'Celebrate Diversity' highlights Norwich's melting pot

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Wed., Oct. 2, 2013
Eastern Pequot Tribal Dancers sing and drum to accompany a circle dance at the Norwich Diversity Festival. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Eastern Pequot Tribal Dancers sing and drum to accompany a circle dance at the Norwich Diversity Festival. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

The Norwich Marina played host to the world Sept. 25 with its first-ever “Celebrate Diversity” ethnic festival, organized by the Norwich Rotary Club. Local ethnic restaurants and other organizations offered festival-goers a taste of many lands, from Vietnam to Italy to the Deep South, with equally diverse music and dance.

Bassem Salahi’s table from Lazizah Bakery in Yantic served up slices of baklava – a sweet pastry which Salahi said is made throughout the Mediterranean region, with many different permutations. He had two varieties available: “This one has a Turkish passport, this one has a Belize passport. Both have an American visa,” he quipped. The Belize variety was delicately seasoned with rose water syrup and filled with pistachios instead of the usual walnuts, he explained.

Standing beneath a Sikh flag, Guntas Kaur offered festival-goers samosas, pastries filled with a spicy potato and lentil mixture, native to her homeland in the Punjab region of northern India. She said that her family, which owns the Shell gas station in Norwichtown, set up the booth since there is currently no Indian restaurant in Norwich. Alongside the samosas was a rack of brochures offering information about the Sikh faith.

“There’s a lot of ignorance and a lot of hate for no apparent reason,” said Kaur. She cited a recent news story out of New York City about a respected Sikh doctor and college professor who was attacked in Central Park by a gang of young people, apparently because of his turban. The attackers targeted him as a “terrorist,” she said, while in reality male Sikhs wear the turban as an integral part of their religious practice. She said she hoped to educate people about Sikh teachings to counter such widespread prejudice.

Nearby, Stephen and Debra Nousiopoulis offered up slices of moussaka and pasticcio, a dish Stephen described as “almost like a Greek lasagna,” constructed with layers of pasta, meat, béchamel sauce and Parmesan cheese. The family’s restaurant, Fat Cat Bar and Grill, doesn’t have a specifically Greek menu, he said, but “we do these as a special once in a while… to represent our heritage.” He said that he hoped the event would spark greater interest in ethnic foods and eateries in Norwich. “The support here shows the community definitely wants it,” he said.

Debra agreed. “Norwich has a lot to offer,” she said. “We need more variety restaurants in Norwich.” While people can become creatures of habit, frequenting the same eateries, she said that new restaurants help stimulate interest in eating out in general. “Competition is healthy. It forces us to stay on our toes and do the best we can,” she said.

Entertainment at the event ranged from klezmer music from Central Europe, to Middle Eastern belly dance, to native American drums and Scottish singing. Among the evening's highlights was the presentation of a special award to community activist Lottie Smith for her work in enhancing the diversity of the Norwich community.


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