Two things Sacramentans like to brag about are our agriculture (remember farm-to-fork?) and our racial diversity. These two factors contribute to our variety of cultural festivals. From the teriyaki chicken of the Jodo Shinsu Buddhist Temple Bazaar to the foot-long pork sausage at Hmong New Year, Sacramentans have an opportunity to come together and eat at a festival almost every month of the year.
The crushing news came recently that the 74th annual Buddhist Bazaar was canceled due to COVID-19, replaced by an online fundraising telethon. It’s hard to imagine that event without a long wait in line for tempura inside the sweltering, crowded, lantern-strewn tent. As for Hmong New Year, it’s in November and it’s mostly outdoors, so we can hope.
One festival that has decided to press on is Congregations Beth Shalom’s 43rd annual Jewish Food Faire.
In the interest of safety, they’ve cut out the social aspect of gathering together to nosh, and there will be no vendors selling tchotchkes, but the homey, comforting food can be ordered online until August 20th and picked up on August 30th.
Reached via Zoom, festival organizers Susan Solarz and Lydia Inghram explained in detail the safety measures that will be in place for preparation and pick-up. The dishes that are not supplied by commercial vendors such as Upper Crust Bakery (which makes the bagels and rye bread for the sandwiches) will be made by home chefs wearing masks and gloves. Inghram herself is making the almond horseshoe cookies, which she kvells are “to die for.”
The pick-up time slots will be chosen at time of purchase and all pickups will occur without leaving the car.
The committee in charge of planning the festival realized in early March the festival as it had been was probably not feasible in this cursed year, but the options to cancel or delay didn’t sit right with anyone. So the logistical planning began, and has continued with Zoom meetings and in-person logistical walkthroughs.
In addition to bagels and lox, and chopped liver with schmaltz (which the web menu declares “Oy! It’s so good!), there is also a new addition of a vegan “Israeli assortment box” with tabbouleh, baba ganoush and other mezze. Half-sour kosher dill pickles will be plucked straight from barrels provided by the Sonoma Brinery in Healdsburg, which Inghram says makes them far superior to the jarred variety.
Many of the recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, some since the first Faire, in 1977. The every-popular beef-stuffed cabbage rolls are from a recipe developed by Carry Cohn, who at 98 is still an active congregation member and teaching Hebrew.
Overall the ladies are keeping it positive, and both bubble over with enthusiasm while talking about the dishes and the planning going into this new version of the festival. They miss the “haimish” (Yiddish for cozy, homey) aspects of their small congregation, but until they can gather together again physically, Congregation Beth Shalom is staying in touch with online services and discussion groups.
The online orders are coming in quite well, and some items, such as matzoh ball soup, appear to already be sold out. During the in-person festival, about half of the attendees are Jewish and half are goyim (non-Jewish), and this year may shape up to be the same. After all, Solarz says, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Jewish food!”