Despite the cold rain, the Twin Cities celebrated Israeli Independence Day on April 21st at the State Fairgrounds. Instead of the sprawling outdoor event planners had hoped for, the event was moved into the Dairy Building; but that did not dampen the spirits of the visitors and vendors.
In front of the building, Foxy Falafel’s food truck beckoned hungry revelers, who patiently stood in a long, wet line to score one of Erica Strait’s now iconic sandwiches. Strait’s experience working with Israeli chef Einat Admony shows in her authentic falafel: crispy crunchy on the outside and lusciously creamy on the inside. Visit Foxy Falafel at their brick and mortar location at 791 Raymond Avenue in St. Paul. I highly recommend the beet falafel. The lemon and goat cheese sauce is a unique and flavorful addition that really sets the sandwich apart.
Being a huge State Fair fan, I must admit that stepping inside the Dairy Building I fully expected to see a rotating princess inside the giant cooler, smiling a frozen smile while Linda Christensen carves her likeness into a giant block of yellow butter. Instead, we were greeted by a sea of guests meandering through the rows of vendors representing an Israeli market, or Shuk, but with a lot less yelling. Cheerful vendors handed out information on their various businesses, synagogues, services and organizations. For the little ones, there was face painting (my daughter got an Israeli flag on her cheek, which she wore with pride until it ran in the wet walk back to the car), decorate-your-own-cookie with white and blue frosting and sprinkles, several craft tables and even a bouncy castle.
Vendors included shops where visitors could pick up a variety of Israeli themed goods, organizations such as PJ Library and AISH, many congregations, and media outlets like (humbly yours) TC Jewfolk. Despite the close quarters, the vibe really did mimic the lively hum of a shuk, even indoors.
Food stands were plentiful but still suffered from long, slow lines. They offered a large variety of treats, the most creative of which was the matzo ball on a stick (get it, State Fair…unlikely food on a stick…): a giant dense matzo ball pierced by a thin skewer and plopped into a small bowl of broth. Just the idea of it put a smile on everyone’s face.
The variety of food was surprising and fun. Sushi? At a Jewish event? Sure, why not? Seemed less out of place than the copious amounts of hot dogs purchased by the winding lines of hungry adults and children alike.
The only downer of the evening was the early closing of the Shuk to make room for the grand finale, a concert by the popular Israeli hip hop group HaDag Nacahsh, which I must admit was surprisingly enjoyable, even for a very unhip Jew like myself. Despite a bad cold and tired feet, I swayed back and forth to the music, clutching a slightly damp falafel sandwich in my hand.