Voyage of foodie discovery at Worldfest

The “Food Village” at this year’s WorldFest. Photos by Robin Garr

LEO’s Eats with

Another WorldFest, Louisville’s annual celebration of ethnic diversity, is behind us and as usual, that means I’ve spent another weekend stuffing myself with delicious and exotic food from many nations.

That’s the good news. On the other side of the ledger, it didn’t seem to me that there were quite as many ethnic restaurants represented at WorldFest this year as last. Asiatique was there as usual, holding down the high end of the local-restaurant spectrum with well-prepared goat-cheese crabmeat spring rolls, salmon egg rolls and beef kebabs ($2 each or all three for $5).

A number of other local ethnic favorites staffed booths offering samples of their fare, including India Palace, Los Aztecas, Mai’s Thai, Queen of Sheba Ethiopian, Safier Mediterranean Deli, Taste of Jamaica Cafe, Thai Taste, Valu Market and Yang Kee Noodle, not to mention sweet treats from Café Glace, Coco’s Bakery, Gelato Gilberto and Kizito Cookies. Even those wary of unfamiliar dishes could easily fill the inner person with such comfort foods as bratwurst, ice cream and funnel cakes.

Guatemalan tamale
Doro wot
A pupusa (top), prepared by the Lopez family, is a Salvadoran/Guatemalan dish similar to a tostada. A Guatemalan tamale (center), prepared by the Lopez family, is a lighter version of the Mexican staple. Doro wot is a spicy chicken stew from Vic iVan, a little, undiscovered Ethiopian spot on First near Main Street.

All these familiar eateries offer decent fare served by friendly people, and I’ve pretty much reviewed them all in recent months. So, for a change of pace, I decided to spend my eating time at WorldFest 2008 seeking out the more unusual and obscure. Ethnic eats, mostly, from families and social groups that turn up as food-service vendors just once a year, often offering goodies we can’t find in Louisville restaurants … just yet.

Take Guatemalan food, for instance. Over on a far corner of the Riverfront Plaza/Belvedere, a friendly family named Lopez was offering a variety of Central American foods that I’ve enjoyed in New York City and South of the Border, but never before in Louisville – a pupusa ($3), for example, a Salvadoran tradition that crosses the border into Guatemala. Think of a thick, gordita-style corn taco laid flat on a plate, then topped with a generous ration of finely shredded, crisp cabbage and a dollop of warm but not fiery orange chile sauce and served with lime wedges. Guatemalans may know how to pick this thing up and eat it out of hand, but I went to work with my fingers and a plastic fork and was glad I did.

It was too good to stop, so I went back a little later, thought about some elotes or esquites (corn treats similar to those offered at Las Gorditas, featured in and LEO on May 28), but finally settled on a Guatemalan tamale ($4), which bears only a faint resemblance to the more familiar Mexican version. It’s made from light cornmeal rolled around tender but bony bits of pork neck meat, wrapped in banana leaves, not corn husks, and steamed; topped with more of that orange hot sauce, it made a memorable flavor combo. With glasses of fresh-made tamarind juice and lemonade, it was a welcoming introduction to Guatemalan cuisine.

Please, Lopez family, open a restaurant … soon.

Other WorldFest treats included sauerkraut balls (three for $1.50) from Louisville’s German-American Club, deep-fried, golden breaded-and-fried sauerkraut and mustard. Another family-run operation, La Nirra Taco, not yet a restaurant, offered a simple selection of outstanding Mexican-style tacos – steak or chorizo – topped with onion and cilantro with lime.

A final discovery, Vic iVan Café, primarily a catering operation, turns out to have been operating an Ethiopian lunch spot, unfortunately under my radar, for the past 18 months at 120 S. First St., 625-0404. The doro wot (spicy chicken stew) I enjoyed at WorldFest was among the best Ethiopian dishes I’ve ever tasted. I’ll be moseying along to their eatery soon. – Robin Garr