How Berkeley Can You Be? and Middle Eastern Food Festival

I attended the How Berkeley Can You Be Parade and Festival on Sunday, September 25th 2005. These pictures and the accompanying commentary tell pretty much the whole story of the parade. The festival itself, held in downtown Berkeley at the ending location of the parade, was decent. Quite a wide selection of vendors, a stage with bands playing a wide selection of different music types, and a good half a dozen food booths, mostly of the type one sees at every festival. (There was a Jamaican booth too, but the line was too long, and a booth of people giving away Brown Cow yogurt!) All in all, the vendors and the kookiness, a fairly Berkeley experience. As for food, impatient, I snuck away and had lunch at the new Tibetan restaurant in the downtown Berkeley. But, following my policy of not writing about Berkeley restaurants (because otherwise I'd never stop writing), I won't say more about it.

After working some of the afternoon, in the evening I headed out again to the Middle Eastern Food Festival in San Francisco (craigslist announcement: link will expire). Held in a church, there were only three vendors selling items (jewelry, foodstuffs, and books) all mostly in Arabic. The center of the festival quite obviously was the event room containing many tables, a band, a wood-paneled dance floor, and a long set of tables with food. The whole thing reminded me a lot of wedding receptions (and the like). The crowd was predominately middle-eastern; I heard a lot of Arabic being spoken. All the singers sang in Arabic. All the food signs (and the books) were all in Arabic. They said a prayer at the end of the festival in Arabic. Only after the prayer was over did they realize that there were some non-Arabic speakers there and then explained what they just did.

When I arrived at 7:30pm, a hour and a half before the festival closed on its last day, they had cut the price in half (or more) on all their food items to help get rid of them. (At the SF Greek Festival I went to the week before they did this too, but not until well after I had finished eating.) The food at this festival was actually quite similar to those at Greek festivals: this had kebabs while the Greeks' have souvlaki; they both had some form for a spinach pie; they both had "Greek" salad; they both had some stewy green bean dish (they called theirs fasoulia but it looks the same); and so on. They had a few items Greek festival don't have like falafel, tabouleh, humus, kibbe (rice and meat mixture), and mujadara (a lentil, wheat, and onion mixture). And the desserts, with the exception of both having baklava, were entirely different.

Personally, I had some lamb kebabs (fairly decent) with pita (definitely good quality pita bread) and a spinach pie. Unlike Greek spinach pies, this was made of a thicker bread than phyllo, but had a similar taste. As for dessert, I tried one but don't remember it much, nor the name of it. In fact, I wrote down the transliterated names they gave for half the dessert menu (the poster with the transliteration of the names for the other half the dessert menu had fallen down) and none of them gave relevant results on Google. So either the transliterations were non-standard or the desserts are really exotic!

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