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Sts. Cyril and Methodius Slavic Fest

The 2011 Host Group - the Czechs!

I spent 3 hours at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Slavic Festival in Houston last Sunday with my parents, sister, son, and nieces. The event is one of the oldest ethnic festivals in the state and this was its 48th year. I even have a family connection to it, though I'd never attended before. My great uncle, Bishop John Morkovsky, who was the Catholic Bishop of the Houston diocese for much of the 1970s and 80s, apparently was an integral part of the festival for decades. Though he didn't start the event, he gave a sermon in Czech at the very first one in 1963 and then did so from then on. The festival's printed program has a little tribute to him and says "He enjoyed all kinds of good food, and whenever you would ask him if he was on any kind of special diet, he would always reply: "Oh yes, I can only eat food."

Who are the Slavs, you ask?... Croatians, Ukrainians, Poles, Slovenes, Russians, Belarusians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, and, of course, Czechs. Only the Poles, Croatians, Ukrainians, and Czechs had a showing at the event, but, though they represent three main groups (Eastern, Western and Southern Slavs) the similarities were really interesting. As a group, Slavs have Catholicism and language as common denominators, though of course, not all are Catholic.

Inside the KC Hall on Whitney Drive. Food and merchandise booths
and ethnic displays lined the walls.
A stage at one end was fronted by a makeshift dance floor.
Then there's the food. There were more similarities than differences... all four ethnic groups served sausage. Three out of four served saurkraut. Two served stuffed cabbage. Two served perogies. So, it was fun to taste the variations. The differences were noticeable, especially the Croatian food, which was much more Mediterranean in nature, serving kebabs and sort of a spanakopita pastry along with sausage. The Ukrainians served borscht and a huge number of different pastries... cookies and cakes mostly.

Ukrainian plate
Texas-Czech plate
Polish plate
Together, the 5 of my family members and I sampled:
  • Croatian sausage served with pita, raw onions and a roasted red pepper dip
  • Polish sausage and sauerkraut
  • Polish plate with perogies, stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut
  • Czech-Texas plate with breaded pork cutlet with gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, sauerkraut, cucumber and tomato salad, homemade bread
  • Ukranian plate with sausage sauerkraut, varenyky (like perogies) with sour cream, holubtsy (stuffed cabbage), bread
I thought it was really obvious from the food offerings that the Czechs have become so deeply rooted in the state over the last 150 years that traditional Czech foods have blended with Texas influences to create a Texas-Czech cuisine. While the menus of the other three groups at the festival seemed very typical of their home country, the Czechs were not ashamed to offer mashed potatoes with gravy and canned peaches with the pork cutlet, sauerkraut and cucumber salad. Also, we heard many people speaking Slavic languages at the event that were not Czech - it seemed like the other three ethnic groups had much more recent immigrants to Texas, which may have been the reason their menus haven't yet been Texas-ized.

The Czech food was prepared by the Harris County Chapter of the Czech Heritage Society. It must have been a huge undertaking, so I say a little sheepishly that I was disappointed that the kolaches they offered for dessert were made by Weikel's in La Grange the night before. I love Weikel's kolaches, but I had been hoping for homemade.

The Texas-Czech Food Booth
Besides enjoying the food, we shopped at the Polish and Ukrainian booths - bought Polish glass Christmas ornaments and cookies, Ukrainian beaded necklaces and flowery head wreaths for the girls. We watched the kids color black and white pictures of Josef Lada drawings and then get their faces painted like angels and butterflies. My 2-year-old and I danced to Polish music and watched children from the Houston Polish school and Croatian school sing and dance. The costumes were beautiful and all seemed to have bright colors, elaborate embroidery, and white lace in common.

I really enjoyed being exposed to cultures different enough from Czech to be fascinating, but similar enough that the event seemed like a huge family reunion where you know your'e related to everyone, but you're just not sure how.  Then everyone eats each other's foods and you don't care how; you're just glad that you are. 

To your health! - Na zdravi! (Czech) Na zdrowie! (Polish) Na zdorovya! (Ukranian) Zivio! (Croatian)


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