St. Louis Festival of Nations: Traditions from across the globe


Confession: I’ve never been outside of North America (the only other country I’ve been to is Canada, but it was Vancouver — and that’s basically still America). I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve never studied abroad. Never been to a country where the first language wasn’t English. Never been in a city where I couldn’t pronounce 99 percent of the items on the menu.

It’s lucky for me, then, that St. Louis hosts the annual Festival of Nations—a chance for me to experience all of those “nevers,” without selling a kidney for a plane ticket.

During the Aug. 27 and 28 weekend, Tower Grove Park was transformed into more than 50 different countries, as it was filled with booths serving authentic food and exotic items. Some friends and I made the quick drive to the park on that Sunday for one reason only: to eat some mind-blowing food. And that, my friends, is exactly what we did at Festival of Nations.

First, let me set the scene. It was about 2:00 p.m., and the sun was beaming particularly aggressively, frightening away the clouds, for miles. As you can imagine, it was ridiculously, stupidly humid—the kind of humid that’s clingier than a stereotypical girlfriend. Basically, it was the temperature in Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” video, but with booths and much less sex appeal.

After about an hour of sweaty staring at countless menus, I’d settled down with a 7Up (lame, I know) and my first ever paella. For those who don’t know (cue snooty tone), paella is a traditionally Spanish dish made of rice, various meats, seafood and veggies. It’s like throwing everything you liked in a bowl of rice, but were also really good at cooking — so it didn’t taste like crap. People, I’m telling you: that paella (even with the surprisingly acceptable mussel nestled in the middle) made feeling like a disgusting, sweating mess totally worth it.

We left the park around 4:30. And by that time I’d tried peach tea and sambosa from Bosnia, croquettes and that exceptional paella from Spain, and some sweet, banana-sticky rice from Thailand. Not the biggest haul I could’ve reeled in, but my stomach is, sadly, a finite being.

Despite the heat on that afternoon, I was full and happy that, in some capacity, I had stepped outside of the United States. I caught a glimpse of the world—that huge expanse of land and water that isn’t America—and the cultures and people thriving all over it. The view was beautiful.

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