Kansas City’s Ethnic Enrichment Festival is expected to have 37 booths to sample food and items from different cultures.

Ethnic Festival returns to Swope Park with food booths, music and dance

“I’ve traveled to other states and there’s nothing like this anywhere else.”

By Jill Draper

It’s full blast ahead for Kansas City’s 43rd Ethnic Enrichment Festival after two pandemic-era years of scaling back the popular food, craft and entertainment event held on the grounds of Swope Park.

On Aug. 19-21, Friday through Sunday, visitors can sample food from 37 booths, browse international items for sale and view a rotating spectacle of dance and musical acts under a large pavilion.

Jim Wilson, assistant festival manager, touts the fact that no restaurants or food trucks are involved, and the menu includes authentic “grandma” recipes from countries around the world. 

“I’ve traveled to other states and there’s nothing like this anywhere else,” says Wilson. “Other festivals are so much more commercial.” 

His advice is to come hungry, wear a hat if it’s sunny and maybe bring some cash, although most booths accept credit cards and there will be ATMs on site.

The food includes American Indian fry bread tacos, Bangladesh samosas, Colombian and Ecuadorian empanadas, Ethiopian stew and many varieties of kabobs and sausages. There’s also Egyptian shwarma, Jamaican jerk chicken, Scottish meat pies, and both Turkish and Kenyan vegetable platters. 

Drinks are fun to sample, too, from coffee shakes, mango lassi and green coconut water to juices (passion fruit, sorrel and tamarind), boba and Thai iced tea. Some unusual offerings are Bolivian chicha morada (a grape-flavored drink made from purple corn), Philippine halo-halo (shaved ice with sweetened beans and fruit), and mauby (made from tree bark boiled with spices and sweetened to taste) from Trinidad and Tobago.

A beer garden sells two dozen types of draft and bottled beer, plus a half-dozen wines.

“I like seeing so many different cultures from Kansas City having a good time,” says Wilson, who describes two colorful highlights as the parade of flags at 4 pm Saturday and a fashion show at 2 pm Sunday. There’s a special tent with activities for kids, who can get a passport stamped at the various booths and examine musical instruments up close on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Chinese dance kicks off the festival.

After an opening ceremony, entertainment begins at 6:30 pm Friday with a Chinese dance and concludes with Italian music at 5 pm Sunday. Between those slots are acts featuring Caribbean tin drums, Hawaiian ukuleles, Scottish bagpipes, Japanese taiko drums, Slovak fujara flutes, an Indonesian gamelon ensemble and many ethnic dancers in traditional dress.

Wilson attended the festival as a teenager and got involved as an organizer about 20 years ago after marrying Marti, a woman from Indonesia. Together they introduced a food booth that sold chicken satay, fried rice, Indomie noodles and young coconuts. Through the booth his wife met others from her home country, and they later established the Indonesian Community of Kansas City.

“That’s a neat thing about the festival—you can meet others from your own ethnic background,” Wilson says. He mentions that a man from Zimbabwe is staffing a booth for the first time this year (no food, just musical instruments and information) and hopes to find others living in Kansas City from that country.

The festival partners with the KC Parks Department and is run by a volunteer commission that serves as an umbrella nonprofit supporting over 60 smaller community groups. The groups use any profits from their food and craft sales to purchase costumes and fund scholarships or other charities. 

Admission is $5 or free for kids 12 and under, and hours are 6-10 pm Friday, Aug. 19, noon-10 pm Saturday, Aug. 20 and noon to 6 pm Sunday, Aug. 21. The festival is located at 3999 Swope Pkwy. and 3999 E. Meyer Blvd., and parking is free. See more at eeckc.org.

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