“Hello Miss China!”

A man enthusiastically greeted me at the St. Mary’s Orthodox Church’s Coptic Festival this weekend.

Here, everyone assumes I am Chinese.  When a friend and I traveled to Qinzhou, a city in Southern China, we could not convince the Chinese that I was not Chinese.  Our party consisted of three Caucasian Midwesterners and myself.  Chinese people would approach us by speaking to me in Chinese.  They were further perplexed by my deadpan stare and the blondest woman replying in Chinese.  Then, my blond friend and the Chinese would argue because the Chinese refused to believe I was not Chinese.  This occurred multiple times a day.

Two of my friends graciously joined me for one of my summer cultural festival adventures at the St. Mary’s celebration of their Egyptian heritage in South St. Paul.

This year, I discovered there was a West Saint Paul and today, I learned there is a South St. Paul.

The festival had attracted a significant number of attendees, Egyptian and non-Egyptian alike.  Besides our initial strange, yet enthusiastic greeting, the community went out of their way to welcome us, point us in the right directions, and assist us.  This church community demonstrated a lot of pride in their heritage and were excited to share with others.

I started my afternoon out with a cup of freshly blended watermelon juice.  We took a tour of the unique sanctuary and learned about Coptic Orthodox religious traditions.  The church had also set up a pictorial display explaining Egypt’s recent overthrow of Mubarak.

We make a bee-line for the outdoor grill and order kafta sandwiches.

I’ve eaten mediocre festival food and mediocre kafta on several occasions.  However, this kafta sandwich was pretty much amazing.

The bread was thinner than a typical pita but firm enough to remain intact.  The sandwich contained about four pieces of grilled kafta, a ground and spiced meat, that was succulent.  The kafta was moist and a couple pieces even revealed tinge of pink.  The sandwich was garnished with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, slices of white onion, and a refreshing and creamy tahini sauce.

In the basement was a bake sale.  I had my eye on homemade loaves of meshaltet, a “flaky buttered bread” and spicy cheese/yogurt spread.  Unfortunately I ran out of tickets to purchase these delicacies and am now kicking myself for not just splurging.  I thought, why not save 10 dollars and just figure out how to make meshaltet at home?  When I got home, I looked up recipes for meshaltet and understood why the loaves cost $10.

I did buy this wonderful loaf of banana chocolate chip bread.

Jeni’s food festival rules:  Ethnic food festivals at churches serve the best food.  If it looks good, buy it.  You could even buy extra to bring home and freeze because often times, church members make delicacies that are not sold in stores.  Linger and talk to people.  Watch the talent shows, read the displays, take the tours.  What may initially seem boring or cheesy could be one of the most interesting or informative experiences you didn’t realize you could have.