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Festival celebrates diversity with Turkish food, culture

by Jennifer Nixon | September 14, 2017 at 1:51 a.m.
Whirling Dervish Onur Kasaburi performs at last year’s Turkish Food Festival. This year’s festival of food, arts and crafts and performances is planned for Saturday at the Raindrop Turkish House.

Whirling dervishes, henna tattoos and kebabs galore will add some extra spice to Little Rock during the annual Turkish Food Festival, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday.

This is the seventh year for the festival, presented by the Raindrop Turkish House.

Turkish Food Festival

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Raindrop Turkish House, 1501 Market St., Little Rock

Admission: free

(501) 223-2155

Raindrop Foundation volunteer Mehmet Ulupinar explains, "The purpose is to reach out to the local community. There are Turkish Americans living in Arkansas. We're trying to help those Turkish Americans better integrate into local society."

That means sharing, literally, a taste of Turkish culture with the community. It's a chance "to look, to experience, a little bit of everything."

That "little bit of everything" includes art and cultural traditions such as Turkish tile painting and ebru, a traditional art form that uses water to create marble patterns on paper or fabric. Artists will demonstrate their crafts and sell handmade gifts and souvenirs.

There will be entertainment throughout the day, too. The lineup includes traditional Kazakh music, Turkish and Spanish folk dances and a performance by the Parkstone Band.

There will be a kid-friendly area with a bounce house, but, really, the whole festival is designed for families.

And, of course, the main attraction is the food. There should be plenty from which to choose.

There are some items that are particularly popular.

"Kebabs always hit the spot," Ulupinar says. And lahmajoon, a "Turkish pizza" that is a thin layer of bread topped with meat, herbs and spices, is another favorite.

There also will be kofte (Turkish meatballs), yaprak samasi (stuffed vine leaves), manti (steamed dumplings) and etimek tatlisi with kaymak (toasted bread dessert with clotted cream).

All the food is made by volunteers using family recipes.

For those planning their visit, Ulupinar says the peak time is around noon, with things slowing down considerably after 4 p.m.

Admission to the festival is free so, Ulupinar says, "If you want, you can just come in and walk around. They don't have to purchase anything if they don't want to."

But for those who can't resist the lure of revani (semolina cake) and balli kek (honey cake), there will be fees. Tables will be set up at the entrance to the festival where people can use cash or credit cards to buy tickets, which they can then trade for food at the various booths.

Money raised will go to fund Raindrop Foundation activities and outreach projects.

Through the festival, Turkish Arkansans can share their traditions with the community and the community can, in turn, sample new dishes and make a few new friends.

"It's a kind of reaching-out event for the foundation," Ulupinar says. "It's a way to let the local community know that we are mixed. We are a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We're trying to add to the diversity of this city and state."

Weekend on 09/14/2017

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