July 12th, 2024

International Empanada Festival a celebration of cultures

By Lethbridge Herald on April 26, 2022.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Members of Mi Colombia Linda dance group, perform “La Pollera Colora” cumbia dance, to entertain those in attendance at the International Empanada Festival Saturday at the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association Multicultural Centre.

Alejandra Pulido-Guzman – Lethbridge Herald

The International Empanada Festival was back in full force Saturday – after being cancelled in 2021 – for what would have been their fifth annual event.

The International Empanada Festival is a local initiative to honour one of the most famous street foods in the world, and has many versions across the world. 

The Festival takes place in April as April 8 is International Empanada Day.

Even though each country has their own version of what Colombians called empanada, many different cultures enjoy a savoury or sweet filled dough, usually in the shape of a half-moon that can be either fried or baked. 

“We wanted to get together under the same roof, to enjoy our favourite street food which is the empanadas,” said Yeny Mora, organizer and vender. 

She said this year they invited vendors from Poland and Nepal, as they have perogies and samosas which are basically different versions of empanadas. 

In 2020 they offered a COVID-style version of the festival where people were able to order their favourite foods from local restaurants that participated as venues, and they were boxed for pick up at the Multicultural Centre.

This year the main idea was to bring together different cultural aspects of the cultures that can be found in Lethbridge. They had vendors from Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Poland and Nepal.

“We have dancers, singers, food, we also have a craft market that comes from different places across southern Alberta. This is to enjoy and have fun around empanadas,” said Mora. 

She said this idea of gathering around empanadas comes from her native Colombia, where people enjoy empanadas at any time of the day, in the street, at home, at school, pretty much anywhere. 

“After having a great turnout in our first year in 2018 here at the multicultural centre, we moved it to the Exhibition grounds in 2019. But after COVID, we were cautious about the turnout and that is why we brought it back to the Multicultural Centre,” said Mora. 

She said that based on the turnout this year, they are looking into the possibility of moving it back to the exhibition grounds moving forward. 

“The response from the community is overwhelming, for me this brings me immense happiness,” said Mora. 

Some of that response comes from local sponsors that have a connection with the diversity of cultures in our community. 

Tetra Tech representative, Ivan Aguilar, has developed a collaborative relationship with the organizers of the festival, which is why he continues to ask the company he works for to sponsor the event. 

“Tetra Tech tries to help the community of Lethbridge as it is important for them to support the community where they are located,” said Aguilar. 

He said that he himself has learned a lot from other cultures, as when he left Colombia he thought everyone liked to eat empanadas, arepas and other Colombian foods as well as listen to typical Colombian music. 

“I have discovered that even though we are latinos, the cultural aspects of people from Central America is different from cultural aspects in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela,” said Aguilar. 

He said that having the opportunity to bring cultures together under one roof helps the community grow together by learning together about the different cultural aspects. 

Another sponsor of the event that was present for the first time was Great Adventures Active Learning Centre, to help parents enjoy the festivities while their children were taken care of. 

Founder and director of Great Adventures Active Learning, Erika Morales said they were invited to participate as sponsors in previous years but were unable to do it, which is why this is the first time they are present at the event. 

“We will continue to participate in future festivals, because I believe it is important for parents to be able to enjoy themselves,” said Morales. 

Organizer Yeny Mora said future plans for the festival involve expanding to Calgary and Edmonton, with the idea of the festival taking place in all three cities, during the three weekends of April prior and after Easter weekend. 

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Southern Albertan

Will gluten free empanadas be available?
“The Best Gluten Free Empanada Dough”