Programs & Activities: Food

Food Traditions

What we eat says a great deal about who we are and where we came from. Special foods help to reinforce and maintain group and family identity and become the focus of celebrations, holidays or rites of passage. Many foods brought to the U.S. from other countries have been adapted through the generations to fit their new environment.

The Great Lakes Folk Festival strives to offer visitors a variety of food offerings, especially traditional food items they might only sample in certain ethnic or geographic regions. In addition, the festival hosts food offerings supplied by local restaurants and civic or community organizations.

Information for Food Vendors

Click here to view Information for Traditional and Non Traditional Food Vendors

Taste of Traditions Food Court

What we eat says a great deal about who we are and where we came from. Vendors invited to participate in the Great Lakes Folk Festival’s “Taste of Traditions Food Court” offer traditional foods closely linked to their ethnicity or region. Click on one of the following names or scroll down for a glimpse of some of the treats available at this year’s festival.

Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine
Anishnabe Meejim
Fonda Celaya
Federated Polish Home
Finnish Cultural Association
Kolache Kitchen
Kowalski Sausage Company
Lopez Bakery
Maria’s Tacos
Mexican Fruit Drinks
Old World Foods
Taste of India
(Feighner) Thai Food
Turkeyman
United Methodist Women/Pigs in a Blanket
Woody’s Oasis
Zemer’s Rootbeer


Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine
East Lansing, Michigan
Ethiopian Foods

Spices play an essential role in Ethiopian cuisine, which ranges from delicate and appealing to hot and almost addictive. Berberé, a mixture of spices and fiery Ethiopian red pepper, is used for everything from a rich man’s delicacy to a poor man’s chunk of bread. The national dish of Ethiopia, a stew called wat, is made with chicken, fish, and meats, but the finest wats are made with lentils, beans, or chickpeas. When served, food is placed atop injera, a thin, round bread made of finely ground teff, a high-quality millet, and eaten with the right hand by tearing off pieces of injera and dipping into or wrapping the piece around bite-sized food.
Altu Tadesse is from western Ethiopia. She was raised on her family’s farm and by the age of twelve, she was cooking complete meals. Altu came to the United States with her husband in 1986. She opened her popular restaurant in East Lansing in 1996 and serves fine examples of Ethiopian food.

Anishnabe Meejim
Robin & Eva Menefee • Lansing, Michigan
Native American Foods

Many New World foods have enriched the cuisines of other nations. Native peoples grew and preserved a wide variety of corn, for example, which European traders took to all corners of the world. Corn is still an important ingredient in the Native American diet and is eaten in a variety of ways.
Some foods closely identified today with Native Americans are the result of European influences. Frybread, for example, evolved because of access to European wheat and lard, and today it is associated with all Indians. Through fairs, festivals, and pow wows, the southwestern version of frybread—the Indian or Navajo taco—has been adopted by Native Americans of the Great Lakes region and elsewhere.
The Menefees offer a variety of foods from their Native American cuisine.

Fonda Celaya
Bath, Michigan
Mexican Foods

Maria (“Lupe”) Aguilar left Mexico decades ago and now lives in Bath, Michigan, and is an active member of the Cristo Rey community in Lansing. At church and Latino festivals, she prepares and sells Mexican foods, some from her hometown, Celaya, Guanajuato. For more than 25 years she has been making tamales, both the savory variety with pork, which most Michiganders know, and the sweet variety, which Mexican-Americans favor at Christmas and other festive occasions. For nearly as long, she has made and sold gorditas, thick shells made from masa that are filled with meat, potatoes, and vegetables or cheese. Another of her specialties are flautas, a form of taco found in northern Mexico; a tortilla is filled with beef, generally, then rolled and fried. Lupe cooks the real Mexican food, the same as she prepares for her grandchildren and very different than anything you are likely to find at commercial establishments.

Federated Polish Home
Lansing, Michigan
Polish Foods

The Federated Polish Home is a social and fraternal hall built by Polish immigrants in about 1926. It is made up of three Polish fraternal organizations: Polish National Alliance, Polish Falcons, and White Eagles. These organizations were started by immigrants to provide accident and death insurance coverage to members from Poland and their families. In addition to their function as insurance providers, these organizations also are social organizations. Among other things, they sponsor dinner dances at which Polish foods prepared by members are sometimes served.
Pierogi are very popular dumplings that symbolize Polishness in the United States. They have a variety of fillings, including cheese and potato, which are offered by the Federated Polish Home, along with homemade kielbasa (sausage) and sauerkraut.

Finnish Cultural Association
Farmington Hills, Michigan
U. P. Pasty

The pasty (pronounced “pass-tee”) was introduced to the Upper Peninsula during the nineteenth century by Cornish mining families who immigrated to Michigan’s copper- and iron-mining regions. This portable turnover of pie-like crust filled with meat, potatoes, rutabagas, and onions--a complete meal in itself--was carried underground and often reheated by placing it in a miner’s shovel that was held over a candle flame. The pasty became popular throughout the ethnically diverse Upper Peninsula and today is a regional specialty. Forgetting pasty’s origin, some even say pasty is the U.P.’s contribution to American cuisine.

