Ohio State nav bar

Montgomery County

The Lebanese Festival

Presented by the St. Ignatius of Antioch Maronite Catholic Church, the Lebanese Festival celebrated its thirteenth year in 2006.  Originally, it began as a small event at the church, but as it got bigger it needed to be moved to another venue.  The festival was moved briefly to the Polish Club before eventually coming to the Riverscape MetroPark in downtown Dayton in 2003.  In the words of Marilyn Zaidain, “Every time Lebanese people get together, there is always food and always dancing,” and the Lebanese Festival is a strong example of this.  The purpose of the festival is to showcase different elements of Lebanese culture for the general public, including live music, dancing, and food.  While the festival serves as a gathering place for the Lebanese community in Dayton, there are many non-Lebanese people who come to enjoy the festival as well.

The menu includes a variety of typical Lebanese foods, including kafta, kebbe, garlic chicken, shawarma, falafel, chicken and rice, lubyi, fattoush, stuffed grape leaves, tabouli, hummus b’tahini, spinach pie, pastries, and fresh mountain bread made on site.  In order to make enough food, festival volunteers start cooking a couple months in advance.  In doing so, they recreate, in some ways, the atmosphere of kebbe Sundays in the church, events that no longer happen regularly.  Joan Ste. Marie remembers kebbe Sundays, where after Mass everybody would enjoy a meal of kebbe cooked by the women of the church.  Now, in the months leading up to the festival, members of the church go down to the basement after Mass to help prepare the food.  For example, one week they made kafta, using 200 pounds of meat to make 700-800 kafta.  In helping with the food, people are not just providing labor but reinforcing a sense of community.  Men take part in this activity as well, but their major contribution to the foods in the festival is the meat.  The men take pride in the marinating of the meat, and they jokingly refer to themselves as the “shawarma kings.”

Food clearly plays a significant role in the experience of the Lebanese community, though the functions of the foods and the specific foods themselves have shifted over time.  Joan Ste. Marie remembers that when she was little, all the women in her family would meet up on Saturday night and cook, rolling grape leaves and preparing kusha, a type of squash, for Sunday morning dinner:  “This is what you did on Saturday night.”  Similarly, Jim Zaidain recalls his mother telling him that on Sundays, you could not go anywhere in the neighborhood without smelling kebbe, because everybody made kebbe for Sunday dinner.  The women would also get together and make bread, called mountain bread, for the month.

Each village in Lebanon has its own way of cooking foods to which people remain loyal even after they leave that village.  One man in the community has a story about how when his father first came to Dayton, he used to write to New York with a list of what the women wanted him to buy, since there was no place in Dayton for people to buy exactly what they wanted.  This was how women got supplies and spices from their specific villages.  People would also go out and butcher lambs because lamb was not sold at meat markets.  (There were, however, some exceptions to this.  William Thomas’ parents had a butcher in the City Market who would butcher lamb just for them and drop it off on his way to work).  Today, supplies and spices are easier to obtain, and many shop at Hillel’s, a store run by Iraqi Muslims, on Lane Avenue south of town.

Cedar Land Bakery and Restaurant

People in Dayton can get traditional Lebanese foods from Cedar Land Bakery and Restaurant, a family-owned restaurant that opened in the spring of 2006.  The owners, Elias and Claire Daoud, are from Lebanon, and are helped by Claire’s sister and their children.  Foods on the menu include shawarma beef sandwiches, shawarma chicken sandwiches, shish kebab sandwiches, kebbe, falafel, pita bread, spinach pies, hummus, baba ghannouj, fattoush, tabouli salad, grape leaves, and pastries (fillo dough filled with pistachio, walnuts, dates, or other fillings).  The restaurant has several non-Lebanese customers, but it serves as a gathering place for Lebanese people in Dayton.  The Lebanese community used to live in a more centralized location near Miami Valley Hospital providing a greater sense of cohesion, but people have since spread out.  According to several members of the congregation of St. Ignatius of Antioch Maronite Catholic Church, what is nice about Cedar Land is that it provides a place for people to meet.  They say that the church is the center of the Lebanese community, and the restaurant works like the church by keeping the community together during the week.

The German Picnic

The German Picnic, presented by the German organization Dayton Liederkranz-Turner, started out as an afternoon in Carillon Park in 1983, where volunteers served bratwursts, mettwursts, hot dogs, German potato salad, sauerkraut, German baked goods, and beer.  Since then, it has grown to become a three day festival drawing in approximately 40,000 people each year.

