Aroostook County international food festival draws hundreds

2 weeks ago

HOULTON, Maine – The bidding for Robertino Ridley’s turmeric-based Jamaican curry chicken started at $50 on Saturday evening. And the bids kept rising, $150, $160, $200, $240, bringing one of the highest live auction bids at the International Food Festival in Houlton. 

“So much effort goes behind everything that you tried today,” said Ruba Haddad Bossie,  the chairwoman of the Houlton Rotary International Service Committee during the festival’s auction. 

Hundreds gathered at Houlton Middle High School on Saturday evening to taste foods and delicacies from other nations. Connoisseurs and neophytes sampled exotic and ancient foods from 21 different nations prepared by Houlton locals in a festival designed to celebrate differences through the universal language of food.

Ridley not only brought his famed dish for sampling, he donated a voucher for the Jamaican specialty that marinates for two days to the live auction that wrapped up the Houlton Rotary’s Third Annual International Food Festival.

HOULTON, Maine — July 6, 2024 — Jeeda Bossie, 10, dressed in traditional Jordanian clothing, is taking orders for international flag bracelets. Bossie made the bracelets representing the 21 nations at the Third Annual International Food Festival in Houlton on Saturday evening. Bossie’s mother, Ruba Haddad Bossie lead the festival initiative.  (Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli | Houlton Pioneer Times)

The festival, which began three years ago as an international dessert fest, has grown beyond just a culinary experience; it now includes live performances, children’s activities, a gift shop, and a live auction with this year’s focus on kids and how to make them curious about things that are different. 

As part of the opening ceremonies, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Chief Clarissa Sabattis sang the Wolastoq Honor Song, Johanna Johnston performed an aria from the French opera Carmen and Haddad Bossie taught a large group of attendees a Jordanian dance on stage.

Additionally, she read The Sandwich Shop written by the Queen of Jordan. 

“It’s a story about a girl from America and a girl from Jordan and they are friends and they do everything together except when it comes to food,” she said. “We were preparing the children to try something new. And it’s OK if you don’t like it, it’s OK but give it a try. It was prepared with love so give it a try.”

The tastings were slated for after the opening ceremonies and comments quickly spread about what to try next and how good and surprising the foods were. Amid rich scents and chatter, small plates were overflowing with new tastes and the experience of learning more about the country the recipe came from.

Such dishes as Ridley’s Jamaican curry chicken, beans from Uganda, yellow hominy soup and fried dough from the Maliseet Indians, baked 17th century delicacies from Romania, Bavarian pretzels from Germany and pollo guisado with rice from the Dominican Republic were among the offerings. 

“Everything went so fast,” said Amanda Nkamwesiga, who along with husband Gilbert made Ugandan beans and flatbread. “Some people said, ‘I don’t even like beans but I love these.’”

Suzanne Hiltz of Das NeiderHiltz Haus made 120 of her well known Bavarian pretzels that were quickly gone. She also donated two, 2-pound pretzels that brought $115 in the live auction.

HOULTON, Maine — July 6, 2024 — Ruba Haddad Bossie encourages bidding during the live auction at the Third Annual International Food Festival in Houlton on Saturday evening. (Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli | Houlton Pioneer Times)

Haddad Bossie is from Amman, Jordan, where she met her husband, a Houlton native, while they were teaching at a boarding school, she said. Their oldest daughter was born there and they moved back to Houlton eight years ago.

“To have my kids put on their traditional clothes from Jordan and to have them come here and talk about food — it means so much to me,” she said about sharing their culture at the festival. 

Like Haddad, there are families living in Houlton from other nations including Jamaica, Romania, South Korea, Uganda, Ghana, Canada and Germany, she noted. 

This year the committee asked local businesses to sponsor a nation for $100 and prior to Saturday’s festival, they had already raised $2,100.

All proceeds from sponsorships, auction sales and the festival gift shop will support The Rotary International Service Committee’s international service projects.