Many members of the Finnish Cultural Association resettled in southeast Michigan from the Upper Peninsula, where they still maintain close ties. Twice a year the Association’s pasty sale is a very popular fundraiser.

Kolache Kitchen
Laingsburg, Michigan
Czech Cuisine

Michigan has a significant population of Czech-, Moravian-, Bohemian-, and Slovak-Americans, many of whom reside in Gratiot, Clinton, Saginaw, and Shiawassee Counties. Their ancestors were attracted to this area in the early 1900s to work in the sugar beet industry.
Sherry Winkler Bowles is one of these Czech-Americans. The Kolache Kitchen is the result of her efforts, with help from her family and friends, to bring delicious Czech food to other Michiganders. Working beside her mother in her kitchen, Sherry learned to bake and cook Czech specialties. They took the results to local fundraisers, Mr. Winkler’s Czech language class, and other area events, gaining recognition for their baking.
Here at the festival, we have the opportunity to sample a variety of traditional Czech foods, savory dishes and pastries, for which Czechs are known.

Kowalski Sausage Company
Hamtramck, Michigan
Polish Food

Hamtramck, a small autonomous city within the metropolitan Detroit area, was once the home of the Dodge Main auto plant and a major employer that attracted many to settle here. Although today Hamtramck is home to many ethnic groups, it is still predominantly a Polish community as evidenced by the many Polish bakeries, butchers, and grocers; churches and social halls; and ethnic gift and book stores.
In 1920 Zygmund and Agnes Kowalski started a grocery store. Very soon the demand for their sausage became so great they abandoned the grocery store and, in May 1920, established the Kowalski Sausage Company in Hamtramck where it is still located. Today the fourth generation of Kowalskis runs the company, providing a wide variety of Polish specialty foods and meats, including sauerkraut, pierogis, stuffed cabbage, and their great-grandfather’s sausage made according to his secret recipe.

Lopez Bakery
Lansing, Michigan
Mexican Pastries

The Spanish introduced a wide array of foods and a new meal system to the pre-Hispanic culture of Mexico. One of the new ingredients incorporated into the foodways of Mexico was wheat. Using wheat flour, Mexicans have developed over the centuries many and varied kinds of pastries and rolls.
The Lopez Bakery offers a wide selection of traditional Mexican pastries. Pedro Lopez started baking in Mexico when he was nine years old. Now in his 70s, he is a master baker, and he and his son José offer a selection of their delicious sweet breads, cookies, and rolls, which are eaten for breakfast, supper, or as a snack.

Maria’s Tacos
Lansing, Michigan
Tex-Mex Foods

The term “Tex Mex” designates Texas Mexicans (Tejanos) and their culture. Much of the cuisine we know in Michigan as Mexican is Tex Mex, brought by families who settled in Michigan from Texas and by seasonal agricultural workers from Texas who live part of the year in Michigan.
The Espinoza family’s ancestors emigrated from Mexico to Texas during the Great Depression. Highway construction work in the 1950s brought the grandparents of James Espinoza to Michigan, and ultimately his family turned to agricultural work and settled in the Thumb region. James Espinoza and his mother, Maria, made and sold tacos for the first time at a Croswell festival three years ago. They make tacos the way their family has made them for generations, with corn tortillas, cheddar cheese, beef or chicken seasoned with cumin and garlic, lettuce, tomato, and mild homemade salsa. This, according to James, is the “real” Tex-Mex taco from the region of Corpus Christi. In addition, they offer burritos, which James describes as taco ingredients plus beans wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Mexican Fruit Drinks
Lansing, Michigan
Liquados & Aguas

Along the busy streets and bustling marketplaces of urban Mexico, vendors in shops and stands offer passersby cool, refreshing fruit drinks. Light and natural, these drinks are made in blenders with fruit, water, and sugar (aguas) or with fruit, milk, sometimes egg, and sugar (liquados).
In southeast Michigan, liquados and aguas are made in Mexican-American households, consumed as a snack or even a light meal, and occasionally sold at festivals. At the Great Lakes Folk Festival we are fortunate to have an opportunity to taste these refreshing fruit drinks prepared by Felicitas Moreno and others from the local community.

Old World Foods
Cleveland, Ohio
Potato Pancakes

When most Americans hear “potato pancake,” they think first of the Jewish-American latke. Ashkenazim Jews prepare latkes, especially during Hanukkah, and associate the cooking oil with the miraculous oil that is a part of the Hanukkah legend. In fact, potato pancakes are widespread in Central and East Europe. In Poland, they are known as placki kartoflan and sometimes include chopped bacon, cheese, or poppyseed. Russians call them oladyi and sometimes add fresh or dried herbs. Germans, who know them as either Kartoffelpuffer or Reiberdatschi, have a variant that includes grated apple. Czechs call them bramborak; Lithuanians, bulviniai blynai. Belorussians, who make their potato pancakes with sour milk or yogurt, call them draniki.
Andy Emrisko, who comes from Cleveland, one of America’s greatest multiethnic communities, and who is himself Slovak and Hungarian, faithfully uses his mother’s recipe for potato pancakes, which he makes and sells through Old World Foods, Inc. He also provides haluski (fried cabbage and dumplings), cabbage rolls, and “city chicken,” other eastern European favorites learned from his family.