The food at the festival is not limited to German food; vendors come in selling what some might consider typical “fair food:” funnel cakes, ice cream, pork chops, smoothies, and barbecue.  The German food, however, located under a large tent in the center of the festivities, is by far the most popular among the festival-goers. Under the large tent, people wait in lines as volunteers serve up bratwursts, mettwursts, pork schnitzel breaded in the manner of wiener schnitzel, German potato salad, sauerkraut, bread, and cake.  At the end of the serving lines, there is a small table serving coffee and various types of cakes and pastries, including pineapple upside down cake, streusel, cherry strudel, chocolate cake, and bienschtick (calling attention to the German tradition of coffee and cake in the afternoon).  Bienschtick, translated as “bee sting,” is a yeast pastry with pudding inside.  It typically has nuts and honey on top.  For this festival, the bienschtick is made by Doebler’s Bakery in Dayton.  Most of the other cakes and fruit tortes are baked by women at their houses, especially those members of Dayton Liederkranz-Turner who are not as involved with the organization of the picnic.

All of the meats and potato salad are prepared by members of the club and volunteers.  Volunteers bread and fry the schnitzel on site, in addition to grilling the brats and metts.  The potato salad is made from a recipe from two German women who are members of Dayton Liederkranz-Turner.  In the two days leading up to the festival, about twelve to twenty women and men come each day to cut 150 pounds of onions; fry 228 pounds of bacon; and peel, cook, and slice potatoes.  All in all, they make a total of about 2000-2200 pounds of potato salad, which the volunteers call “a ton of potato salad.”

Festival-goers attend the German Picnic for a variety of reasons.  Elaine and J.R. Schultz are not members of Dayton Liederkranz-Turner, but both Elaine’s parents are from Germany, and she makes a point to the German Picnic every year.  She says it brings back memories of her mother’s cooking.  She also brings her grandchildren, who prefer to eat the “fair food” rather than the German food because they do not like sauerkraut.  Nevertheless, the picnic is a fun outing for the Schultz’s and their family.  Dayton residents Dan Davis and Chris Wallace, on the other hand, are not German, but in 2006 they came to the picnic “just to enjoy the afternoon,” sitting under the main tent eating bratwurst, potato salad, schnitzel, sauerkraut, and beer.

Mountain Days

Describing the Appalachian community in Dayton, Sharon Seares comments that “so much of what we do revolves around food.”  If there is a death, you bring food.  If there is a birthday, you all get together and eat.  At the same time, she points out, some of the social bonds that bring people together are weakening. Given that the Appalachian community is so spread out in Dayton, it is difficult to maintain traditions that their neighbors do not necessarily share.

Dayton was the port of entry for many Appalachians migrating from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia looking for jobs as the coal mines were dwindling earlier this century.  After World War II, when factories such as General Motors were heavily recruiting workers, about seven million Appalachians migrated north.  In their new homes, they faced discrimination, characterized as “stupid” because of their accents and public conceptions about “hillbillies.”  Such challenges have extended into the present day.  Lela Estes, Sharon Seares, and Carol Baugh, all actively involved with the Appalachian community in Dayton, note that the Appalachian children who are born and raised in cities such as Dayton lack a sense of belonging, because they do not have a strongly felt connection to the south, but they do not completely fit in where they are either due to the stereotypes and discrimination they face.  Thus, festivals such as Mountain Days are important because they allow the younger generation to feel a sense of pride in their heritage and culture as well as a sense of a greater community.

Put on by Our Common Heritage, the Mountain Days Festival has taken place annually since 1986 at Eastwood Metropark.  The two-day festival usually brings in about 20,000 people per day.  There are three stages set up at the festival, each showcasing a different type of music: country, blue grass, and traditional.  Other activities and shows include children’s arts and crafts, craft demonstrations for adults, pony rides, clogging groups, and the Mountain Men Encampment, where people practice the life of a true mountaineer.  The Mountain Men Encampment is a particularly popular feature of the festival.  Meant to provide visitors with a taste of living off the land, people can see the participants make stews, beans, and breads, as well as go through other daily activities.  Visitors also have the opportunity to buy stone ground cornmeal from Hunt Family Farms, located in Franklin, which has been part of the festival since 2002.

The more traditional types of Appalachian food, such as soup beans and cornbread, are sold in the “Just for Kids” area.  “Just for Kids,” which has been participating in the festival for 20 years, also sells hot dogs, hot dogs with chili, chips, and pieces of cake for dessert.  Other foods available from vendors at the festival are barbecue, pulled pork sandwiches, corn on the cob, Italian sausage, ice cream, and funnel cakes.

