The lawn in front of the Aurora Municipal Center on East Alameda Parkway was home to the first Aurora GlobalFest on Saturday, where cultural performances, beers from around the world and international tastes from local restaurants -- from American barbecue to Nigerian curried goat -- showcased Aurora's reputation as a hotbed of global cuisine. Participating restaurants and caterers included Pho 888, The Nile Ethiopian Restaurant, Los Pastes (Mexican empanadas), Sunburst Grill (Filipino), Brooks Smoke House Barbecue, Flava, Voula's Kitchen and Lady Di's Nigerian Cuisine.
It was a gorgeous day for an outdoor festival and even if the GlobalFest crowd was sporadic, the food booths proved popular, with clusters of eager diners surrounding the tables with the best aromas, especially Lady Di's -- likely fueled by rumors of really good goat meat.
Pho 888 served Vietnamese spring rolls and egg rolls, noodle and rice plates and boba drinks; Voula's Kitchen made saganaki and pepperoni pizza, while one booth over, Mythos Greek food brought its truck and served standard beef and lamb gyros plus a particularly good vegetarian version with onions, tomatoes, feta, Kalamata olives and a rich and tangy tzatziki sauce.
Sunburst Grill represented with Filipino-style chicken adobo with rice and chicken and pork barbecue skewers; Brooks Smokehouse Bar-B-Que brought ribs, chicken legs, beef sausage, and brisket; and Flava served soul food plates with chicken, hot links and brisket. Los Pastes offered Mexican empanadas -- both savory and sweet -- as well as fruit smoothies.
The two stand-out vendors -- at least judging by the lines at each booth -- were both African: The Nile Ethiopian Restaurant and Lady Di's Nigerian Cuisine. The Nile on South Havana, sports a menu diverse enough to offer something for everyone, whether vegan and vegetarian, or carnivorous; it's festival offerings were a limited cross-section of that menu: lamb tibs (lamb cubes cooked with tomato and spices), lamb alicha (lamb braised with green pepper, ginger, rosemary and jalapeno), fat and spicy sambusas (beef, lentil or spinach-filled pastries), and vegetarian stews like shiro wat (spiced chickpeas with berbere and garlic) and yemisir wat (lentils stewed with hot berbere sauce). All the plates were served with injera: a light, spongy, sourdough flatbread made from teff flour.
Lady Di's Nigerian Cuisine catering company (with no brick and mortar yet) caters weddings, office parties, special occasions and events; the modest-sized booth was the most popular at the international food court by far. Lady Di served a menu of meat pies, suya (spicy meat shish kebabs) joloff rice (African or basmati rice seasoned with tomato paste, onion and red pepper) , black-eyed peas, greens, sweet plantain, moi-moi (steamed bean cakes), Nigerian puff-puff pastry balls and two stewed goat dishes: one with curry and one in a spicy, tangy tomato sauce.
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With such a variety of flavors -- representing a mere handful of Aurora's diversity -- the sprawling city could very well be one of the country's best-kept culinary secrets. And the good news is that, even if you missed this year's event, most of the vendors are serving up this food and more at their restaurants across town. No word yet on which Aurora eateries might comprise next year's international food court at the second annual GlobalFest, but there's no shortage of traditional, regional and ethnic eateries to help make it a success.