The last weekend every October, the Richmond Highland Games and Celtic Festival (or the Scottish Games, as they are more commonly called) takes place at the State Fairgrounds. Tickets run for $15 in advance, $19 at the door, and $28 for a weekend pass. My mama, daddy, and brother attended this event regularly, but I am not as keen on showing my Scottish heritage as they are. Folks know I am Scottish when I go shopping- the Scottish are known for being somewhat stingy with their money. I went in 2007 when my friend Paul Negrin, who is of Cuban heritage on his daddy's side and Scottish on his mama's side talked me into going. So, Mama, my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and Paul all went. The bagpipes gave me a headache. It was sort of fun browsing through the tents set up by about 80 vendors and artisans selling their things with a Scottish or Irish theme. Paul was keen on shopping for a kilt and the accessories. Of all the shopping tents, I liked the one that sold Scottish food you can't get at your local Wal-Mart. Folks who are really into the culture can research their family history, get a henna tattoo, and even learn some Gaelic. There is a wide range of food and drink offered here, whether authentic Scottish or typical fun-fair cuisine. They offer all manner of whiskey and ale. For those who don't want alcohol, there are plenty of sweets, Scottish eggs, sausage rolls, and haggis made from old recipes. Give me credit, I kept my word to Paul and tried the haggis. But I didn't like it because of the texture. In my opinion, it has the consistency of fried lint. That's the price of research! To sum up, it is a fun event if you really like putting your Celtic heritage on display, but I enjoy other ethnic festivals much more than this.
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Many outsiders to Richmond might find it hard to believe, but there is a rather large Filipino community here. It is big enough to justify a Filipino Festival at the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on Richmond's Northside. The first and last thing I saw there was the bamboo foyer. "Mabuhay" means "welcome"; "Salamat" means "thank you." There is plenty of food (you could smell the garlic from the parking lot), but there is also dance and crafts. The food was okay, but I've had better at the now-defunct International Food Festival and at Manila Manila, a local restaurant. I had the pansit which is pan-fried rice noodles to which chicken and vegetables are added. They must have waved mine over a chicken, because I certainly didn't see any meat there. I also had the Filipino satay which consists of pork pieces marinated and slightly charred on bamboo skewers. I love lumpia, the Filipino egg rolls, filled with ground pork, minced onion, carrots, potato, water chestnut, and cooked to a golden brown. I wet back for some chicken barbecue prepared the same way as the pork. The prices were reasonable, but the portions were a little skimpy. The best thing there that day was the cantaloupe drink.
DIRECTIONS from I-95: Merge onto E PARHAM RD / VA-73 S via EXIT 83B. 1.8 mi (2.9 km); Turn LEFT onto LYDELL DR. 0.3 mi (0.5 km); Turn LEFT onto WOODMAN RD. 0.3 mi (0.5 km). Church is at 8200 Woodman Road.
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For many years, Richmond's Downtown- particularly the Shockoe Bottom- was dead. I like to see something like the Shockoe Tomato Festival bring life to the downtown. It features tomatoes in every conceivable form, an array of vendors, music, tomato-themed children's activities (which gipper84 regrettably missed), a magician and juggler, and the Annual Hot Tomato Talent Contest. Normally, I miss this event on account of Clarksville's Lakefest, but I stayed in town in 2006 in part for this event. The 17th Street Farmer's Market is an ideal location because it contains most of the activity into that area and the police have to only close off a couple of streets. Of course, tomatoes figured very prominently in this, but, for my friends (like ClarkRB) who aren't keen on the savoury red fruit, there were many other choices such as popcorn, corn dogs, hot dogs, etc. I personally had the tomato salsa on a baguette. Drew had a salsa and hummus pita. Just about every interest and advocacy group set up a booth or passed out literature there including the Vegetarian Society of Richmond. I would like to see that lot set up a booth at the Pork (or Chicken) Festival, just once!
I didn't know there was a big Lebanese community in the Richmond area before I found out about the Lebanese Festival. It happens the third weekend every May at the Maronite Catholic Church in the West End. There is food, dancing, and even Lebanese beer. This was the first time I tried Lebanese food. After I tried and didn't like stuffed grape leaves at a Greek restaurant, I wasn't sure about Lebanese. Nat told me to trust him. I liked the shish kebab, the rice pilaf, and the tabouli (the green salad in the picture).
