frying catfish freshly caught from a river.
A sort of Anti-Folklife Festival was going on in direct competition with the traditional Smithsonian affair. Safeway’s Barbecue Battle fenced itself off from the sidewalks and spread itself down Pennsylvania Avenue from 9th Street all the way to Freedom Plaza at 14th Street. Ominous black smoke billowed up from dangerous looking, heavy cast iron charcoal megagrills. In DC's already 90-degree plus heat, working around those Barbecue Battle grills must have been a hellish experience. Walking the barbecuers' gauntlet from 9th to 14th reminded me of a summer job I had at the Great Lake’s Steel Mill on Zug Island in Del Ray, Michigan. I could have sworn I was once again walking on the roof of a coke oven with smoke and flames blasting up along each side of me. I never did find out which grill master won the “barbecue battle.”
In the evenings with all the Folklife cooking stages closed for the day and the Barbecue Battle pits still glowing red hot but “cooling off,” Los Camperos de Valles, a conjunto from Ciudad Valles in Mexico, Sones de Mexico, a Mexican-American ensemble from Chicago and Ecos de Borinquen from Puerto Rico cooked up a different kind of fun with some fantastico (Huasteco, Huapango, Corridos, Jibaro) music from Nuestra Musica: Music in Latin Culture. There WAS a lot “cooking” in DC last week.
I am in only one of the included photos. Can you find me? And by the way, the Folklife Festival will do it all over again June 30 to July 4....enjoy! As for the Battle of the Barbecues, I think they're pretty much burned out for now.
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