Lebanese Food, Dance to Take Center Stage
SOURCE: THE NORMAN TRANSCRIPT
BY: HANNAH TOMLISON
The many movements of history have left their marks on Lebanon’s food, faith and culture, and that heritage is precisely what the church family at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church wants to share with the Norman community once again for the eighth annual Lebanese Food and Heritage Festival on April 27.
The free festival will be from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Our Lady of Lebanon Church, 500 Alameda St. There will be traditional singing and Dabke dances throughout the day, plus belly dancers performing at 1 and 5 pm.
Food prices start at $6 for sandwiches.
“Lebanon is a beautiful country,” said Rudy Khouri, a founding member of Our Lady of Lebanon church and the owner of La Baguette restaurant and bakery. “Crazy people, beautiful country!”
Nestled on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon is just a little smaller than Connecticut, but the pages of its history burst with tales of sea-faring Phoenician explorers, the Roman and Ottoman Empires, French colonization and all the ebbs and flows of a bustling port nation.
Khouri has lived in Oklahoma for almost 40 years, but he grew up in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital and largest city that used to be called the Paris of the Middle East.
He remembers walking down the streets with the smells of fresh pastries wafting from the bakeries on every corner, some French and some Lebanese. Those corner bakeries inspired him to open La Baguette 35 years ago.
The confessed foodie said he and the whole church congregation take great pleasure in sharing their homemade traditional foods with their neighbors. Everyone pitches in, planning, contributing and preparing food and serving during the festival.
“Of course, the food is the main feature,” Khouri said. “In Lebanese cuisine, parsley has a large presence. You see the tabouli has parsley, cracked wheat, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. As healthy and fresh as can be.”
Festival guests can also expect to find Lebanese grilled chicken sandwiches, and distinctively Mediterranean flavors like grilled kafta sandwiches made with ground beef, onions, parsley and diffused herbs and spices. There will be falafel pitas with tahini sauce and pickled turnips with parsley. Guests who want to try a little bit of everything will want one of the Beirut or Byblos platters.
In addition to the food and music performances, the church will have a cultural display booth with photographs and information about Lebanon.
Khouri said it’s a nation of beautiful beaches located just 30 minutes away from ski slopes. There are Roman ruins and taxi drivers who likely speak four languages.
“Lebanese are very welcoming people, and that’s what we want to project,” Khouri said. “They are very open, very outgoing.”
The congregation of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church is currently made up of about 25 Lebanese and American families from Norman, Edmond and Oklahoma City, plus visiting international students from the University of Oklahoma.
Khouri said putting on these festivals every year has brought people in their church together, like a real family. He enjoys seeing the excitement from the young to the old.
“There are several doctors cooking there,” Khouri said. “We don’t care about background, they’re doing it for God. We’re doing it to build a house of worship, to build a church.”
Khouri is glad to share stories of miracles the congregation has witnessed in Norman, the importance and guiding inspiration of the saints, and the traditions of heart-felt faith their church community practices throughout the year.
“I’m a religious person. I like to live and have fun, but there’s a higher power,” Khouri said.
During the year the church shares many meals together, and the festival is an opportunity to extend the table to the rest of Norman.
Khouri said there will be several dessert options, but notes that the Lebanese baklava is made a little differently than the Greek version.
“I can’t give you all my secrets, can I?” he asked, grinning. “You’ll have to come and try it.”