Schenectady County

Festival of Nations offers sampling of world cultures in Albany

If the rough economy has people cutting back on travel, the Festival of Nations aimed to give peo


If the rough economy has people cutting back on travel, the Festival of Nations aimed to give people a taste of exotic food and culture in the comfort of the Empire State Plaza.

“This is a great thing in hard economic times. For $5, you can have a glimpse of the world without flying anywhere,” said Manoj Ajmera, chairman of the 37th annual event on Sunday.

New this year was the addition of Turkey as one of the 24 countries represented. Bingul Sevimli, who was born in Turkey and now lives in New Jersey, was showing off ebru — the Turkish art of paper marbling that uses natural pigments. Colors are sprinkled using brushes made of rose stalks and horse hair in a rectangular tray filled with gum tragacanth — a paste-like substance — to create a design. A piece of paper is then laid on the surface of the design to transfer the image.

Bill Nathan of Slingerlands and his family were among the onlookers. He said it was impressive how Sevimli created the final design from the little “blobs” of paint.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said of the technique.

Nathan said he comes to the festival every year for the food, dancing and the crafts. He was among the thousands of people sampling cuisine and watching a variety of dancing from Israel, India, China, Taiwan, Pakistan, Greece, Argentina and others.

There were certainly many food options from which to choose. Naeem Yousuf, owner of Bombay Grill, showed off his chicken tandoori, which is chicken marinated in yogurt, his own sauce and roasted in the restaurant’s clay oven.

Yemen Molla of Colonie had some traditional Ethiopian food on display, including injera, a type of bread. Many of these foods can take eight hours to prepare and some take days. This is the first time she has been to the festival as exhibitor. “It’s nice to meet people. We see a lot of culture and a mosaic of food. We learn a lot of things,” she said.

Over at the Lithuanian table, Cathy Westerling of Broadalbin had Lithuanian wedding cake made from honey, flour, eggs and cinnamon. “It’s made on a spindle. They paint the batter and they cook it for hours,” she said.

Other people come to see the dancing. Fourteen-year-old Jane Katzer of Slingerlands performed an Israeli dance with her dance team. She has been dancing since she was a toddler, Katzer said.

“If you’re dedicated and you go to the practices, it’s not that hard,” she said.

She said she also enjoys watching others dance.

Some people even got a little shopping done at the festival. Lalania Notice of Schenectady picked up a couple pairs of sandals. “I always come out because of the culture — lots of beautiful things,” she said.

One of the highlights of the day was the crowning of Miss Festival of Nations, which went to Miss India — 17-year-old Merlyn Athimoottil of Colonie.

Athimoottil said she entered the pageant so people could see a different side of India to “let people know there’s more to India than the clothes and the food.”

For example, Indian festivals are based on joyous occasions such as the harvest.

Each contestant was interviewed before the show by a panel and then had to answer another question during the pageant. Athimoottil said she was asked what she appreciated.

“I really appreciate that everyone has the freedom to think the way they want to think,” she said.

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