Asian Cultural Festival

The first Asian Cultural Festival took place Saturday, August 26, 2006, at the Miamisburg Library Park.  The festival is put on by the Asian American Council-Dayton, whose mission, as written in the festival’s program, is “to promote full participation in democratic processes and develop awareness and appreciation of the diversity of Asian American Cultures and their role in American history.”
The festival serves to celebrate the cultures of seven Asian countries:  China, India, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam.  Participating organizations include the Dayton Area Korean Association, the Dayton Association of Chinese Americans, the India Club of Dayton/The India Foundation, the Indo-Pak Muslim Cultural Association, Japanese American Citizens League, the Philippine American Society of Greater Dayton, and the Vietnamese Association of Greater Dayton.  The festival highlights storytelling by children of the different countries represented, dance performances, martial arts demonstrations, and crafts (including Chinese knotting arts, Japanese fish prints, origami, and Indonesian palm weaving).

Representative foods from each country are also sold, where each country is given its own section in the park.  The Chinese booths serve Chinese dumplings, Mongolian beef, fried rice, egg rolls, and sweet dragon balls.  Nearby, in the Indian and Pakistani sections of the festival, foods on the menu include samosa (“fried triangular pyramid-shaped pastry shell with a savory potato and pea stuffing”), pakoro (“assorted vegetables deep fried in a chick pea batter”), bhel puri (“puffed rice and sev with finely chopped onions, potatoes, peanuts and dressed with different chutneys”); gulab jamun (“fried milk balls in sweet syrup flavored with cardamom seeds, rosewater, and saffron”);chicken biryaani (“chicken breast marinated with yogurt, garam masala, roasted apricot and hyderabadi spices, layered with basmati rice and cooked over slow fire”); murg pasanda (“chicken breast marinated with cashew paste, ginger garlic, cooked with roasted poppy seeds, coconut, and almond sauce, flavored with saffron”), and raita (“a cooling and refreshing yogurt sauce with grated carrot, mint leaves, tomatoes, onions and cucumber.

On the other side of the park, Japanese volunteers prepare and serve yakitori (teriyaki chicken), sweet bean ice cream, and green tea ice cream, while at the Korean booth, festival-goers wait in line to buy bool-go-gi (Korean barbecue beef), kim chi (spicy pickled Chinese cabbage), pan-fried man doo (wantons), fried rice, gim-bab (rice rolled in laver with vegetables).  The booth from the Philippines serves lumpia (egg rolls: meat and vegetables), pancit (noodles with chicken and vegetables), adobo (chicken with steamed rice), and turon (fried banana), and the Vietnamese participants offer shish kabobs, spring rolls, fried rice, fruit punch, and Vietnamese iced coffee.  In this venue of showcasing Asian-American culture, the foods at the festival provide festival-goers with a sampling of the various food traditions of the Asian-Americans in the Miami Valley.

Las Americas Specialty Foods

The Puerto Rican community, among other Latino communities, has grown to be a significant presence in Dayton.  Visitors to the 2nd Street Public Market (located at 600 East 2nd Street) have a chance to sample the unique elements of Puerto Rican foods at Las Americas Specialty Foods, owned by Dolores Quiñones.  Dolores was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and settled in Dayton in 1960.  Her business, Las Americas Specialty Foods, was originally a merchandising shop on 1st Street until a friend encouraged her to go to the market on Lane Avenue called The Cannery.  Beth Duke, who worked on development for the market, asked her to come up with something for people to eat that they could carry around as they shopped.  Dolores agreed and started selling empanadas, (described on the current menu as "High quality beef, vegetables, Spanish and aromatic, tradition seasonings make our signature dish a unique and delectable treat--NOT spicy, fried in canola oil, robust in flavor"). She explains that in Puerto Rico, these are called empanadigas, but since there are so many people from South America in the area, she decided to label them as empanadas because that is a name more people would recognize.  Soon after, she began selling rice and beans, a Puerto Rican staple.  When Las Americas moved to the 2nd Street Public Market, she began to focus more on the food than the merchandise.

In naming her business Las Americas Specialty Foods, she intentionally did not attribute the foods she makes to a specific country.  In fact, one of her goals is to educate people about the different Latin American cuisines that exist.  As the cook for Las Americas, Dolores is quick to recognize the hybridity of her cooking as she incorporates elements of Spanish, Cuban, Mexican, and Puerto Rican cooking in her dishes.  For example, the black beans she serves as Las Americas is a Cuban dish, but she fixes it as what she calls a Puerto Rican dish.  She does this by preparing a sofrito, a base made of sazon (a Spanish seasoning), oregano, onion, basil, and bay leaves, sautéed in tomato sauce.  According to Dolores, "The seasoning in my mouth is Puerto Rican, so that is how I'm going to cook."  The most recent addition to the menu is the arepa, which she learned to make from the owner of El Meson Restaurante in Dayton, who is Colombian.  According to the description on the menu, "An arepa is a pancake--handmade from fresh sweet corn, cheese, butter, & milk.  The arepas are cooked with a slice of mozzarella cheese in between until the cheese is soft and begins to melt.  The corn's natural sweetness blended with nutty goodness of the cheese makes a good combination!!"  Also on the menu are the Burro Supremo, Fiesta Chicken Wrap, and Black Bean Soup à la Cubana.