The first weekend of every June since way before I was born, the Greek Orthodox Church holds a festival to honor Greek heritage in Richmond. The profits go to several local charities. They have plenty of good food, singing and folk dancing, and even a Greek marketplace called an agora. There is a raffle every year for a trip to Greece. I went the first time with Nat in 2005. He had been going there for a long time and I trust his taste in food. I had the pastichio (a Greek style lasagne), chicken souvlaki, and rice pilaf with baklava for dessert. It was all good except the baklava was a little too rich. In 2006, Nat, Adam, and I went to the festival in spite of the thunderstorm. You should have seen Nat try to dance to the music while we were in line for food! The festival runs from Thursday to Sunday. The guys and I went on Thursday night. Jessi and I went back on Saturday.
Folks who are new to Richmond might assume that Richmond is simply a large Southern city that's mainly white and black with an increasing Latino minority. However, there is a significant Armenian community. The Saint James Armenian Church is in the West End on the corner of Patterson and Pepper Avenues. In late-September, the church holds its annual food festival. They say it is Richmond's oldest continuing food festival. In 2006, Jeff Sargent, his lovely wife Mariangela, and I figured we would try this out. To me, this was very similar to the Greek Festival only older and smaller. The Armenian dances and music were just as catchy. The food was similar in that it had a lot of lamb and rice. I had the Lahmajoun (Armenian meat pie for those from Roxboro) and rice pilaf. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was that they ran out of yalanchi (stuffed grape leaves). Jeff had the chicken shish kebab and Mariangela had the same thing I did. Jeff and I agree we would have gotten more bang for our buck if we had taken the hye burger (lamb marinated in Armenian spices, onion, and parsley, served together with sauteed peppers and onions on pita bread). We know what to do next time.
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The Virginia Food Festival at the Richmond Raceway Complex showcases many of Virginia's agricultural products including- but not limited to- milk, wine, barbecue, and fresh produce. It was one of the hottest days of 2006 (103°F, 40°C) so I didn't eat as much as I normally would. I had barbecued chicken, pork barbecue, hush puppies, and apple brown betty. The pork barbecue had a sauce that was tomato based. I like tomato sauce, but only for my pasta. I rather prefer the eastern Virginia and North Carolina vinegar-based sauce (and the South Carolina mustard based sauce). I had thought about getting some steamed crabs (before settling on the mediocre barbecue). The crab tent didn't give out utensils for busting open the shells. Those who did not enquire beforehand were out of luck. My advice is to bring nutcrackers or a mallet from home (they might also come in handy in the parking lot after sundown). The $25 ticket allows for everything you care to eat or drink. For some reason, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, which holds the event, discourages attendees from taking food home. If you forked out $25 for a ticket you should be able to eat the food anywhere you want.
Since 1977, the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church holds a Greek Festival the first weekend in June. The festival has all sorts of Greek food, music and dance (Greek music is the most lively type that doesn't have a fiddle or a banjo), festival whatnots, and an agora (Greek style market) inside as well as a raffle for a trip to Greece. The festival has grown so much in popularity over the years that the folks who live near the church have complained. One year, they raised a big to-do about parking and sozzled festgoers drenching their prized petunias. There was talk about moving it to the Richmond Coliseum or Convention Centre, but that would take away from the outdoor neighbourhood feel that is more evident even than the Lebanese festival in nearby Glen Allen. To those fusspot neighbours, I say they should go to Hilton Head that weekend and leave the rest of us alone. My favourite things to eat here are the chicken souvlaki, the spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie), rice pilaf, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), and baklava for dessert. You never know whom you might meet. Sometimes, politicians campaigning for office pop up here. In 1994, I met with Chuck Robb (then a U.S. Senator) and my friend and I just missed a gubernatorial candidate in 2005.
In 2006, Adam Bitely and my mama joined Lee and me. As always, we ate the good food, entered the raffle, danced to the lively music, and looked around the agora. That year, our candidate had us hand out his campaign fliers for him.