The Lebanese Festival (at Saint Elias) in Ottawa is the bomb!
A very good friend of ours is of Lebanese descent (let’s call him Friend, in this piece). He speaks Arabic—with an accent, he says—and is involved with the Lebanese community here, in Ottawa. Nevertheless, we call him “the fake Lebanese”, partly because, just like us, he has never set foot in Lebanon. But, hey, what are friends for if not to make fun of you from time to time.
He introduced us to his culture the best he could: he took us to the best Shawarma joints in the city; he had us over for dinner and his mom cooked up a storm; and, for the past few years, he always reminds us to attend the Lebanese Festival.
It’s festival season in Ottawa
Aside from the wonderful weather, the many festivals are part of the reason I look forward to summer every year. And there are lots. Unfortunately, one has to pay to attend most of them *eye roll*. But that’s another story!
The Lebanese Festival is by far one of my favorites.
What makes it the bomb
This year, the festival is celebrating their 26th year in the National Capital Region. It’s a well-oiled machine. The organizers do an amazing job every year. The layout is always very well thought of. It costs next to nothing to get in ($2).
Food is very affordable. The lines move quickly and the food is served promptly. The vendors will take the time to explain cultural aspects of the items you buy. It’s an overall friendly environment (check out one of the volunteers waving at me in the photo above).
C’mon! What really makes it the bomb?
(I can read your thoughts.) The food. There, you have it!
For me, it’s really all about the food.
The portions are huge. The dishes are flavourful. There’s a good variety, but I always go for the same thing: rice, pita, garlic sauce, hummus, potatoes. Sometimes I’ll steal some tabbouleh from Friend or Hubby’s plate.
This year, I was a bit more daring. I opted for the sampler plate, and I had nothing but goodness in my plate: kibe (kibi, my Haitian folks!), falafel, grape leaves, rice, fattoush, hummus, pita bread. Yum!
Aside from food, what else is there?
Live music and dancing. You’ll feel as though you just stepped into the world of Aladdin and Scheherazade. I guarantee that you’ll get up and join the dabke dancers. I typically stand on the side and watch, but you should definitely go dance. I enjoy watching youths, who were born in Canada or who have lived here for the best part of their lives, enjoy their culture. And boy, do they have the moves!
And swag too! You can tell that the young people pay really close attention to their outfits. This always makes me think of the journée récréatives of my younger years. You know, the ones where your crush is looking like a shiny new penny, but he won’t come over and you are certainly not going towards him. That unwritten rule that stipulates that boys and girls of a certain age will not mingle at parties, social events or a kermesse applies to a lot of cultures.
Vendors. They sell everything from shisha pipe to belly dancing hip scarves, to other artifacts from Lebanon.
Rent-a-shisha-pipe. (Head to the Beirut Lounge.) Now… here’s the real reason why we lovingly call our friend “the fake Lebanese”. Last year, Hubby wanted to try a shisha pipe. I mean, all the older gentlemen sitting on a terrace puffing smoke in the air looked cool as hell and had mad swag. (Trust me, there’s no other way to describe them!). So they (Hubby and Friend) rented one. The lady asked them to pick a flavour and she promptly returned with a pipe, charcoal and the herbal mixture. Neither Hubby nor Friend knew how to light it. Hubby and I looked at Friend the same way we look at young Haitian kids who can’t dance konpa. (You know, the you-Haitian-for-real? look.) When we signaled the lady back to our table to explain the situation, she gave Friend the same look.
Carnival. I walk through it every time. People seem to be having fun there. You know, rides, prizes and all that good stuff. But this is not my scene (and this isn't news to you!).