My earliest memories of the annual Arts in the Heart of Augusta Festival in downtown Augusta are all about the food. With $5 clutched in my little hand, I would trail through a steaming hot tent city of exotic offerings, then located on the flat, dark concrete lot surrounding the old municipal building.
With so much to choose from, it was always hard to decide, but I always came back to the piping hot Italian sausage, cradled in a crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside bun and loaded with greasy caramelized onions and peppers.
Since then, many things have changed. Arts in the Heart’s food tents now serve their offerings within the spacious and green Augusta Common. Countries have come and gone. But for that one weekend in September, I still get my three meals a day at Arts in the Heart.
This year, 17 countries (along with featured country, Germany) will showcase their best food to thousands of hungry festival-goers. Here’s a taste of the menu.
Known for: Familiar Chinese entrees such as sesame chicken, pork skewers or lo mein with fried rice, eggroll and chicken wings
What else: For a taste of authentic Chinese cuisine, try the joong, a sticky rice ball wrapped in bamboo leaves. Mango ice cream is also a great way to cool off during a typically hot and humid festival.
AFRICAN-AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF AUGUSTA
Known for: Pigs’ feet with rice and creole gumbo
What else: This is true down-home cooking, lovingly prepared by the same ladies who staff the booth every year. And where else can you get collard greens and cornbread for $2.50?
Known for: Fragrant, grilled-on-site barbecue pork on a skewer
What else: A plate of the barbecue pork, accompanied by slippery noodles and a small ground pork eggroll is always an early stop. If you like tart flavors, take a chance on the vinegary chicken adobo.
Known for: An assortment of jerks and curries (including curry goat, if you dare)
What else: The entrée plate, which is served with rice and peas, fried plantains and a Caribbean salad, makes a hearty serving for one and is perfect for sharing. Top it off with a sweet Jamaican soda.
Known for: The classic Greek gyro
What else: Stop here for your fill of gyro, feta fries and the delectable baklava sundae. It will whet your appetite for more of the same come October when the local Greek community hosts their Greek Festival.
Known for: Brats and German potato salad
What else: The German grande-dames who serve in traditional costumes make sure you get your money’s worth in protein and starch. This is a great dinner plate to end an evening.
Known for: Fish and chips and their knock-you-over Irish whiskey cake
What else: The bangers and mash are also not to be missed. Pick up an order as a between-meal snack. And get there early if you want to bring home a whole Irish whiskey cake.
Known for: All-vegetarian Indian dishes
What else: Try the Maharani sampler platter, heavy with garbanzos, spicy vegetables and vegetable fritters, with rice, Indian bread and an unusual dessert. Add a samosa, a fried pastry filled with savory potato and served with an herby green sauce.
HISPANIC AMERICAN CULTURAL ASSOCIATION (ACHA)
Known for: Arroz con pollo
What else: ACHA also offers terrific snack foods, including tacos, empañadas and fried cinnamon bread. Finish it all off with a $3 piña colada.
Known for: Being one of the festival sophomores
What else: 2011 was Samoa’s first time at Arts in the Heart. Their exotic menu includes a variation of chop suey with vermicelli, coconut milk buns, and Samoan sausage.
Known for: Meat pies
What else: Jollof, a red rice, is known as the most common dish in Western Africa. Here it’s served with meat and plantains. Nigeria’s version of the festival’s omnipresent meat-on-a-stick is suya, meat rubbed in a mix of spices.
Known for: Being the other sophomore at the festival
What else: Thailand was also a new country for 2011. They offer another opportunity to add a notch on your meat-on-a-stick stick, with four types available, but another option is their curries.
Known for: Being this year’s new kid on the block
What else: Turkey sets the stage for Arts in the Heart festivals to come with a well-edited menu featuring their national food, the chicken shishkebab, along with a kofte kebab wrap (ground meat, often lamb) and baklava.
Known for: Paella
What else: The Spanish paella had me coming back for seconds last year. Vegans can rejoice at the booth’s gazpacho, laden with veggies. For an elegant dessert, order the flan, which is custard in a caramel sauce.
Known for: Bubble tea
What else: The bubble tea is available in a variety of flavors, with or without the tapioca pearl “bubbles.” Other exotic tastes include the lemongrass chicken and the chicken salad – a mince of chicken dressed with lime juice, fish sauce, chili powder and herbs.
Known for: Meat versions of Indian/Pakistani dishes
What else: If the Indian booth left you hungry for meat curries, walk over to Pakistan for their popular combos of beef or chicken curry, rice and pakora, or vegetable fritters. A veggie curry is also available.
Known for: Lumpia (eggroll)
What else: Want some spice? Stop here for a variety of spicy meat dishes. For extra spice, top your meal with finandene, a mixture of hot peppers and onions in a special sauce. Cool off with a tropical smoothie.