Taste of India
Lansing, Michigan
Asian Indian Food

The Asian Indians of Michigan come from different regions of India. They are from different cultural and social backgrounds, representing different religions, classes, and languages. They are Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Parsees, and Jews, speaking 16 languages or one of 225 dialects. This diversity is also reflected in their foods.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Indian food is the preparation and combination of spices that makes this cuisine unique; cooked with meats or vegetables, the dish is memorable. Whether or not they are vegetarians, vegetables are an extremely important part of the Indians’ diet.
In mid-Michigan, many of the Indians who have come since the 1960s are professionals. At that time, a generic Indian food was available in restaurants, which often served foods proprietors believed Americans wanted. Today, more and more restaurants and caterers serve the foods of their regional origins.
We are fortunate to have one of these caterers at the Great Lakes Folk Festival. Uma Patel left her home in India some twenty years ago for Lansing, where she has lived ever since. She enjoys a reputation as a good cook and since 1996 has provided several local restaurants with her Indian pastries and samosa. In this way she began her catering.

Feighner Thai Food
Mason, Michigan
Thai Food

The cuisine of Thailand is a very special combination of the bite of Szechuan Chinese, the tropical flavor of Malaysian, the creamy coconut sauces of south Indian, and the aromatic spices of Arabic food. Situated at the crossroads of Asia, many cultures have played a role in the development of Thailand’s cuisine. The people of Thailand take pride in the harmony of tastes, colors, and textures of their food.
Lamai came to Lansing in 1970 from Bangkok, where she gained restaurant experience helping in her sister’s restaurant. With a varied and traditional menu, including Pad Thai, fresh and fried egg rolls, crab rangoon, fried rice with vegetables, and chicken curry, Lamai devotes herself to bringing Thai food to others.

Turkeyman
Lansing, Michigan
Barbecue

As the eldest child, Craig Harris helped his mother by assuming much of the cooking responsibilities. Even then his specialty was barbecue. He regards his catering business as a natural progression. From his memorable smoked barbecue turkey comes his nickname “Turkeyman.” Craig began as a street vendor in 1994, serving smoked barbecued turkey on street corners and at ball parks. Today, in addition to providing barbecue to hungry crowds at sports arenas in the Lansing area, “Turkeyman” donates food to missions, volunteers in school kitchens, and feeds families in need.

United Methodist Women
First United Methodist Church
Holland, Michigan
Dutch Pigs in the Blanket

The first large Dutch immigration to America began in the 1840s, arriving in western Michigan in 1847. Within two years, despite malaria, smallpox, dysentery, insufficient food, and other impediments, a steady stream of Dutch immigrants had established Holland, Zeeland, Vriesland, Drenthe, and Graafschap. Subsequent immigrations in the 1880s and after World War II scattered Dutch throughout the state, although the highest concentration still is in western Michigan.

Dutch-Americans have made major contributions to American culture through politics and government, education, industry, and foodways. Today’s all-American foods, such as cookies, pancakes, waffles, doughnuts, pretzels, and coleslaw, were originally brought to this country by early Dutch settlers. A Dutch-American food not yet widely known is “pigs in the blanket” (saucijzenbroodjes), a popular treat offered by the Women’s Club of the First United Methodist Church of Holland.

Woody’s Oasis
East Lansing, Michigan
Arab Foods

Outside of the Middle East, Michigan is home to the largest Arabic-speaking population, comprising many religions, nations, ethnic groups, and regional cuisines.
Great value is attached to cooking and good food in the Middle East. It is a sensual kind of cooking, generously using herbs, spices, and aromatics. Most local cuisines include rice and wheat dishes, stuffed vegetables, pies wrapped in paper-thin pastry, various methods for roasting meats, meatballs, thick omelettes, cold vegetables cooked in oil, scented rice puddings, nut-filled pastries, fritters soaked in syrup, and a variety of fruit and vegetable juices.
Some areas are known for a highly developed cuisine. Lebanon, for example, is one of only two Middle Eastern countries to have a highly developed restaurant tradition. Lebanese emigrant cooks and restaurateurs brought Arab cuisine to the attention of the world. In Michigan, the majority of restaurants and bakeries offer Lebanese foods. Woody’s Oasis, the first Arab restaurant in the area, has long pleased its customers with Lebanese foods.

Zemer’s Rootbeer
Tyler, Texas
Homemade Rootbeer

Chris and Joy Zemer are the makers and sellers of rootbeer, using a secret recipe passed on to Chris from his father and grandfather, who also were rootbeer vendors. From a stand made by his grandfather and great grandfather in Ionia, Michigan, in the 1920s, Chris and his wife have been selling rootbeer since 1991. Chris’s grandfather made the counters and his great grandfather had used the rootbeer barrel, both of which are part of the stand. The stand is a highly valued family heirloom and the rootbeer business, a long family tradition. Chris is proud of his rootbeer. Served in chilled glass mugs, you know its the “real” thing. “Once you taste my rootbeer,” Chris boasted, “you’ll never want anyone else’s.”