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Exploring Culture Through Cuisine

The story below is from our November/December 2023 issue. For more stories like it, Subscribe Today. Thank you! 

Since 1991, the Local Colors Festival has been celebrating cultural diversity through performances, displays – and food!

Each May, thousands flock to Elmwood Park to attend the Local Colors Festival, a celebration of the cultures of the world. Attendees of all ages have the opportunity to learn about different heritages through the Parade of Nations, traditional dress, artisan crafts, interactive exercises and more. Another key component is the multicultural cuisine, which is so delicious that our readers couldn’t resist casting their votes for Local Colors in our brand new Best Festival for Food Dining Awards category!

Executive Director Lisa Spencer is thrilled about this recognition. “I think the win definitely shows that the Local Colors Festival doesn’t just offer up a diverse array of cuisine but that the food is really good,” she says. “It also shows the significance of having an event where food from different cultures is present.”

Despite not having a celebration in 2020 due to the pandemic and holding a modified festival the following year, the number of attendees and participants at 2022’s full-scale event clearly showed not only that interest remained, but that it had only grown stronger. “In fact, I believe we had a record crowd in 2023,” notes Spencer.

Some of the cuisines available at each year’s festival may look familiar, including the Chinese, Mexican, Indian and Thai fare, as well as European baked goods and dishes from various Caribbean countries. There are also others that may be a little more unfamiliar, such as delicacies from the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Columbia.

Vendors love participating in the festival each year just as much as the attendees do! “One of our biggest draws and longtime participants is the Philippine American Association of Roanoke Valley (PAARV). The lumpia is always a hit,” says Spencer. “Another longtime popular vendor is our Syrian booth who dished up some tasty shawarma sandwiches and spinach pies.”

While the food is delectable, Spencer says its presence at the event plays a significantly more important role than just satisfying taste buds. “Exploring different cuisine propels us out of our cultural bubbles and enables us to experience something different,” she explains. “By tasting the different forms and flavors of cuisines from around the globe, you get a sense of that culture [which] hopefully prompts you to learn more about it.”

Aside from getting to sort through all the incredible food vendor applications and menus, Spencer says the most rewarding part of putting this iconic celebration together is seeing the reactions of people from different heritages in attendance on the day of the event. “I love that people from diverse ethnic backgrounds have a place where they can feel recognized and their heritage appreciated.”

The story above is from our November/December 2023 issue. For more stories like it, Subscribe Today. Thank you!