Adapting Immigrant Foodways

Like so many ethnic communities in to the United States, Asian-Americans in Dayton have had to improvise with their traditional foods due to differences in availability.  While Mai Nguyen, a Vietnamese woman who has been living in Dayton since 1982, says that some restaurants adapt their foods too much to American tastes to be what she considers truly Vietnamese, she describes the food at the restaurant Little Saigon as very similar to the foods she ate in Vietnam.  Even the cooks there, however, have to adapt their recipes depending on the foods available.  For example, in the winter, they may not have access to affordable mint leaves and chives, so the spring rolls they prepare are different than they would be in Vietnam.

When asked about the cooking she does at home, Mai says that she does not shop for the ingredients for Vietnamese dishes at grocery stores like Kroger because it is too expensive while offering more of a sampling than a selection.  Because of the growing Asian communities in Dayton, there are now some stores that sell specifically Asian foods.  The first one to open was the Vietnamese-owned Kim’s Mart in Kettering, which later moved to the Airway Shopping Center at Airway Road and Woodman Drive and became Far East Center.  This store was particularly popular among the Vietnamese because of the easygoing atmosphere.  Unlike bigger grocery stores, the owner encouraged customers to touch and sample the food before buying it.  Far East Center was later bought by Chinese owners. 

Another store, International Foods Asian and Mexican Market is located near Far East Center at Airway Road and Meyer Avenue, and its owners are Vietnamese.  In addition to the Vietnamese community, their big customer base is Latino, another growing community in the area, in part because there is some overlap between common Vietnamese and Latino foods (root vegetables such as jicama and taro, for example).  A third market, Saigon Fish Market by the Dayton Mall, is also Vietnamese-owned, and Mai shops there about once a week.  She enjoys reminiscing with the owner about their homeland, and she appreciates the large selection of Vietnamese snacks and sweets she can purchase there, such as sweet rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves.

The Dayton International Festival

The Dayton International Festival’s theme in 2006 was “A World A'Fair of Holidays.”  This festival has taken place for thirty-three years and, according to the website (http://www.aworldafair.org/WAfestival.html), “The festival is a celebration of diversity that showcases the food, dancing, music, costumes, and cultural exhibits representing the ethnic backgrounds and cultures of Dayton and the greater Miami Valley.”  In 2006, participating organizations and communities included the Miami Valley African Association, the Dayton Association of Chinese Americans, Friends of Colombia, the American Czechoslovakian Club, the Ethiopian Community, Deutschland (Germany), Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church (Greece), Maya Tech Learning Centers (Guatemala), the Hungarian Festival Club, the India Club of Greater Dayton, the United Irish of Dayton, the Regional Alliance (Italy), the Dayton Japanese American Citizens League, the Dayton Area Korean Association, St. Ignatius of Antioch Maronite Catholic Church (Lebanon), Del Pueblo (Mexico), the Holland American Club (Netherlands), Panamanian Friends Inc. (Panama), Peru Inc., the Philippine American Society of Greater Dayton, St. Adalbert's Church (Poland), the Puerto Rican Cultural Society, the Miami Valley Episcopal Russian Network, St. Andrew's Society of Greater Dayton (Scotland), the South Slavic Club (formerly Yugoslavia), USA, and the Vietnamese Association of Greater Dayton.  In the words of Puerto Rican Cultural Society member Dolores Quiñones, who has been participating in the festival since 1988, the variety of foods available at the festival makes it “an eating extravaganza.”   

Amber Rose Restaurant

Amber Rose Restaurant is an Eastern European restaurant specializing in German, Polish, Hungarian, Russian, and Italian foods.  The restaurant is located in Old North Dayton, an area that that became home to a large number of Eastern European immigrants after World War I, primarily from Poland, Hungary, and Lithuania, though the neighborhood had also been settled by Germans before that time.  In addition to social clubs and strong church communities, this restaurant, serving such foods as sauerkraut balls, Polish pirogues, German knockwurst, braised red cabbage, and spaetzle, serves to preserve the strong ethnic identity of the area.